Edgar Wright’s latest film, an adaptation of the acclaimed Scott Pilgrim comic series, is a hyperactive blend of indi cinema storyline, computer game logic and comic book aesthetics. It is slick, fast paced, self-reflexive and so full of cultural references that you’ll probably need several viewings in order to pick everything up. It could have been a mess of epic proportions but Wright, who previously made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, has made Scott Pilgrim vs. the World one of the most energetic and fun films of the year.
Scott Pilgrim is a 22-year-old Canadian slacker whose life is transformed when he meets and falls in love with Ramona Flowers, an American girl trying to make a new start. Unfortunately for Scott, Ramona comes with more baggage than anticipated in the form of seven evil exes who are determined to fight him to the death. Within the world of the film these fight scenes take the form of elaborate and over-the-top combat scenes like the ones from computer games. The various exes are like the end-of-level bosses who have special powers and abilities that Scott must find a way to overcome. Not only is this gaming approach an exciting stylistic device but it is also used as a simple yet effective metaphor for Scott having to find his inner strength in order to win Ramona’s love.
The other distinctive stylistic device present in this film is its comic book aesthetic. While Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not the first comic book adaptation to replicate the look and form of comics, it is the first one to take it as far as it does. Even the editing cuts dramatically from scene to scene to convey the sudden change in time and space that you get moving from one panel of a comic to another. Far from being a series of alienating jump cuts, this style is remarkably fluid and contributes to making it such a fast paced film that you can completely surrender to.
The story itself is rather slight with Scott and Ramona playing fairly typical indi film characters with him being the slightly awkward nice guy and her being the mysterious, quirky unobtainable girl. However, the film’s humour and energy overcome any danger of the film feeling overly familiar in any way. Michael Cera as Scott doesn’t exactly play against type but his performance is still enough of a departure from his very distinctive roles in films such as Juno and Superbad. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Die Hard 4.0 and Death Proof) has a wonderful onscreen presence and while sparks don’t really fly between the pair as much as they probably should, they are still a likeable enough onscreen couple.
Just as Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the Wayne’s World films and The Simpsons introduced a new style of self-aware post-modern comedy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World feels like the beginning of a new form of super self-reflexive cinema that relies on not just the audience’s knowledge of film and television but also other forms of media. The way it sets up and then sustains its internal logic and distinctive style is a remarkable achievement. It is also a consistently entertaining film from beginning to end.