Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that’s difficult to put into a genre. Its central story is, at first glance, a romance. A great deal of the dialog is comedic. But how many romantic comedies do you know where the conflicts are resolved through kung-fu matches? And how many kung-fu battles have you seen in a movie that include running scores, power-ups and visible sound effects? The term “something for everybody” gets bandied about a great deal, but Scott Pilgrim just might fit that bill. The problem with having so many of these elements in a film, however, is that some elements don’t get as much time as they should.

That isn’t to say this movie is bad. This movie is far from bad. This movie, in fact, is very good, and you should go see it if you haven’t already.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Scott Pilgrim. Age: 22. Rating: Awesome.

Based on the acclaimed series of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley, the eponymous Scott Pilgrim is a Canadian bass player who’s unashamedly between jobs, dating a high schooler and mooching off of his gay roommate Wallace, who tolerates Scott because it’s fun to watch him squirm when discomforting things happen to him. Scott’s precious little life takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers skates through his dreams. Drawn to Ramona’s mature and world-weary personality, Scott encounters more than he bargained for when he is attacked by Ramona’s evil exes. Like Mega Man needing to defeat a series of Robot Masters to restore order in the world, Scott Pilgrim needs to defeat a series of super-powered individuals to get what he wants. Luckily, despite being a slacker and a dweeb, Scott’s also the best fighter in the province. As for what he wants, let’s take a look at Scott as he’s depicted in the film.

Let me make this perfectly clear: if you pass up on this movie because you don’t like Michael Cera, you are making a mistake. It’s not that I don’t understand where the ire against Cera comes from. Previously, in romantic comedies, he’s cast in the role of the screenwriter’s projection of the ‘right guy’ for the girl. You know what I mean, the sensitive, quiet, intelligent and otherwise marginalized young man who’s so much better for the girl than the large, attractive, macho jerks she tends to date – a Marty Stu, if you will. Now, while Ramona has dated some jerks, and Scott is somewhat sensitive and quiet… he’s also, himself, a jerk. He knows he’s sensitive but he uses that sensitivity to milk those around him for sympathy. His intelligence is applied to remaining as free from responsibility as possible. He exists in a personal space that I think a lot of young men of my generation, including myself, have at one point or another: the militant refusal to grow up. In a way, the ‘final boss’ in the story is the kind of person Scott could become if he’s not careful – a pretentious, self-centered, smirking and completely slimy hipster douchebag.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
+2 versus critics.

Meeting Ramona (very well played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) doesn’t just change Scott’s life because he has to fight to the death in order to date her. The message she conveys to Scott and, by extension, those of us in the audience who live or have lived in that aforementioned Neverland in our heads, is as necessary as it is harsh. “You’re not Peter Pan. You have to grow up. You need to get over yourself. If you can stop being self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing you can let the good things about yourself shine through and speak for themselves; otherwise, you’re going to turn into something you hate.” Ramona also presents us with a personification of the sort of things we deal with when we get to know somebody. Their past, the people they’ve loved and lost, the mistakes they’ve made that haunt them; this ‘baggage’ doesn’t just sit around. It’s active and nearly constant, trying to keep us out of the moment and pulling us back into the past. While ultimately the battle Scott needs to have is with himself for his own sake, he also needs to be willing to fight past Ramona’s baggage in order to be a part of her future.

Now, when you get right down to it, all of this unsubtle metaphorical self-examination occurs under a surface of retro gaming references, genuinely funny comedy, a slew of callbacks to the graphic novels and some really memorable performances. Kieran Culkin’s come out of nowhere to own the role of Wallace, Scott’s smirking roommate who acts as something of a mentor. The League of Evil Exes seems to have come to life directly from O’Malley’s pages, and Chris Evans and Brandon Routh in particular seem to be having a great deal of fun in their roles, which I found quite amusing personally as I tend to think of them as Captain America and Superman, respectively. And I will admit, when the dual cameo shows up at the end of Scott’s fight with a particular evil ex, I went into full fanboy mode. I’ll say nothing more for fear of spoilers.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
So here’s a picture of Sex Bob-Omb instead.

It’s not a perfect movie. Condensing six novel-length parts of a narrative into a two-hour movie means things are going to get trimmed, watered and reduced down. A few of the characters are robbed of some of their development, and even Scott’s growth towards the end is somewhat truncated compared to how it occurs in the books. Now, the books were still in production when the film started shooting, so the last third overall is different from the source material. However, I think a lot of the people who still didn’t feel any sympathy whatsoever towards Scott at the end might have been buoyed up by some of those missing experiences. Not that Scott or any protagonist necessarily needs to be 100% sympathetic in order to carry a story – in fact, Scott’s jerkass behavior in the beginning and middle of the movie drives home his need to get over himself all the more, and holds up that rather uncomfortable mirror to those of us who’ve been there.

In spite of its flaws, I really liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Director Edgar Wright, the man who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, really makes the visuals pop off of the screen and worked with O’Malley to ensure the characters that do get developed do so in a well-paced arc that shows their complexity and their humanity. There’s a lot of great music throughout the movie, the visual style is a quirky flavor of awesome, the dialog is smart and the fights all have a great deal of energy. The video game rules by which Scott Pilgrim’s Toronto operates go unexplained but, really, we don’t need to understand why Scott has a Pee Bar or where he stashes all of those coins after a fight. When the ex leaves him more than 2.40 Canadian, that is.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Reversal!!

Stuff I Liked: I’ve yet to see an Edgar Wright film I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. Michael Cera acquits himself well with a very faithful and very good Scott Pilgrim. The messages in this movie are necessary to our generation and rather clearly conveyed under all the trappings of indie rock and 8-bit kung fu.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A lot of the characters – Kim Pine, Stephen Stills, Envy Adams and Stacey Pilgrim, to name just a few – feel a little underdeveloped. The metaphors aren’t terribly subtle. I expected Scott to have a little more smirking self-confidence at first to more closely follow his arc in the books, but this is a minor quibble. And I really didn’t like how people went to see The Expendables or Eat, Pray, Love instead of this film. America, I am disappoint.
Stuff I Loved: The music. The fights. The fact that Toronto is actually playing Toronto instead of standing in for America. Ramona, Wallace, Knives and the League of Evil Exes. The playful, retro and refreshing visual aesthetic. This exchange:

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Young Neil: “What’re you doing?”
Scott: “Getting a life.”

Bottom Line: Go see this movie. I plan on buying it on DVD when it comes out. Brian Lee O’Malley, Edgar Wright, this great cast and a hard-working crew have labored to produce something fresh, original and fun while other studios churn out the cinematic equivalent of a corner convenience store hot dog. You know, the ones that have been sitting under heating lamps for at least four hours? Ew. See Scott Pilgrim vs. The World instead of the other stuff that’s out there. Trust me. You will not be disappointed.

1 Comment

  1. I’ll agree with you that the Michael Cera HATE was probably unwarranted towards this movie.

    I’ll have to disagree with you on… just about everything else. Except for the Wallace love. That role kicked ass.

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