“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

I adored this movie. I adored in the way the Younger Dave used to hoard VHS cassettes of anime and Kevin Smith and Whit Stillman movies, and watch them over and over again. I adored it more than I’d expected to because early reviewers said things like this:

Who cares if Scott winds up with Ramona, Knives, or anyone else? Described by his own sister (Anna Kendrick) as “chronically enfeebled,” he makes an implausible lady-killer—and even less of a fighter, despite his innumerable bouts against Ramona’s other beaux. These are staged and filmed as if they were video games, all painless panic, and they are best taken as Scott’s inward reveries of a power that he will never possess. I strongly suspect, in fact, that he stayed in bed and dreamed the whole sweet movie. Call it “Inception” for geeks.

Stupid geeks! What’s wrong with you idiots, taking all this pleasure from silly fight scenes and an inscrutable love story? Go back to ComicCon, and clean your rooms!

It’s a goddamn shame that “Scott Pilgrim” (do you mind if I call it that?) hits just as the movie-critiquing profession gets over a couple of the nerdy trends that made it marketable when it was optioned a few years ago. The indie geek-who-gets-girl-despite-being-an-“ass” (as Pilgrim calls himself at one point) genre hit the reef sometime after “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Michael Cera, who became a beloved critics’ kewpie doll after “Arrested Development,” wore out his welcome with a series of mediocre roles, led by “Year One.” What to take out the anger on? “Scott Pilgrim,” obviously.

All the criticism is wrong. Judged as its own movie, and judged as an adaptation, this is a complete success. There is no weak performance; the songs, by Beck, Broken Social Scene, and Metric, are not just catchy but appropriate for the “bands” playing them; the visuals are really unlike anything ever seen in the movies. I’m talking about the effects ripped right out of 8-bit (and occasionally 16-bit) video games, but I’m also talking about director Edgar Wright’s dizzy editing, where conversations are finished across multiple scene changes, and title cards and narrations pop on and off the screen informing us without distracting us.

Let’s talk about the adaptation first. Wright was tasked with compressing a story that takes more than 1100 comic pages to tell — adapt every scene for a movie and it’s probably 6 hours — into around 110 minutes. He gets rid of some dross and loses almost nothing. Yes, I like the comics for the way they drag Scott’s romance with Ramona out over the course of a year, so you see them grow together, but Wright does a better job of making this action convincingly happen over the course of a few weeks than I thought would have been possible. He’s also extremely good at 1) adding jokes that jibe with the material and 2) adapting jokes that you thought only worked in sequential art. For the first example, I’m thinking of the lines he gives Brian Comeau in the double-shot scene (don’t ask) when Scott confronts Gideon. One of the times that Scott walks past him, we hear Brian in a snobby conversation saying “well, the comic was better than the movie.” That’s funny, but it’s the kind of joke you could put in any comic book movie. The other time we overhear Brian, he’s saying “the first album is better than the… first album.” That’s the kind of joke you’d laugh at in a smart indie comedy, the kind of joke that made readers love the “Scott Pilgrim’ comics, and Wright just threw it in there.

I mentioned the casting before — it’s one of the things that makes this work as a movie on its own, not just a faithful adaptation. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona is a little darker and harder-to-get than the Ramona we saw in the comics. I don’t think we ever see her teeth when she’s smiling, and she disappears from the movie more than she does in the comics. (When she flat-out vanishes in volume 5, it’s a huge, heart-breaking deal.) We (by which I mean nerdy guys) immediately fall for the comic version of Ramona. We fall for this Ramona, too, her huge eyes that burn with obvious intelligence. We instantly love Kieran Culkin’s Wallace and Ellen Wong’s Knives, who’s given a lot to do here — so much that the audience is clearly torn on whether Scott should be with her, even though he obviously shouldn’t. (She’s 17!)

I don’t have much to say that doesn’t sound like gushing, so just go see the damn thing. It will make less money than it cost, and the smart kids will call it a bomb, and then the rest of us will keep watching it for decades.