Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a disorganized mess. It’s an overly ambitious, poorly thought out, complete and utter failure made by and populated with talented people who should have known better. Watching it, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, except that, as much as Kevin Smith seemed to realize he was poking fun at and laughing with the slacker generation he helped give voice to, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World hasn’t the slightest idea its main character is a pathetic buffoon. I suspect its title hero was conceived as the apex of all things geek protagonist we’ve become strangely fascinated with lately, but really, he’s just an uncreative loser who saunters through life lazily existing. There’s nothing profound or loveable about his awkwardness, he’s simply awkward because he doesn’t have anything to say.
I suppose the glorification of the awkward kid was inevitable. You can only champion the beautiful and the witty for so long before the other half is bound to get their say, but it’s a little strange and off-putting to be asked to root for a character merely because he’s not charming or beautiful. Scott Pilgrim isn’t even really a very nice guy. He’s just some dude who apparently deserves his own movie and the girl of his choice because there’s always a hot chick at the end of every straight dude fantasy. Why not his too? Why not this particular movie? Not having a job, a future or a general goal in life certainly does give one plenty of time to get up to some shenanigans. Unfortunately, those shenanigans turn out to be so incredibly long-winded and trivial, that Scott’s general unlikeability becomes the least of his film’s problems.
Twenty-two year old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is dating a seventeen year old high school student (Ellen Wong) for reasons even he seems unsure of. He plays in a band with a few of his friends, and his days seem to involve lots of what my mother might describe as me-time. After dreaming about a mysterious blue-haired girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he randomly meets her at a party. She falls for him almost immediately, though it’s never clear why, and they begin a clunky romance that mostly involves watching band practices, getting to second-and-a-half base and being teased by Scott’s gay roommate hilariously played by Kieren Culkin. All of this is, maybe not a great movie, but a perfectly serviceable film I would have likely given three stars. But then the blue-haired girl’s evil exes start showing up, and it all goes down pinioned to the plot it forced upon itself.
There’s seven of them, the evil exs, of all races and genders, led by the diabolical Gideon (Jason Schwartzman). They’ve conspired and agreed to fight Scott one-by-one so he can either prove his love or die trying. This is the start of a much worse movie I would unquestionably give one star. It’s not that the premise is done incorrectly; it’s that the premise doesn’t work. By so overtly announcing seven evil exes every few seconds, the film ruins any sense of pace it might have. The viewer is left to annoyingly tabulate how many fights must remain until the big finish and to speculate on whether there will be one or two bland filler scenes before the next random attack.
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is a disorganized mess. Like many disorganized messes involving talented people, it has its moments of genius. No one, least of all me, will accuse this film of not trying. There are references to countless video games, tv shows and staples of the film genre. Its graphics are intentionally over-the-top, it’s dialogue semi-frequently rife with wonderful word play and goofy, original turns of phrase, which is, I guess, what makes Scott Pilgrim Vs The World so goddamn frustrating. In creating this wildly imaginative, over-the-top ADHD world of villainous former boyfriends and cheeky, ever-present graphics, the film sacrifices any chance it has of ever creating real suspense or emotion. Disposable and whimsical aren’t always bad, but they’re never truly great. These actors, this talented filmmaker, know this. They know lasting movies need depth, need character development, need heart, so they shoehorn it in like thousands of that-third-act-suddenly-got-serious comedies. The results are irritating at best.
Black Flag lead singer and amateur philosopher Henry Rollins once mused on the inevitable death of punk rock. He joked, with more than a hint of honesty, that any legitimately good punk rock artist would eventually find a new genre once he developed as a musician enough to realize there was more to music than three chords. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World once again finds Michael Cera playing three chords. I’m left to wonder whether he’s grown as keenly aware and disenchanted of his own station as Rollins. What once was original, even refreshing, has now become boring and tiresome. All of the offbeat charm, the subtle nuances that made Michael Cera characters more loveable than their suave, muscular counterparts are all but gone in his portrayal of Scott Pilgrim. The humanity has been replaced with a caricature awkwardly miming that same bizarre timing.
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is terrible. I can’t recommend it, even to the small niche genre it’s catered to because as I just pointed out, it’s terrible. There’s an above-average film in here somewhere, one that’s chock-full of witty asides and a subplot involving Kieren Culkin stealing Anna Kendrick’s boyfriends, but all that’s overwhelmed amidst the absolute debacle hybrid that is Edgar Wright’s grandiose, heavy-handed direction, Michael Cera’s back-on-the-horse-for-no-reason-in-particular schtick and that awful plot. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World should have been the film which ultimately defined geek chic, instead it will go down as the moment most of us said I wonder what the popular kids are up to.
For an alternate take on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World read Katey's Comic Con review.