Leave it to a comic book to finally get a video game movie right.
More specifically, leave it to director Edgar Wright, who twisted zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead and toyed with standard-issue cop film conventions in Hot Fuzz.
Now Wright takes on video games with another inspired comedy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Based on a graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, it's a film for the Nintendo Generation.
The hyper-violent boss battles of games like Street Fighter, the 8-bit victory tunes of The Legend of Zelda — the movie not only pays tribute to pixels past, it celebrates them with a dizzying display that's as fresh and innovative as any game seen on a home console.
And who better to celebrate this video game nerdvana than geek-chic actor Michael Cera?
Cera plays Scott, an average-at-best bass player in a less-than-average three-piece garage band, Sex Bob-omb, starry-eyed for its big indie-label break. Scott is the prototypical nice guy who has zero inspiration and aspiration. He has almost no possessions to his name, so he shares an efficiency space with his gay friend Wallace (played by a scene-stealing Kieran Culkin). In his early 20s, Scott is just desperate enough for romantic company to latch onto a high school girl, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). His life has become a monotonous series of ordinary moments — until he meets his indie dream girl Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Ramona, though, isn't too keen on Scott; she has a history of dumping boyfriends almost as quickly as she changes the color of her hair, and prefers to remain aloof to would-be suitors. But Scott's geeky sweetness and stubborn persistence win her heart. There's one problem in this budding romance: For Ramona to truly be Scott's, she informs him early in their relationship, he must defeat her seven deadly exes, led by Gideon (Jason Schwartzman), an indie record label exec and former boyfriend who has put together the League of Exes.
Scott, smitten with Ramona, refuses to give up on his true love, and naively agrees to the fight for the right to woo her, not knowing that the battles with exes are to the death.
The role marks some minor growth for Cera, an actor who has built his career playing underdog dorks. Scott is also an underdog dork, but there are more than hints to a shady past with previous girlfriends. Scott even has his own cadre of angry exes, with another soon to join, given how quickly he casts aside Knives for Ramona.
And despite her character's circumstances, Winstead resists the temptation to mope about the film. Ramona is funny, smart, cute — a good soul hounded by her failed relationships and doomed to never find love.
Their relationship ensures that this is more than just an 8-bit cartridge come to the big screen, something even nongamers will appreciate.
But Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is too smart to function only as another quirky, clever love story. Instead, the comedy deliriously shifts into something far less conventional, beginning with the appearance of the first evil ex. It's a reality defined by the laws of video games like Mortal Kombat, as Wright spins the film into a series of mini adventures leading to a chapter-closing, stylized brawl with each spurned partner of Ramona.
The battle sequences between Scott and the exes are dreamy, imaginative, and thoroughly engaging — thanks in large part to cinematographer Bill Pope, who helped define modern cinema's slow-mo battles with the Matrix trilogy, along with some brilliant set designs. The fights, for all their onscreen wizardry, also remain true to their gaming roots. For example, Scott earns points for hits, combo hits, and kills, with an extra life as a bonus if he scores high enough and lasts long enough.
Wright not only understands video games, he's clearly a fan.
And that makes a big difference in the success of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
While there have been numerous attempts by Hollywood to cash in on the popularity of video games, none of those films has felt true to the artistic and creative spirit of those games until now.
This one gets it right.
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