If you asked any urban hipster under 30 what movie he was going to see on August 13, 2010, he would have said Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and you might be excused for thinking the movie was thus going to be a huge hit. That it wound up bombing at the US box office tells you that most Americans are not really into a film like Scott Pilgrim, a nearly unclassifiable mishmash of indie comedy, martial arts flick, rock musical, live action cartoon, and superhero movie.
Adapted from Bryan Lee O'Malley's Toronto-set comic books, the film's simple setup is that fey 22-year-old slacker Scott (Michael Cera) falls for too-cool-for-school Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and, in order to win her, must defeat her seven evil exes in elaborate battles modeled after video games like Street Fighter. These over-the-top challenges serve as a metaphor for the insecurity a young man feels when dating a girl who's out of his league: each of Ramona's evil exes represents a level of hipness, success, or sex appeal that Scott can never achieve.
Thematically, the film goes no deeper than that. There's no profundity here, merely eye candy – and lots of it, courtesy of the talented Edgar Wright, who gained legions of nerdy fans with his British TV series Spaced and his first feature, the excellent Shaun of the Dead. After his cop comedy Hot Fuzz faltered – perhaps it was too British even for Wright's Anglophile fans – it seemed the director would reclaim the film geek crown with Scott Pilgrim. Indeed, this movie is destined for cult status for its clever visuals alone, which push the medium to such limits that I honestly wonder where cinema can go from here. (I'm surprised it wasn't released in 3D.) But while this is a lively, funny, eye-popping experiment in mainstream filmmaking, it's not much more than that.
Weirdly, Scott Pilgrim reminded me a bit – maybe even a little too much – of (500) Days of Summer, with a generous helping of Run Lola Run, a dash of Sin City, and a hint of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In other words, I think Wright is trying just a wee bit too hard to appeal to every twenty/thirtysomething who flocked to those hipster classics. He's thrown in everything but the kitchen sink, and as a result his film feels overdone.
Don't get me wrong: I definitely enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, and I'd even pay to see it again. But if I'm being a little harsh, it's because Shaun of the Dead stunned me with the genuine emotion and depth lurking beneath its "zombie comedy" sheen, so I know Wright is capable of finding the soul in his poppy material. But he doesn't do that here. There should be a rule: The more style you display, the more substance you need to back it up with.
Nevertheless, the cast is perfect (Cera's boyishness may soon doom him to Ralph Macchioland, but his comic talents keep his career going) and you can't deny Wright's sincere passion for moviemaking and for pop culture.