In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the visuals pop with jagged panel-break split-screens and straight-outta-Batman onscreen sound effects. Key lines of dialogue and every significant plot point are snatched precisely from the source material, Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series. On the surface, the movie seems like a meticulously faithful adaptation - the operative phrase there being "on the surface." Scott Pilgrim vs. the World finds director Edgar Wright delivering all the quirky energy of the print version without always finding the distinctive rhythms that gave the story its soul.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a twenty-something Canadian who's "between jobs" and spending his time with his bandmates in the punk-ish trio Sex Bob-omb. He has just started a relationship with 17-year-old high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) after a long recovery from a bad breakup, when he spies 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 of being her boyfriend.
That wild notion of Scott's life essentially being represented as a videogame was one of O'Malley's most ingenious conceits, and Wright latches onto it from the moment the Universal Studios logo appears in pixilated form, the music taking on the tinny electronic ping of a vintage arcade game. When Scott fights the evil exes, it's not just a fistfight; it's an epic heroic ninja brawl, with punches and kicks sending people crunching through walls.
From start to finish, Wright appears determined to pack every frame with goofy bits of comic-book-ish business. And that's where he misses out on one of the key elements of the Scott Pilgrim books: their deliberate lethargy. Scott's a fairly pathetic character at the outset, and Michael Cera certainly has a gift for casual self-deprecation. But the series is Scott's journey toward seeing his life as worth living fully between earthshaking battles - and as challenging as it might have been to allow parts of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to poke along like an early Richard Linklater film, that's really what Wright should have been aiming for as he moves toward Scott's learning moments.
He still puts together a funny and entertaining piece of work. The casting is terrific, from Anna Kendrick as Scott's sister to Kieran Culkin as his gay roommate; and the action is gloriously over-the-top. I just wish that Wright hadn't decided to keep the attitude amped up for a full 113 minutes. For all its wild and enjoyable humor, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World could have been more about a guy growing up to discover that being hip and edgy isn't everything.