I, err, don't get it. At all. That's the gist. If you want further clarification, read on.
I'd held off on seeing this for a variety of reasons. First, it's a comedy, and I tend to avoid most comedies, as they tend not to be very funny. Two, the general concensus I'd heard was that it was so jammed with up-to-the-second pop culture references that anyone not keeping up with the latest memes circling the Internet would be lost, and seeing how I avoid Internet culture like the plague of stupidity it is, along with video games and modern comics, I figured there was little here for me. But I was advised that such knowledge wasn't truly necessary, and the film seemed, despite a poor box office, to have a strongly positive critical and viewer concensus, so I figured, what the hell. It's only two hours of my life I'll never get back. After barely ten minutes, I was already starting to lament that decision.
Scott's in his early twenties, plays in a band and loves video games. He's carrying around emotional baggage stemming from a harsh dumping by the singer of a rival band named The Clash at Demonhead (this is an ill-advised name for a band, I should say. I kept thinking they were referencing some obscure live album by The Clash), and has picked up a ditzy high school girl as, effectively, a placeholder. These girls are named Envy and Knives, respectively. It's that kind of movie. Things take a turn for Scott when he meets Ramona, a girl with a basically normal name who, despite not being impressed with his Pac-Man anecdote, seems not to mind his mousy-nerd personality. There's a catch, though: in order to actually, properly date Ramona, Scott must first meet and defeat her "seven evil exes," who start showing up and provoking over-the-top, video game-inspired fight scenes.
To say that the film is stylized is an understatement. This is a film attempting to get by on stylization alone, and even then, it falls short. The first time a sound effect is accompanied by floating, comic-book text, it's...well, truth be told, it wasn't that interesting the first time. By the tenth time or so, I'm wondering to myself, "Is this supposed to still be funny?" See, I don't mind highly stylized films. I'm not some narrow-minded pedant who thinks that there's only one correct way to shoot and edit a movie, unless "entertaining" counts as a way. The problem is that the story and script are boring. Minute by minute, I kept waiting for the jokes to start. They stubbornly refused to make an appearance. References are not jokes in and of themselves. Having a fight scene look like a video game might be funny if it came as a total surprise; here; it's anything but. Rapid-fire dialogue, too, does not equal funny dialogue. Iron Man gets this right by giving clever dialogue to characters with charisma. Brick was an intensely stylized teen drama with unrealistic dialogue; it also had an intricately-structured plot. Scott Pilgrim is about characters who almost entirely lack charisma and who leap around in silly confrontations backed by Legend of Zelda music. The whole "versus the world" part of the title implies a sense of grandeur that never comes close to accurately evoking the barely-there story.
On the plus side, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is cute as hell, and appears in her underwear, so maybe that's good enough...no. Google image search can get you there without having to deal with the movie at all.
I have to confess something here. After the second fight scene, I realized that there were still five more such scenes to wade through before the damn thing would be over, and promptly shut the film off to go to bed. Not because it was especially late, or I was tired, but because I had no real interest in how things turned out. I never do this. I always give a film a fair shot to rally, but nothing here gave me the impression that I would see anything in the second hour but more of the same. So all right...fine; in the name of responsible film reviewing practices, I'll go and watch the rest before finishing, in case all the good jokes were mysteriously shoved into the end of the film.
(One hour later) Okay, I'm back. Yeah. More video game fights, obligatory lesbian ex, since all female characters written by men are into that, ooh! Cracked half a grin at one joke-Jesus Christ! Are they still doing those fucking onscreen-text sound effects gags?! Halfhearted last-act attempt at vaguely humanizing the characters that it seems like even the writers didn't really buy into...okay, done here. Maybe the low box office isn't so inexplicable after all.
To sum up, if you like films featuring characters and/or situations that it took more than five seconds to write, steer clear. If you like wacky camera moves and unconventional presentations, try Fight Club or Snatch, or that new BBC Sherlock series-they also actually have plots. If you find any reference to a video game, comic, or both to be intrinsically hilarious, well, then this film is for you. I've heard that a perceived overexposure to star Michael Cera was part of the reason the film didn't do so well. I've personally never seen him outside of Arrested Development, but even that didn't do my viewing experience here any favors, since the memory of that show only served to remind me of well-written jokes and hilariously orchestrated situations, and actually being entertained.
-review by Matt Murray