‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ is deeply rooted in pubescent romantic fantasy
By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: In many ways, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is the equivalent of the “Twilight Saga” for boys. It is deeply rooted in pubescent romantic fantasy, albeit this time from the male’s point of view. It is foolish and shallow about the ways of relationships, pandering to the basest instincts of the target audience. Like the “Twilight Saga,” one could argue that the lessons imparted from this film could be almost dangerous if applied to the real world, although I will again remark that it’s only an escapist fantasy. And like that blockbuster series, I genuinely enjoyed nearly everything about it except for the core love triangle. The film is visually dazzling, often stunningly imaginative and playful. It is bright and colorful and filled to the brim with delightful and intelligent supporting characters. I just couldn’t stand to spend any real time with Bella, Edward, and Jacob… I mean Scott Pilgrim, Romona Flowers, and Knives Chou.
A token amount of plot: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is an aimless 22-year old rocker who is still heartbroken after his girlfriend ‘kicked his heart in the ass’ (broke up with him and then became a successful rock star) well over a year ago. He’s currently involved with Knives Chou (Ellen Wong), a seventeen-year old Asian Catholic schoolgirl who worships the ground he walks on while he barely gives her the time of day or any real affection. None the less, he is instantly smitten when he spots Romona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a party and quickly begins to date her as well. Alas, Flowers has neglected to mention that in order to date her, Scott must defeat her seven ‘evil’ exes in glorious ‘mortal kombat’. Can Scott Pilgrim defeat the exes, be honest with Knives, win the girl, and help his band make it big?
First the good news: the film is an audio/visual wonderland, as the simple narrative gives way to a potent mash up between comic book and video game worlds. Sound effects are spelled out onscreen, the film is edited together like a ‘cut scene’ from an 80s video game, and the action scenes are bursting with larger than life moments from any given video game over the last thirty years (defeated foes explode into a pile of gold coins). The film is filled with colorful dialogue and quirky supporting characters. Kieren Culkin has a star-making turn as Scott’s gay roommate, someone who reminds us that the best friends are the ones who tell us to go to hell. If the film makes his character a bit too much about being gay, then at least he’s allowed to have an active and onscreen love life. Anna Kendrick has a few amusing scenes as Scott’s empathetic but frustrated sister, and Aubrey Plaza is almost a walking, talking rebuttal to the absurdly naive core romance. And at least a few of the ‘evil exes’ make an impression, as Chris Evans is amusing as an action film star and Brandon Routh scores big laughs as a rocker whose devotion to veganism gives him super powers (intentional or not, he ends up resembling the much-derided ‘lightning Superman’ from the late 1990s).
Alas, in the middle of this video game come to life is a stunningly hollow center. While any number of films can survive a passive protagonist, having an actively self-destructing and/or obnoxiously moronic protagonist is usually fatal. Scott Pilgrim, through little fault of Michael Cena, is a stunningly unsympathetic lead character. He is lazy, careless, thoughtlessly cruel, and completely self-pitying. He ignores the needs and wishes of his fellow band members and completely uses the worshiping Knives for no particular purpose other than to feed his own withering ego. His pursuit of Romona Flowers basically amounts to making as much of an ass out of himself as possible yet still winning her affection because Winstead read the script ahead of time. Even after he’s inexplicably stolen Romona’s heart (or at least her passing interest), he spends most of the time in a swirl of self-pity in the ‘why does she like me?/when will she dump me?’ vein. That the lead character is pretty much a hardcore loser who eventually learns a lesson (at the last possible moment of this nearly-two hour film) isn’t the problem. The problem is that we’re supposed to be rooting for this moron from the first minute. By thirty minutes in, I was solidly on the side of ‘the World’.
As for Knives, Ellen Wong certainly gives it her all. But since we like her in that lost puppy kind of way, we feel a constant swell of pity whenever she’s onscreen, as nearly every moment is filled with hurt and sorrow at the hands of ‘our hero’. Romona Flowers is herself a severely under-developed character. And frankly, without going into spoiler details, any bits of romantic substance to be gleaned from this film were dealt with in a more mature and adult manner in “She’s Out of My League.” While the film seems to be about Scott Pilgrim overcoming Romona’s emotional baggage, the climax throws that all out the window for a finale where Scott Pilgrim literally has to rescue Ramona, who is now revealed as a brainwashed hostage of the final ‘evil ex’. Remember kids, that girl you like isn’t really having issues dealing with past crappy relationships, she’s just under the mind control of her slimy ex-boyfriend, and it’s your job to save her. The gall of the film to just toss out whatever little bits of substance it contained in order to go into full-on hero-complex fantasy is just appalling (when Scott enters the villain’s lair, Romona is literally kneeling like a dog beside her ex-boyfriend’s throne).
To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos.
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