Netflix UK film review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Ivan Radford | On 28, Mar 2015Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Keiran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Mark Webber
Watch Scott Pilgrim online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
This is Scott Pilgrim (Cera). Scott Pilgrim’s precious little life involves computer games, sleeping and not much else. Unless you count his band, Sex Bob-Omb. They suck. Scott lives with his gay roommate, Wallace Wells (Culkin), and is dating a high schooler called Knives Chau (Wong). She’s Chinese. Then, one day, into his head rollerblades the girl of his dreams: Ramona Flowers (Winstead). And every immature boy knows what that means: awkward chat-up lines and some serious Street Fighter action.
You see, Ramona has seven exes. And they’re all evil. And if Scott wants to date her, then he has to defeat every one of them. It’s a wonderful way to depict emotional baggage, as well as the way that adolescent men can view women as prizes to win – a mark of the originality of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s outstanding graphic novels. As for translating those to the screen? Edgar Wright absolutely nails it.
Wright’s group of twenty-somethings are full of angst and sarcastic put-downs. From Scott’s sister, Stacey (Kendrick), to the Sex Bob-Omb’s lead talent, Stephen Stills (Webber), they spend their time either insulting Scott (deservedly) or dropping pop-culture references. For anyone who’s ever been through that slacker stage of life, it all rings true.
The evil exes blast into Scott’s life in a series of multi-coloured video game smack-downs: Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) does a funny song and dance number; the Kayanagi twins fight using monsters made of sound waves; and there’s a great turn from Mae Whitman, best known as Michael Cera’s Arrested Development ex, Anne. As head evil ex, Jason Schwartzman’s Gideon Graves is a great blend of sinister and suave, a solid final boss in what Scott perceives as a quest.
But the best of the bunch are Chris Evans and Brandon Routh, whose inspired cameos are as macho as they are hilarious. Using stunt doubles and vegan powers to boost their strength, they shout meaningless one-liners with straight-faced skill.
A lot of the dialogue is taken straight from O’Malley’s page, along with frame-for-frame shots and a constant use of shifting aspect ratios. It’s a unique blend of split-screen chaos, which fuses the grammar of games and cinema in a way that evolves neatly from Wright’s work on Spaced. Coupled with a soundtrack that includes 8-bit console tunes, the result is a multi-layered, multimedia geek’s fantasy.
Pixellating swords, sound effects written in large letters; everything is a natural fit in Wright’s hyperactive imagination. Even Michael Cera. It was a controversial casting decision for fans, substituting George Michael Bluth for Scott Pilgrim. But he manages to makes the role his own, from the shaggy hair to Scott’s selfish immature motives, ending up closer to the book’s hero than you might expect. He may not always be a nice guy – and he’s certainly called out for when he isn’t – but it’s easy to engage with the way the world is filtered through his warped mindset.
Edgar’s screenplay (co-written with Michael Bacall) sticks to the source for most of the runtime, but at less than two hours, it jettisons a lot of Scott’s past relationships; Kim frustratingly gets overlooked, but the structure is smooth and speedy. As a result, the ending is actually better than in the novels, giving us time to focus on the mysterious Ramona. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is suitably cool as the love of Scott’s life, but it’s not their screen-time or dialogue that gives the story depth; it’s the reactions of both her and the excellent Ellen Wong. Together, they provide an emotional subtext for the manic surface: get over your baggage, accept who you are, and always level up with a giant hammer.
Words like “generation defining” get thrown around a lot when Scott Pilgrim’s in the room. And for O’Malley’s outstanding books, it’s not a bad shout. Edgar Wright’s technical skills make Scott Pilgrim a different experience, but it’s equally impressive. Not just because of the stunning stunts and endless effects, but because it speaks to its audience. It says words like: Love. Life. Nintendo. And Canada.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.