British director Edgar Wright owes more to friends/lead actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost than most people are willing to admit. The trio teamed up on the hilarious if not problematic ode to the zombie film Shawn of the Dead and reached new jubilant heights with the anarchic action mayhem of Hot Fuzz. But Pegg and Frost are completely absent from Wright’s new film, the highly anticipated comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a technologically ambitious but ultimately hollow fusion of video game iconography and romance conventions. The material sways toward a younger generation, so it’s not surprising Pegg and Frost weren’t involved in Scott Pilgrim. But their clumsy charm could have at least given the film a beating human heart, something stars Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the rest of the young cast consistently fail to personify.
Countless cinephiles and film critics have boarded the film’s gravy train, buying into Wright’s mash-up of multiple genre aesthetics that combine dynamic visuals with cutting edge special effects. But most writers have failed to bring up the film’s disingenuous vision of young romantic relationships, scenarios hat are completely eroded within a superficial virtual reality. The problems begin and end with Scott’s (Cera) absurdly narcissistic personality and his brazenly dense treatment of others throughout the fantastical narrative. With each battle sequence, ironic non-sequiter, and flimsy one-liner, Wright celebrates Scott’s egomania, only retreating from it during the lame, tacked-on denouement.
Scott Pilgrim’s world, like many twenty-somethings, revolves completely around himself. Selfishness, compromise, and uncertainty are a way of life, but Wright cannot reconcile Scott’s spastic behavior as a bridge to something more mature. By the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World it seems Scott and Ramona (Winstead) will invariably be linked by their own superfluous attitude toward the gamer existence, disavowing tangible consequences and ramifications until the bitter end. It’s a maddening thematic phase that seems endless, pointing the film in a sarcastic, snooty direction that goes against the “evolutions of character” each fight sequence supposedly represents.
If anything, Pegg and Frost give Wright’s previous film’s a soul, a hook to latch onto while their exercises in extreme genre revisionism run free. But Scott Pilgrim doesn’t contain any semblance of humanity, and these characters are merely surface-level entities geeking out on the same wavelength. All the jump cuts, tracking shots, and hipster music cues can’t hide this glaring emptiness, and it’s startling most have given the film a pass in this regard. Scott Pilgrim’s experiences are supposed to metaphorically represent a complex, nuanced relationship between the ultimate man-child and his dream girl within the confines the video game universe, but Wright and co. completely eliminate the small, tender moments that end up defining such a connection. All we’re left with is 8-bit pomp and circumstance, a nostalgic trip down video game alley where the love of an indulgent nerd is just a click away.