Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) has never had a problem getting a girlfriend. It’s getting rid of them that proves difficult. From the girl who kicked his heart’s arse—and now is back in town—to the teenage distraction he’s trying to shake when Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) rollerblades into his world, love hasn’t been easy. He soon discovers, however, his new crush has the most unusual baggage of all: a nefarious league of exes control her love life and will do whatever it takes to eliminate him as a suitor.
Pat Benatar was right: 'Love is a Battlefield'. In Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World the titular hero, indolent 22-year-old bassist and general avoider of commitment, genuine effort and responsibility Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), finds that his pursuit of the newly arrived in Toronto Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) results in a series of battles against the young woman’s seven evil exes (they’re either a guild or a league, no-one’s sure of the official nomenclature). Like Wile E. Coyote, the shaggy-haired man-boy is battered, bruised and berated. Love seriously hurts.
In his previous features, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the English-born Wright had clear genre specifications to both undercut and fall back on (a zombie movie and a cop buddy adventure respectively). But with Scott Pilgrim, adapted from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s independent comic series, the shackles are off. The film has a droll, quick-witted energy allied to voluble sense of invention – the screen is full of touches that speak to both Gen Y’s gaming sensibilities and the obviousness of silent movies: little hearts burst out of locked lips, characters are introduced with deadpan title cards and Scott gets bonus points for each ex he destroys.
Games have been influencing movies for well over a decade now, with numerous action films and thrillers adapting the geography of game levels and their propensity for 'boss" villains to mark the end of a section. In Scott Pilgrim the aesthetic is Japanese: colourful, fun and given to batty visual excesses. The same moves that work on a dancing game in the arcade help dodge the blows of movie star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) or psychic vegan Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh). Yes, that’s the Human Torch and Superman (or at least screen versions of them) that Michael Cera deposes, and the idea of Cera, the poster boy of monosyllabic answers and shrugged shoulders besting anyone, let alone movie stars, is part of the movie’s pleasing charm.
Wright, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Ball, sends up the arms crossed, seen-it-all stance of Gen Y. The most fantastic things happen – the music at a battle of the bands turn into giant anime creatures that fight, Jason Schwartzman wields a sword – and the public audiences watch it all unfold. It’s not so much a suspension of disbelief as tying up disbelief and putting it in the boot of a car that’s tipped over a cliff. Wright is such a skilled pop craftsman that he pulls you in effortlessly and then, wisely, adds the odd whip smart comment and some screwball line readings, courtesy of Winstead, to match the visual industriousness.
The picture is great fun for over an hour, but Wright can’t quite pull off the transition into self-awareness, even if he has a game announcer call out the lessons Scott learns as if his moral realisations bring added powers. With its snowy, deserted streetscapes, there’s a whisper of Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That film suggested that technology could not compete against the heart, but in Scott Pilgrim the technology wins out in terms of serving as a theme. Still, once you’ve give yourself over to Scott Pilgrim it’s hard to not enjoy its various levels. And Wright even takes care of having a wise-cracking commentary on the side thanks to the presence of Kieran Culkin, as Scott’s gay housemate Wallace. His interjections are delivered with magisterial ease.
And like the best films that play to a generation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World suggests a prescription of sorts. It’s telling a generation of fey, happily ineffectual young men – this is a movie where the female characters literally wear the boots – to harden up. They can certainly laugh along with it, but if they think about it they might also cry.