Sitting there watching this week's comic-book movie adaptation "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" with a big goofy grin on my face much of the time, one thought kept running through my head -- how on earth did this movie get made? It's a gleeful, wacky romp, the demon spawn of 1960s Adam West "Batman" crossed with Donkey Kong spliced with a raving Looney Tunes energy all its own.
It's hardly "The Dark Knight," in the madcap way it slices and dices genres and constantly winks at its own artificiality. And it isn't looking like a big hit movie at the box office, whatever that means, but creatively, it's a high-adrenaline blast from "Shaun of the Dead"/"Spaced"/"Hot Fuzz" mastermind Edgar Wright.
If you're not up on it, it's all about a rather clueless, casually cruel but well-meaning doofus named Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) who grows up to become a man. Pilgrim's a jobless, aimless 22-year-old bass player in a struggling band who falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Flowers – but finds out he has to defeat her 7 evil exes before winning her heart.
I loved the casting -- Michael Cera's wide-eyed nerd routine may have worn thin for some, but I think he really ventured into a new place here. He got that the Scott Pilgrim of the comics is hopelessly self-centered and not that bright, and he's surprisingly convincing as a flyweight action here during the many fight scenes. (Any movie that features a climactic battle pitting Michael Cera vs. Jason "Rushmore" Schwartzman = awesome.) I also really liked Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Ramona -- she resembles a young Kate Winslet, and does well in a really tricky, deadpan role. Kieran Culkin nearly steals the movie as Pilgrim's gay roomate Wallace and in smaller roles "evil exes" Brandon Routh and Chris Evans are awesome. The aforementioned Schwartzman, who I always like, makes a great oily evil Gideon.
Wright's approach to the material is somewhere over the point of being over the top -- he throws in video game references like villains exploding into piles of coins or extra lives popping on screen at opportune moments. And of course, the whole way a romantic comedy is spliced into some sort of mutant superhero film where scrawny Scott Pilgrim can be thrown through buildings and survive unmaimed. It gets rather surreal at times (Vegan Police?!?) but never breaks the rules of its own weird universe.
The movie features a bit less heart, a lot more whiz-bang motion than the longer 1200-page or so comic series by Bryan O'Malley, but Wright does a great job distilling the six novels into one two-hour movie. Sound effects appear on screen a la the old "Batman" TV show; captions appear to give us scene transitions. It's another thrilling example of how in this golden age of comics-spawned movies, not everything is "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." We can still see ones that really push the creative limits like this or "American Splendor." See it now before it vanishes from theatres, or check it out on DVD soon.