Movies based on graphic novels and comic books are all the rage these days. But while “comic book” denotes superheroes with clear-cut heroes and villains, there’s something gritty about the title “graphic novel” that suggests skewed morality, violence and sex. And often these books are filled with just that. Stories like “Kick-Ass,” “300” and “Sin City,” while entertaining, aren’t really suitable for a young audience – in book or movie form.
Enter “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” a stylized – and teen-friendly – conglomeration of rock band, early Nintendo, Samurai swords and the glamour of Indy rock and roll.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), 23, lives a meaningless life in Toronto (but don’t hold that against him – it’s Toronto), playing bass in a small-time band and rebound dating a high-schooler after his girlfriend dumped him and became a famous pop musician. His life changes when he falls for American rocker chick Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party. They start dating, but Scott quickly learns that if he wants the relationship to last he’s got to fight for it – against her “League of Evil Exes,” six ex-boyfriends and an ex-girlfriend who will fight to the death to stop Scott Pilgrim’s happiness.
It’s original in just about every way. From battle-of-the-bands action scenes pitting musical monsters against each other, to early game system references, the film is pure fun from beginning to end.
Being based on Canadian writer Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, director (and co-writer) Edgar Wright incorporated a number of elements, like split screens and different camera angles, directly out of the genre. It made for a fun viewing experience, and reminds you that it’s a movie.
But the acting doesn’t. By the end of the film, the characters roped me in. Cera was hilarious as usual, but he channeled his typical lack of confidence and geeky style into a very real 23-year-old protagonist, still trying to find himself. Winstead was a hot mystery girl and the supporting cast of evil exes and band friends soundly captured just about every stereotypical personality in the music/Indy music scene. In the end, I was invested in whether Scott wins his girl or not, and that’s the best mark of a good film.
The film is pretty clean. Every F-word is bleeped out by a computer game sound effect with a black bar over the offender’s mouth. It gives each use a comic twist, and keeps the film easily in the PG-13 rating.
Action sequences are stylized. Scott Pilgrim reduces his enemies to arcade slot coins in killer kung-fu battles. When he defeats the eccentric evil exes, he advances to new “levels” and his point total for each battle appears on screen, ensuring that you don’t take the victories too seriously.
The story is well constructed, with references reappearing, and the dialogue is solid.
From the preview, if you’ve seen it, you’ll know that there’s a “sex scene” in the film. It’s another comic element, resulting in Ramona telling Scott that she doesn’t want to have sex with him. There are a number of references to sex, but they are humorous and relatively innocuous.
While the story delves into Scott’s quest to overcome his own self-doubt and avoid becoming a tool like Ramona’s exes, don’t search too hard for a deep lesson. You’ll just be disappointed. But if you’re looking for entertainment, it’s the funniest film I’ve seen since “Kick-Ass,” and one of the best in the graphic novel genre. It’s definitely a journey to the box office that I’d recommend.