Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (*** out of four) is the movie that Kick-Ass wishes it could be when it grows up. Thematically savvy, cinematically eye-popping, and infused with a here-and-now pop-culture specificity that's part of the organic whole rather than just a cynical or faddish way to tackle the material, this adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels isn't just for the youthful gamers and gawkers — far from it.
Writer-director Edgar Wright, the British chap beloved by American filmgoers for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, heads for North America (Toronto, to be exact) for this disarming yarn about an insecure 20-something (Michael Cera) who jams with a band when he's not busy being chastised by friends and family for dating a high school student. Scott does enjoy the time spent with young Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but his romantic focus shifts once he lays eyes on standoffish punker Ramona Flowers (Rocky Mount, N.C., native Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Unceremoniously dumping Knives, he then pursues Ramona, who's game but reluctantly informs him that in order to date her, Scott must first defeat all seven of her exes.
With the exception of run-ins with a swaggering movie star (Chris Evans) and a pompous vegan (Brandon Routh), Scott's video game-inspired battles with Ramona's former lovers turn out, on balance, to be the least interesting parts of the movie — no surprise, given the unrelenting amount of bombastic CGI required to pull these sequences off. Where the film works best is in its attention to matters of the heart, whether it's the love triangle between Scott, Ramona and Knives (Wong easily steals her ample scenes) or the universal message that every relationship comes with baggage that must be opened and sorted out before things can proceed smoothly. Combining a giddy, sometimes campy approach to action (complete with Wham! and Pow!-style balloons) with an earnest look at messy modern relationships, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World often feels like the unholy love child of TV's '60s-era Batman and Chasing Amy — a melding I never thought I would see on this world or any other.