The summer's unlikeliest action hero turns out to be Michael Cera, playing the title role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a comedy that mocks its own proportions, right down to the title.
Cera is a generational figure, an actor whose sly and low-key approach to comedy strikes some as inspired, others as tired and shtick-laden. Cera continues to find new ways to spark laughs with his offbeat timing and unusual line readings.
He tends to play nebbishes, but Scott Pilgrim moves him out of that rut. Scott is a semi-happening guy, happening enough to have had a brief fling with local rock goddess Envy Adams (Brie Larson), before she cast him aside, breaking his heart in her pursuit of fame.
Scott is a would-be rock star, bassist in a rising Toronto trio called Sex Bob-Omb (which, when properly pronounced, sounds like you're saying "sex bomb" but stuttering slightly). Now 22, he's found a new love -- a 17-year-old girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) -- and has a chastely romantic relationship with the awestruck schoolgirl.
Then he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose brightly colored hair is only part of her smoky, remote appeal. But Scott quickly discovers that Ramona, new girl in Toronto, comes with baggage: seven former boyfriends and exes, each hellbent on destroying Scott for winning her attention.
Yes, I said destroying -- as in smashing into bloody pulp in a videogame. Director Edgar Wright, who coadapted the script from Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic-book series, utilizes just enough comic-book look (the visualizing of words for sounds, such as loose-floating type that says "Riiinnng," when the phone rings), then suddenly turns Scott's outlandish battles into martial-arts-centric videogame encounters.
At this point, the interface between this kind of videogame action and action films seems symbiotic. Videogames long sought the kind of smooth, realistic-looking, man-to-man action that movies provided; movies now seek to emulate the intensity of videogames, if not attempting to make an actual game into a movie; and videogames are advertised on television as if they were movies.
So the fights between Scott and his many rivals -- including witty turns by Chris Evans (as a movie action star who loved Ramona when they were kids) and Brandon Routh (as a vegan with mystical powers to both battle Scott and play bass in Envy Adams' band) -- graphically capture videogame-style action, with onscreen point totals -- including bonus points for executing particularly difficult or skillful moves.
The movie slides in and out of game mode or comic mode or rock-video mode. Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, mixes moods and tones skillfully. Still, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World feels like the first movie aimed squarely at the gamer generation: those who have grown up with videogames as a fact of life and, in some cases, a reason for living.
Wright creates a world where power-ups and leveling up are facts of life, yet everyone still has time to comment on Scott's haircut. The concerns that create comedy are mundane; the epic battles (and remember: this film advertises itself as "an epic of epic epicness") between Scott and his rivals may have outcomes that are preordained. But the writing and filmmaking are nimble enough to make this all seem fresh and familiar at the same time.
The script pokes as much fun at Scott's dweeby rock-star aspirations as he pokes at himself. It also spoofs everything from rock'n'roll pretentiousness to gays as the original social network, finding seemingly endless new ways to riff on its central romantic-quest idea.
As mentioned, enjoyment of the film may hinge on your appetite for Michael Cera. Some simply don't have it, or only in limited amounts. I feel that, between this film and Youth in Revolt earlier this year, Cera has proven himself a resourceful and inventive comic actor, surprising audiences with a kind of comedy misdirection that so far has served him well.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about love and perseverance, about standing up for what you believe in -- nothing complicated, the basic values -- and all done with a fizzy originality that will keep you giggling.