“Scott Pilgrim” Super Smashes the World of Video Games

Graphic Novel/Video Game Adaptation Adds to List of Director Edgar Wright’s Genre-Breaking Films


Published: August 25, 2010

Video game adaptations, a film genre with a dearth of good examples, have now found a champion. I’ve never seen a movie capture the sensibilities of video games (with a few traces of comic books) as well as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” does. This is a film that compiles the commonalities of those two forms of media and delights in exposing their inherent silliness. Writer and director Edgar Wright, who spoofed zombie movies in “Shaun of the Dead” and action films in “Hot Fuzz,” has adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga-inspired series into a bright and hugely entertaining comedy.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) rocking out, chasing girls and getting laughs from moviegoers. (Kerry Hayes/Courtesy Universal Pictures/MCT)

Part of this movie’s hilarity is in how it exaggerates an ordinary premise. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a young geek with an up-and-coming rock band, falls for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) without realizing what dangerous baggage she carries. Instead of the convention of meeting her ex-boyfriend, Scott ends up facing her seven evil exes, all of whom aim to annihilate him. In the video game world this story inhabits, each of these encounters becomes a life-or-death brawl straight out of “Mortal Kombat” or “Street Fighter.”

Wright uses several diegetic and non-diegetic elements to create “Scott Pilgrim’s” unique visual style. The most noticeable piece of the movie is the extreme action accentuation. The use of effects like speed lines (a Japanese effect that appears whenever a character strikes a pose) and flashing onomatopoeia (everything from the “Pow” of a punch to the “Ring” of a telephone) suggest that the audience is watching a living, breathing comic book. These touches also construct some of the movie’s funniest moments when the characters acknowledge and react to some of these absurdities.

The cinematography and editing also contribute heavily to the movie’s geeky appeal. “Scott Pilgrim” is photographed with saturated colors that heighten the fantastical video game look. The fights are often presented in medium shots, a choice much closer to games’ wide combat display than the claustrophobic photography in the recent game adaptation, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” For the dialogue scenes, the aspect ratio shifts for exposition that video games would show as cutscenes. Chapter subtitles and split screens representing comic panels complete the dazzling illusion.

Accompanying and sometimes surpassing the witty imagery is the surprising and talented cast. At first, Cera appears to be typecast as another hapless and slightly melancholy romantic, an acting choice that could have tarnished the effectiveness of the surrounding craziness. Cera instead delivers a bewildered and occasionally hyper performance that departs heavily from his usual routine. Perfectly offsetting Cera’s naïveté are the histrionic exes (including Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman) and Scott’s sardonic friends and family (featuring Anna Kendrick and the riotous Kieran Culkin). These actors are terrific by themselves, but they cumulatively become the driving energy for this spirited production.

As somebody who has played a fair number of video games, I believe “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a comedy that every gamer will enjoy. It lovingly satirizes the senselessness of the format by recreating video game stages in a live-action world where people can respond to them. The hectic visuals and deadpan cast are an ideal match whose counteraction produces more laughs than any other live-action movie I’ve seen this year. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go collect quarters so I can restart this adventure as soon as I can.

For additional reviews of films past and present, visit www.fordhamobserver.com and James Miller’s blog “Movies Now and Then” at www.movies-nowandthen.blogspot.com.