The premise is simple; it’s the lightning-paced editing that’s complex. Canadian slacker Scott Pilgrim (played by an uncommonly curt Michael Cera) meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). However, the scaffolding to her heart is fraught with as many ladders as a game of “Donkey Kong;” he must defeat her seven evil ex-lovers in fight sequences that run a gamut of 16-bit references, from “Street Fighter” to “Mortal Kombat,” or it’s game over for their relationship.
Yet “Scott Pilgrim” isn’t a violent movie. The titular, twitter generation twenty-something bounces back with the resiliency of a Looney Toon after each subsequent pounding. And there isn’t a drop of blood in the picture—Enemies appropriately explode into a shower of coins when slain. It’s a creative decision pulled straight from the pages of the comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley (on which the film is based), but it communicates a poisonous message for advertisers and mainstream audiences with all the subtlety of a flashing neon sign: this is a niche movie if ever there was one.
The box office returns said as much; “Scott Pilgrim” will be best appreciated by those who have played “The Legend of Zelda” and can pick out a stray sound effect from “Sonic the Hedgehog,” but acknowledgement of such esoteric points of reference is entirely nonessential. My instinct is that almost anyone with an open mind will be equally swept up in the white-water current of a very fun film.
The action sequences are a blast. Compared more than once to Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (in which Uma Thurman stylishly exacts vengeance on five choice acquaintances), Wright’s film is just as successful at innovating action. Each of Scott’s bouts is accentuated by a unique gimmick—Chris Evans plays action star and evil ex Lucas Lee, who beats up on Pilgrim with his entire stunt team in tow; the ruthless Katayanagi Twins are dispatched via sound-wave avatars during a battle of the bands; Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh) is a vegan with telekinetic powers—The diversity of these sequences, beautifully, epileptically shot by cinematographer Bill Pope, keeps the premise from ever becoming stale.
Where the film does falter, at least in comparison to books, is in its inability to genuinely evoke audience empathy. Partly, this is because six graphic novels are being sandwiched into a 112-minute film. Trimming the fat, inescapably, means nipping at the arteries of the books’ heart. Wright was right to emphasize the kung fu over the lovey-dovey minutia, and in less altruistic hands, “Scott Pilgrim” might have been pitched as a six-part franchise (God help us).
Ultimately, your ability to connect with “Scott Pilgrim” lies in your ability to detach yourself from emotional expectation. “Cute” might be the best way to describe his relationship with Ramona, and the layers of nuance developed over however many hundreds of pages in the comics is largely absent in this adaptation. Still, it’s not a problem so much as it is a trade-off, and though the balance could be better, Wright improves upon O’Malley’s work just as often.
Know going in that it’s a movie about love, not romance. Know that the experience is more sensory, less sensitive, and you’ll find plenty to marvel at. A kaleidoscope of brilliant brawling with visuals like a laser light show, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” is resplendent with newness in an age where comic books films are a dime a dozen and all either look like “Spider-Man” or “300.”
Its wily, unfettered charm will be lost on literalists. Wright’s movie is a gee-whiz-wow-bang fantasy cartoon wrapped tight in hyperbole—And as the unrepentant adults disperse, the kids will rejoice.