Pilgrim's lack of progress
Waiting for the lights to go down on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I overheard a guy asking a girl this question: “So, high hopes for Michael Cera?” Her response: “High hopes that this will be Michael Cera playing Scott Pilgrim, and not Scott Pilgrim playing Michael Cera.”
This exchange told me two things: “Kids today” really are invested in Cera as a shaggy icon of the tragically unhip, but they’re also aware that Cera is very much doing a shtick. It’s a shtick that began with his brilliantly funny work in Arrested Development, but several movies later, he has come to personify the title of that short-lived TV show. The girl, in short, hoped Cera wouldn’t be quite so Michael Cera-y in this movie.
Better luck next time.
Cera is in full-on double-nerd mode as the 22-year-old hero, who is adapted from the graphic-novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Pilgrim plays in a band (of course) and has a major crush on this quirky-hot, mysterious girl. But in order to date her, he must first do battle with her seven evil exes, each of whom is everything that Pilgrim/Cera is not — confident, cool, and cruel. Well, maybe Pilgrim displays a little of that last trait; he unceremoniously dumps his high-school-age girlfriend when his new obsession, Ramona V. Flowers, comes along.
Cera’s aw-shucks slacker gimmick may fit the character of Pilgrim, but he hasn’t added anything new or interesting to his routine since he became the poster boy for awkward adolescence. The aching sincerity that he can play so well is completely absent here. This movie is straining so hard to be hip (Cera wears a different ironic T-shirt in every single scene) that it comes off like that guy who just doesn’t realize how lame he is.
The harshest criticism you can throw at a movie lately is that it’s too much like a video game. Those who were left cold by Inception’s multiple levels used “v.g.” as a pejorative, but here’s a movie that intentionally tries to make itself as much like a video game as possible; it’s practically a trailer for the upcoming game. Every fight scene is stylized as a boss-stage throw-down, complete with graphical point levels and power bars. This lends itself to some fun visuals, but the choreography is nothing we haven’t seen before. The only battle that feels like there’s anything at stake (because it looks like Scott might actually lose) is the one with ex number three, who is dating Scott’s ex, which adds an element of realistic tension. Brandon Routh spoofs his Superman persona, and a couple of cameos broaden the humor about superhero/comic-book movies and the whole hipster vibe. Other than that, Scott Pilgrim is about as engaging as one of those arcade games outside the theater — colorfully diverting for a little while, but not really meant for adults.