The tradition of the geeky, underwhelming, regular-guy hero is nothing new in cinema. Who among you didn’t feel that rousing sense of triumph when George McFly knocked out Biff, his family’s generational bully, in Back to the Future? Revenge of the Nerds brought us an entire gang of bespectacled, overly intelligent campus champions, and even Spiderman, one of the greatest big screen heroes of all time was, underneath the mask and the costume, juImage via Wikipediast a scrawny little, soft-spoken science geek. As a collective audience we love to pull for the underdog, and in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the underdog kicks some serious ass.
Scott Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera, is the bass player for the local band Sex Bob-omb, and he’s dating a high schooler. That is, of course, until he meets Ramona Flowers, the literal girl of his dreams, and embarks on an adventurous pursuit of her love that transforms this awkward and clumsy twenty-something into an action hero in the middle of his own town. Ramona is attracted to Scott from the start, but there’s a catch: if Scott wants to date her he must first confront and defeat each of her Seven Evil Exes, a diverse and increasingly strange series of people with whom Ramona has shared a romantic past.
This genre-blurring film is part romantic comedy, part martial arts video game, and part classical hero’s quest, the result of which is a refreshingly original cinematic experience. Scott is the sort of everyman hero you can’t help but root for, and when, in a strange moment of jarring discontinuity, he is challenged to his first fight in the middle of a battle of the bands, you automatically shift gears with the film and start to cheer even harder. The improbability of Scott’s being a martial arts adept never seems to matter. He is the instantly likable hero; as his devoted audience we will stand behind him through whatever adversity he must face.
As Scott fights and improvises his way progressively through Ramona’s Evil Exes – not all of whom are ex-boyfriends, she subtly and unsuccessfully tries to explain to Scott – he moves ever closer to the object of his desire. Like any proper hero, however, the sins of his past are nipping at his heels, and sooner or later he must face them as well. Those sins are manifest in the person of Knives Chau, the Chinese high school girl (with the plaid skirt and everything) whom Scott was dating before he met Ramona. Scott never quite got around to breaking up with Knives, an glaring omission that nearly costs him everything.
In appropriate video game style, Scott overcomes his successive obstacles and makes his way at last to the Seventh Evil Ex, the big boss at the end of the game, music patron Gideon Graves. Utilizing a mind-control chip planted on the back of Ramona’s neck, Gideon has reclaimed her as his own. In a further twist, he presents Scott with a dilemma: he will sponsor and promote Scott’s band Sex Bob-omb, but only if Scott will agree to abandon his pursuit of Ramona. Scott, of course, refuses, and the climactic final battle is everything you expect it to be, complete with weapons, extra lives, and a rapidly rising high score.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, even as it borrows from several different traditions that have come before, shows that creativity and originality have not completely vanished from popular filmmaking. It is silly and playful at times, and it is very, very weird, but that’s what it’s meant to be. More than all that, though, the film is fun and entertaining, two of the main reasons we all go to the movies in the first place.