On pure geekophilia, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World breakers enough barriers to make it a cult favourite. Opening with a chiptune version of the Universal theme, the film proudly displays its video game inspirations from start to finish. Any film that introduces its characters with RPG stats and attributes displayed beside them is already pitching itself outside of the general audience. And some of its references are exclusively for those in-the-know – seriously, I burst out laughing at Scott’s gay roommate’s 7/10 rating. It’s like every game-loving, rock wannabe’s vision of life as a video game, complete with emotive exclamations and classic sound effects.
The film is an adaptation of the six-part graphic novel that shoot creator Bryan Lee O’Malley to fame after the very first issue. 23-year-old Canadian Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is bass guitarist in his unsigned, Toronto band, Sex Bob-Omb. Scott’s a player, but it’s been a long time since he last saved a princess, and as such he’s dating a high schooler, Knives Chau. Which is “awesome,” right up until the moment he spots the pink-haired, so-cool-she-melts-ice, girl of his dreams: Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But what he doesn’t realise is to win her heart he must first defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. Cue lots of well choreographed fights with heightened CG and scenes of love and self-discovery.
The multi-talented auteur Edger Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame, brings his comedic eye and high-speed editing to bear on this modern fairytale, and succeeds in giving Scott Pilgrim a dreamlike style that blends the real and the retro. O’Malley deliberately included coins, 1UPs and other video game fixtures in his graphic novels in tribute to the medium. The filmmakers have dutifully gone whole hog with this concept: NPCs at parties, Street Fighter-style duels with deep-voiced announcer, and, my favourite, the ‘Great Fairy Fountain’ theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And if you fall head-over-heels for the cultural references you’ll love the music too. Rock songs from Beck, Plumtree, and T. Rex, held together by Nigal Godrich’s thumping score.
Performances are over-the-top, but things are a lot more Superbad than Superman. The most natural reason being Michael Cera himself. Quite apart from him baring any resemblance to the comic book character, Cera does make a watchable hero for this film adaptation at least. But having not read the novels, my overall impression was Cera out to get the girl again, only this time a little less dorky with more swagger. Winstead, on the other hand, was a real surprise. Seeing her ‘mop’ of pink hair and unimpressed expression in the posters, I was doubtful she’d be cool enough melt hearts. Yet, her air of mystery and knowing actions meant it’s hard not to be charmed by her.
The story doesn’t try anything too desperate, but at just under two hours it does struggle to pack everything in – a fact that is accentuated by its lighting fast transitions and scene changes. The sarcastic characters, amp-breaking music and cultural namedropping are what make this original. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a piece of work, a love note the gaming generation, a secret greeting that only best friends know. Some people won’t get past the SFX-massaged fight sequences to the real clever writing beneath. But when the rest of us see Scott reaching out to prod a weak point for ‘massive damage’, we’ll be roaring with laughter.