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Rated 3.06 stars
by 349 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
by Jeffrey Chen

Movie critics, like anyone else, are subjective creatures, but readers expect us to be objective anyway, so most of the time a reviewer will try to maintain a balance between the two sides. However, there are times when objectivity will just have to go straight out the window. For me, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of those times.

I was already mightily looking forward to the movie because it's directed by Edgar Wright, the yet-to-be-household name who directed two of my favorite recent comedies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Yet I had no idea just how much his next project would be meant for someone like me. Scott Pilgrim, based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, is about a 22-year-old bassist (Michael Cera) in an aspiring rock band who falls for a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but in order to win her hand he must defeat her seven exes (as in "ex-boyfriend"). And here "defeat" means to actually beat them in one-on-one combat -- video game-style.

The movie immediately shows how different it plans on being by reveling in an array of visual gimmicks, mostly meant to emulate the style of comic books -- sound effects get written out on screen, labels point things out, certain moments are revealed in a series of split panels, etc. But steadily and surely, the video game references come out -- and not just any video games, but stuff from that classic block of time when Nintendo ruled gamers' households. 8-bit style graphics adorn the shots, music from a Legend of Zelda game is used in the background, and the name of Scott Pilgrim's band -- the "Sex Bob-Ombs" -- is a direct reference to a character in Super Mario Bros. games. Even if the movie only felt cute and teasing in these moments, it truly invites you to take the plunge once the first "evil ex" shows up. As he rockets fist-first towards the stage where the band is performing, challenges Scott to a fight to the death, and Scott actually responds with graphically-enhanced fighting moves, you will either check out completely, or embrace it with a grin that says, "I get this... I totally totally get this." Before you know it, the word "VS" flashes on the screen, the frenetically shot fights are lit up with colorful effects, and the bad guys get eliminated in a burst of coins and the appearance of a score.

Wright's handling of this material is some kind of revelation -- based on his Simon Pegg collaborations, I always knew he was a visually attentive humorist with great comic timing, but Scott Pilgrim shows he understands a whole mindset about the way an old-time gamer is geared. It's not only in the way the world is filtered through an obsessive attention to mathematically-oriented details -- levels and meters and rigid adherence to numbers and structure -- but also through the ways those games set up patterns of thought. Goals are there to be climbed towards, no matter how absurdly; every mini-task built up to a boss; every boss had to have a weakness, and so on. All these games, in a rather funny way, were about growth, refinement, and analysis, and here this idea gets applied to the real-life mess that is romance (and, perhaps more to the point, the straightening up of one's self). Wright delivers on the idea that the strongest appeal of many video games involves the sense of defined structure and dramatic embellishment that's absent in real life. The most brilliant application of this may be in the climax, which uses a very common video game element to solve a relationship crisis.

Scott Pilgrim speaks to a shared attitude many of us had during those days in the late '80s and throughout the '90s when it was our time, in high school or college or freshly post-college, to geek out over video games, comic books, indie rock, and anime. The movie tosses its elements together to create what is effectively a fantasia -- probably better termed a "geek-tasia" -- of a world its target audience can indulge in.

Now I almost never talk about the ratings I assign to movies, but for this one, so much about numbers and scores as it is, I'll make an exception. If I had to lean more toward objectivity about it, I might give it a 7 or 8 out of 10 because it has wondrous inventiveness, style, and technique, but it could be considered lightweight and it's also certainly not for everybody. But since it's definitely for people like me, and it does everything so right, I'll give it a 10 out of 10 on principle. So there you have it -- a 10 out of 10. You win -- perfect!

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug reference.)

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