It’s like a comic. It’s like a vintage video game. It’s like every Michael Cera movie rolled into one big video for an innocuous Canadian indie-rock band. It’s like the graphic novels of Bryan Lee O’Malley adapted by the director of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Oh, wait, it isn’t like that last one; it is it.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a pop-culture defenestrator. It keeps throwing references out the window — not to be done with them, you understand, but to see them fly. It makes no sense and perfect sense.
Scott, played by Cera, is an underemployed 22-year-old garage-band bassist, living in snowy suburban Toronto with a gay buddy (Kieran Culkin) and leading on an impossibly adoring high-school girl (Ellen Wong) in order to rebound from that one ex who “kicked his heart’s ass” (Brie Larson). Although repeatedly described as a ladykiller, he’s clearly just another of Cera’s quavering lovelorn dorks, waiting impatiently for the next infatuation.
That would be Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the stoic pseudo-punk beauty who just moved up here from New York to get away from her past. And all the smitten Scott has to do to be with her is throw down with her seven evil exes, who’ll otherwise kick his ass’s ass. These include Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Jason Schwartzman and others, each level-upping the last in a pageant of deliberately preposterous, “Mortal Kombat”-style set-pieces. Scott gets no pity from his older sister (Anna Kendrick) and not much help from his bandmates (Mark Webber, Alison Pill and Johnny Simmons), but he does get fair warning from Ramona that she might be trouble (let alone the most austerely characterized female movie love interest since Zooey Deschanel in “(500) Days of Summer”).
And still he persists. Dauntlessness is “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”‘s secret weapon — its only weapon, really. What fun to see that director Edgar Wright, who co-scripted with Michael Bacall, seems somehow to keep himself perpetually inspired. Here, Wright’s possibly compulsive mashing up of genres and tropes repeatedly teeters toward embarrassment at how silly it all is (quite), only then to burst into yet another frenzy of contagious mirth — with every onscreen smooch abetted by a text of “kissy kissy” or a confetti of pink hearts or music by Beck or Metric or Frank Black or Broken Social Scene.
The clunky hodgepodge of cultural flotsam somehow befits the film’s callow but eager protagonist. Maybe it’s something about the resiliency of the young lover’s heart, this sense that his heartbreak seems ultimately as immaterial as his physical punishment: Pummeled and trampled and flung through walls, Scott emerges always without a scratch and duly prepped for the next round. The movie, similarly resilient, just keeps on keeping on with its punchy sight gags and one-liners — even when they only work on one level instead of the attempted three. Even when they don’t work at all.
So maybe the best way to read “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is in the first person, as an awkward metaphor for the intense, messy process of romantic maturation. Don’t say you don’t know what it’s like.