Directed by Edgar Wright
Starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

3 out of 5 Arnolds

Incapable of emotionally connecting yet totally at home reciting factoids from Game Informer, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is your typical modern day nerd. When a chance encounter with the lilac-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) focuses his usually distracted gaze, Pilgrim goes out of his way to woo her. He fails to mention the fact that he’s already awkwardly entangled with Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), an eager high schooler who’s way too young for the dismissive Mr. Pilgrim. Ramona hasn’t been entirely truthful about her relationships either. Turns out that in order to win her affection, Scott has to duke it out with Flower’s seven ex-boyfriends. Why? Well, because this is based off of an amusing yet decidedly oddball comic book series that probably shouldn’t have been adapted into a feature film, that’s why.

Directed by Edgar Wright (The World’s End), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an energy-based supplement full of old school sight gags, zingers, puns, in-jokes, and emotional baggage.  Wright is totally capable of tackling this type of material and for the first 20 minutes or so you think he’s going to do it. Then the video game stuff starts opposing the relationship stuff, turning the whole thing into a button-masher instead of a quirky rom-com.

I had a similar problem with the latter volumes of Brian Lee O’ Malley’s graphic novel series. What I found easy to accept in volumes 1-3 (the geek references, the hipster-y angst, and the unusual takes on romance) we’re being aggressively replaced by things that confused me in volumes 4-6 (the abrupt video game-styled action, the slow burn plot, and the excessive tagging in of characters). Both the comics and the film go out of their way to cushion the viewer into this realm of whimsy, but neither manage to do much more than make the story’s midsection feel impulsive.

Is it Action A Go Go or Action A No No? Action A Go Go.
That’s not to say that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World isn’t entertaining. The cast is infectiously enthusiastic, the visual gags seem to constantly hit their mark, the numerous smaller jokes are a reward to astute viewers, and the songs are great. So why am I complaining? Well, I just recognize that the movie is an alienating experience. Ultimately, Scott Pilgrim will only really speak to gamers and manga fans. That’s perfectly fine, but it also means that it doesn’t translate well to film. Wright and company should be applauded for trying to fuse the language of games and comics into a movie-going experience, but I can’t say that I’m surprised that it did so poorly upon release in the summer of 2010. Maybe someone should have established a sort of “install base” by adapting it as a video game first. Or maybe Edgar Wright shouldn’t have bothered trying to make something so niche into a summer film. Or it’s possible that Scott Pilgrim was simply destined to be a cult hit no matter what.