Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Fanboys and fellow critics have worked themselves into a tizzy over Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Smart, dependable reviewers have called the movie a “masterpiece” and a “generational milestone,” a “genius turn” in the "Shaun of the Dead" filmmaker’s career.
If a picture as gleefully vapid as this is what passes for a generational milestone in 2010, we’re in trouble. Mr. Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s beloved graphic novel series (unread by this reviewer) is about as complete and coherent a film as was the blur of light and sound that comprised “Speed Racer.”
It’s rare to encounter a movie that means nothing, says nothing and never takes even the slightest of stabs at evoking any sort of lasting visceral feeling. It's a cotton candy blob disguising a black hole. The story of 23-year-old slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), who finds himself launched into arcade-game style confrontations with the seven evil ex-boyfriends of new flame Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is presented as a whirlwind of punches, overwrought “pow!” “blam!” sound effects, hyper-caffeinated laser-show visuals and a steady barrage of superfluous pop-culture references.
Surely, Mr. Wright has remained faithful to the source material. When “Scott Pilgrim” works at all, it’s because the film has the frenzied panel-by-panel feel — with rapid-fire transitions sprinkled throughout — of the more kinetic examples of the graphic-novel form. Some of the voluminous in-jokes hit thanks to their sheer randomness, as when Scott — accompanied by the synthesizer beats of the “Seinfeld” theme — does a Kramer entrance into the apartment he shares with roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin).
Unfortunately, the filmmaker deigns to enhance those superficial perks with a single compelling reason to actually see his movie. Forget well-rounded characters afforded depth and scope. Real concerns, genuine emotions and all hints of story/character arcs are shed in favor of an aura of nerdy, hipster anime cool and circular action scenes infused with an old-style arcade sensibility. The shtick — boyfriend confronts Scott; kung-fu style fight commences; and boyfriend bursts into coins — grows weary after its second iteration, with five more to go.
Too often, “Scott Pilgrim” evokes the cumbersome, even torturous, sensation of watching someone else delight in playing a cool new video game that you can't touch. If such an experience defines the current generation, the alarmist Chicken Little crowd that’s always moaning about our society’s dire future might be onto something.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Opens on Aug. 13 in the United States and on Aug. 25 in Britain.
Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Michael Bacall and Mr. Wright, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss; music by Nigel Godrich; production designer, Marcus Rowland; costumes by Laura Jean Shannon; produced by Marc Platt, Eric Gitter, Nira Park and Mr. Wright; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.
WITH: Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers), Kieran Culkin (Wallace Wells), Chris Evans (Lucas Lee), Anna Kendrick (Stacey Pilgrim), Alison Pill (Kim Pine), Brandon Routh (Todd Ingram), Ellen Wong (Knives Chau), Aubrey Plaza (Julie), Mark Webber (Steven) and Jason Schwartzman (Gideon Graves).