Pilgrim's Progress: Another Spoiler-Free Mini Review

 I went into the sneak preview of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with a lot of baggage. While I did enjoy Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series, I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out on the whole phenomenon. It’s the kind of franchise that attracts a lot of hyper, obsessive fans who love it to an embarrassing degree, and its imminent arrival as a motion picture has also attracted a bunch of jaded newbies—the type who disdainfully throw the first volume on the counter at the store and ask me, with a dismissive sniff, “So is this movie gonna be any good?”. Somewhere between the two, I’ve tried to maintain an attitude of cautious optimism, mostly based on the involvement of Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz). I’m happy to say, though, that Scott Pilgrim won me over pretty quickly with its fast pace, cool action, relentless comedy, winning cast, and inspired soundtrack.

 In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the plot: Toronto slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a bass-playing slacker who’s sort-of dating a high school girl (I say sort-of because it’s less a romance and more a way of avoiding responsibility for Scott, as well as avoiding the possible heartbreak of a real relationship after his last one went sour). When he meets Ramona Flowers, the literal girl of his dreams (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Scott is instantly smitten, but soon learns that to win her heart, he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes. Lots of rock and roll, drama, heartbreak, and Nintendo-style battles ensue, punctuated with Wright’s signature pushing of multiple pop-culture buttons.

 While star Michael Cera isn’t really going to do a lot to reverse the ongoing backlash against his well-worn awkward goofball persona here, he fits the lead character well and acquits himself surprisingly during the movie’s many fight scenes. The supporting cast is filled with reliable comedy MVPs and actiony superguys playing against type. Kieran Culkin, as Scott’s roommate Wallace, has a lot of the film’s best lines, and Chris Evans and Brandon Routh subvert their filmic superhero personas to hilarious effect as two of Ramona’s evil exes (a third superhero actor shows up in a cameo appearance, leading to one of the movie’s best and funniest background gags, but I won’t spoil it here). The soundtrack is a lot of fun as well, featuring really catchy Sex Bob-omb (Scott’s fictional band) songs written by Beck, as well as Frank Black, T-Rex, The Rolling Stones, and Canadian faves Metric and Broken Social Scene (not to mention Plumtree, the Halifax band whose song gave Scott Pilgrim its title).

 None of this would work, however, without the sure hand of Edgar Wright guiding the ship. Scott Pilgrim is crammed with visual cleverness (after learning of the seven evil exes, Scott walks down a street framed by X’s on street signs) and bursting with cool video-game battles (when opponents are defeated, they usually dissolve into a pile of tokens). The many digital effects required for the various zero-gravity smackdowns, magically-conjured monster avatars, and flaming katanas are seamlessly blended into the live-action stunt work with funny and exciting results. Scott Pilgrim feels like no other movie before it, and it’s the kind of material that probably couldn’t have been brought to life in such an impressive and accessible way by any other director. Extra kudos to Wright and company for keeping the Canadian-ness of the books present throughout the movie—Honest Ed’s, Second Cup, and Lee’s Palace are all on display thoughout, and the coins dispensed by defeated opponents visibly include loonies and toonies. With its very specific pop-cultural touchstones, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is likely going to alienate a lot of older viewers, but for those of a certain generation, it’s likely to strike a very appealing chord.