*Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
In Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, the visuals pop with jagged, comic-panel split-screens and straight-outta-Batman visual sound effects. Key dialogue and plot points are snatched precisely from the text, as is the Toronto setting. Flashbacks even incorporate O'Malley's manga-esque illustrations. On the surface, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World seems like a meticulously faithful adaptation.
It's a tricky thing, this notion of "fidelity" to source material. When a text is adored, fans will tolerate nothing less than slavish devotion to the original. But usually they're thinking only in terms of basic story arcs, without considering how tone and pacing can affect that arc. When a director thinks this way, you get a movie like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which delivers all the quirky energy of the source, but struggles to find the distinctive rhythms that gave the original its soul.
The film follows Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 20-something Canadian who's "between jobs" and hanging out with his punk-ish band Sex Bob-omb. He's started a relationship with student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) after a bad breakup, when he spies — first in dreams, and then the library — Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She's offbeat, she's beautiful, she's everything Scott wants — and she has seven evil exes that Scott must defeat in battle before he's worthy to be her boyfriend.
The notion of Scott's life being represented as a video game was one of O'Malley's most ingenious conceits, and Wright latches on to it from the moment a pixelated Universal Studios logo appears. Scott's fights with the evil exes are epic, heroic ninja brawls that crunch through walls and send defeated opponents exploding into showers of coins.
Wright embraces every gag the device offers, including character descriptions that pop up, and status bars representing an adversary's energy level, or the urgency of Scott's need to pee.
Wright is so fond of the gimmicks, however, that he overuses them. A ringing phone is accompanied by the word "RIIIIIIIING;" Scott's demoralized head banging includes the word "THUNK." Wright packs every frame with comic-book-ish energy.
And that's where he overlooks one of the key elements of the books: the deliberate lethargy of huge swaths. Scott begins as a fairly pathetic character, which Michael Cera captures with casual self-deprecation. But the series is Scott's journey toward seeing life as worth living between earth-shaking battles — and as tough as it might have been to allow parts of Scott Pilgrim to poke along, that's really where it misses out.
Still, Wright puts together an entertaining piece of work. The casting is particularly terrific, from Anna Kendrick as Scott's sister to Kieran Culkin as his gay roommate, with hilarious turns by Chris Evans and Brandon Routh as two exes. Wright even adds some great material — a cadre of stunt-double henchmen; a mid-battle Bollywood break; a laugh track for sitcom-style punch lines — with gloriously over-the-top action.
It's just hard not to wish that Wright had opted to slow the amped-up attitude at some point in the film's 113 minutes. For all its wild and enjoyable humor, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World could have been about a guy growing up to discover that being hip and edgy isn't everything.