The comic book movie might be here to stay, but the video game movie?
Super Mario Bros., Street Fighters and this summer's Prince of Persia haven't exactly burned up the box office.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World takes another approach entirely. Adapted from a graphic-novel series by Bryan O'Malley, it transports not a story or quest but the actual elements of video gaming to the big screen. The result, if not an epic win, is more fun than an arcade and a handful of quarters.
Slacker/garage-band bassist Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) finds himself head over heels for neon-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But Ramona's past relationships keep getting in the way, literally: One after another, her seven exes challenge Scott to a duel.
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Duel they do, in battles like Pokémon's crossed with those of the 1960s Batman TV series. So Scott Pilgrim, 22, is put to the test: Ramona's exes include a super-powered vegan (onetime Superman Brandon Routh) and a smirking movie star (Chris Evans, whom Marvel hopes to make a superstar in next summer's Captain America). And of course, it all culminates in big boss Gideon (Jason Schwartzman), the anti-Scott, a smarmy success with whom our hero is sure he has nothing in common.
Or does he? Yes, between the battles there's a little soul-searching, but not so much as to distract from the special effects. Text labels for objects pop up, then disappear; cutscenes, depicted in comic-book panels, provide back story; villains turn into coins when they're vanquished ... you might find yourself reaching for the controller. (Even I, a non-gamer, felt my thumbs twitching.)
British director Edgar Wright mined humor from Shaun of the Dead's zombies and the police mysteries of Hot Fuzz, and like those two movies, this one works both as a straightforward story and as a playful send-up. Scott Pilgrim is a love letter to 8- and 16-bit gaming, a spoof of urban hipster squalor, and a grab bag of pop-culture references. It's all familiar, yet it's unique.
Sure, Cera has played this kind of character many times before, and the key romantic relationships aren't developed beyond mere attraction. But it's hard to hold such minor faults against a movie that's as enjoyable as this one.
The secret of Scott Pilgrim's success is that it's foremost a romantic comedy. The video-game trappings simply disguise its true nature: It's a chick flick made especially for guys.