DAVE DAVIES, host:
The new film "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" stars Michael Cera as a Canadian slacker who plays in a rock 'n' roll band and does battle with his girlfriend's ex-boyfriends in the style of a video game hero. It's based on a series of graphic novels.
Critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: In the films of British director Edgar Wright, there's a fluid connection between real life and the trashiest pop culture. His "Shaun of the Dead" was a zombie rehash, but Wright used all those borrowed tropes to satirize provincial English complacency in a way that had never been done.
Now, in the comedy "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," Wright uses a series of Canadian graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley as a springboard for showing how rock and roll and video games fuel the most outrageous fantasies, even in the most mundane places.
O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" centers on a 20-something, down-and-out Toronto bass player, played onscreen by Michael Cera. Most of the time, Scott shares a mattress in a crummy, one-room dive with a gay friend, played with sly understatement by Kieran Culkin. And he dates a high-school girl named Knives Chau, played by the buoyant Ellen Wong. Then he falls for Mary Elizabeth Winstead's magenta-haired, punk rollerblader Ramona Flowers, and learns that he might soon be besieged by her jealous exes.
(Soundbite of movie, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World")
Ms. MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD (Actor): (as Ramona Flowers) If we're going to date, you may have to defeat my Seven Evil Exes.
Mr. MICHAEL CERA (Actor): (as Scott Pilgrim) You have seven evil ex-boyfriends?
Ms. WINSTEAD: (as Ramona Flowers) Seven Evil Exes - yes.
Mr. CERA: (as Scott Pilgrim) And I have to fight...
Ms. WINSTEAD: (as Ramona Flowers) Defeat.
Mr. CERA: (as Scott Pilgrim) Defeat your Seven Evil Exes if we're going to continue to date?
Ms. WINSTEAD: (as Ramona Flowers) Pretty much.
Mr. CERA: (as Scott Pilgrim) So what you're saying right now is we are dating?
Ms. WINSTEAD: (as Ramona Flowers) I guess.
Mr. CERA: (as Scott Pilgrim) Does that mean we can make out?
Ms. WINSTEAD: (as Ramona Flowers) Sure.
Mr. CERA: (as Scott Pilgrim) Cool.
EDELSTEIN: That mix of the deadpan and the outlandish is "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" at its best. Seven Evil Exes? Well, yes. They appear, one by one, in the rock clubs where Scott and his band are playing. And suddenly, with no explanation, Scott transforms into a superhero, a flying, kung-fu fighting, rock 'n roll warrior. People blast one another with death rays, and fling one another through walls. And in several scenes, the screen splits horizontally: Scott rockets from right to left on top, while his adversary barrels from left to right below. Crazy as all this is, there's a level on which it does connect with Scott's emotional reality, with the feeling of transcendence he has onstage playing bass - a bass that here, throws bolts at the sky.
At first, the crazy-quilt inventiveness of Wright's movie is elating. It has a look all its own: part comic-book panel, part arcade video game screen from the era of Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Even the Universal pictures logo is rendered as a crude arcade game. Fun facts and character IDs pop up. When Scott and Ramona smooch, pink hearts float out of the screen.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" could have been among the coolest movies ever made. But it runs down. The parade of super-villain exes - among them Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman, as their evil overlord - is like a forced march. I felt I'd had my fill of the fights, and there were still five exes to go.
But the biggest problem is, alas, Scott Pilgrim. Michael Cera dials down his patented high-pitched hysteria, but our superhero is still a super-cipher. That might work if the disjunction between his wishy-washyness and his powers were played for satire. But it's just a disjunction. He doesn't earn those powers, and he certainly doesn't earn the dishy Ramona, who inspires the film's most lyrical sight gag when she heads off into the night, and the snow glows and melts under her Rollerblades.
Director Edgar Wright has done thrilling work, but he can't find here the connection between life and pop that he found in his other films. Scott Pilgrim doesn't seem lit from within. He's a superhero for dim bulbs.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
You can see clips from "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and download podcasts of our show at our website: freshair.npr.org. And you can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair.