If you'll allow me to launch myself into the air and, with a devastating finishing move, bring my elbow crashing down on the caps LOCK KEY FOR JUST A SECOND: SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD = FLAWLESS VICTORY. Surely the best video game movie ever made (though not based on a particular game), it’s a kinetic, pop-art explosion that at no point made me want to throw my controller at the wall in a temper tantrum. Are you ready? Here we go! (either that was a game reference or I’m bizarrely over-enthusiastic: you decide).
Based on the comic books by Canadian artist Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is about a 22-year-old bassist (Cera) who plays in a Toronto garage band called Sex Bob-Omb. Jobless, and with no apparent ambition, he rehearses with his band, dates a 17-year-old schoolgirl called Knives Chau (Wong), fends off his meddling sister (Kendrick) and hangs out with his gay man-eater roommate Wallace (Culkin, hilarious). Everything changes when he falls head over heels for Ramona Flowers (Winstead), the sexy but melancholy girl that’s moved into the area from New York. After persuading her to go out, it turns out that Ramona actually kind of likes Scott, and they start dating. If that sounds like a standard romantic comedy setup, things become a little less standard when Scott learns that Ramona has seven evil exes that he must fight to the death using martial arts, video game power-ups and rock music. The exes include an action movie star (Evans), a vegan rock star (Routh), a Bollywood-dancing goth (Bhabha), and twin Japanese DJs (Shota and Keita Saito).
Cera is perfect as the slacker in love, and though Scott is a slightly dumber, slightly less sweet version of the character we’re used to seeing Cera play, he’s still likely to get criticism for being the same in every film. Unfair criticism if you ask me (you did ask didn’t you?), since you could say the same about Woody Allen or Jason Statham or even George Clooney. Nobody seems to notice you playing the same part when you’re a ludicrously handsome leading man. But if you’ve got a puny frame, a sing-song voice and that so-awful-it-gets-sucked-into-a-wormhole-and-comes-out-the-other-end-cool hairstyle (itself the subject of a nice running joke) everyone comes down on you like a ton of Tetris blocks. In any case, Cera’s comic timing and delivery are spot on. Winstead as Ramona Flowers is sexy, sarcastic and funny ... but like Scott, a little unsure of herself. They make a sweet couple, and there was just enough to their romance among all the action to successfully stimulate my humanity glands. The supporting cast do a great job of making their characters memorable with limited screen time, particularly Wong who manages to make the immature, obsessive Knives completely loveable. As well as the evil exes, Scott must confront his own treatment of the people around him, especially Knives, if he’s to beat the final boss. But it’s Culkin that gets many of the best lines and, in career terms, levels up so much I suspect he may have used a cheat code (or POKE).
But in the end this is Wright’s film, and it’s important not to underestimate just what he’s achieved here. Wright showed a gift for action and comedy in both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but in terms of visual technique he’s working on a different level here. Sam Raimi’s crash zooms suddenly look rather quaint. From the moment the lovely 8 bit recreation of the Universal logo appears at the start you know you’re in safe hands visually. Characters are introduced with onscreen stats, opponents explode into gold coins when defeated as the new high score floats above them, and sound effects are written across the screen. Wright also employs his usual propulsive editing style along with split screen and a bunch of video game sound effects. You only need the slightest experience of games to instantly understand this language. But if you wasted hundreds of 10p’s trying to complete Afterburner then so much the better (I used to tell people I completed it. I didn’t. Forgive me). Geeks have always had their favourite directors, but those guys are usually directing aliens or robots or serial killers, so it’s incredibly refreshing to have a director with such a total command of the medium direct his skills towards young love and inspired visual gags ... as well as expertly choreographed fight scenes. And Wright is only 36. The only option left, my friends, is to hate him with the burning intensity of a thousand suns.
Some might claim that the cumulative effect of this assault on the senses is somewhat wearying. Older people, for example. But the style is the substance if you ask me (I definitely heard you ask that time): this is a film about young love, rock bands and video games, so what do you want, restraint? If you’re going to be all get-off-my-lawn about it then maybe you shouldn’t have gatecrashed this party in the first place. Actually, I think I like the fact that this is a film about youth that might piss off the elderly. I love the film Juno, but then again so did my grandma – or at least she would have done if she wasn’t dead – and that just isn’t right is it? The only minor quibble I had was that there wasn’t much tension in the fight scenes. But again, it’s by design: this is a video game, and Scott can just fight hordes of enemies when he has to just like I can whenever I pick up a game controller (I got mad skillz, srsly). Tension isn’t really the point. The internal logic of the film makes sense, and the fights themselves are funny, wildly imaginative (Vegan police!) and joyous the way the best musicals are, only instead of bursting into the song these characters engage in epic fights before bursting into coins. It’s not the winning or the losing but the playing that matters, and it’s a blast.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is funny, raucous, immature, bonkers and sweet, and I wouldn’t change a pixel. So for anyone that's had a crush, anyone that's been dumped, anyone that's worshipped a local band, any guy that’s played video games, any girl that’s watched her boyfriend play video games, any girl that's watched her boyfriend play video games and thought "you SUCK!" and punched him in the head and stolen the controller and completed the game herself on HARD setting: this is your film. Ask your friendly projectionist to crank the volume up to 11. The squares in the next screen watching Eat, Pray, Love will probably be banging on the walls asking you to keep the noise down, but that's exactly how it should be: Scott Pilgrim will blow the roof off.