Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

scott pilgrim vs the world

“Scott, if your life had a face, I would punch it.”

The Scoop: 2010, PG-13, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jason Schwartzman

Tagline: An epic of epic epicness

Summary Capsule: A slacker bass player has to defeat not only his dream girl’s seven evil exes but also his own internal doubts & fears about life

Kyle’s rating: If you’ve ever played video games or been in love (in whatever order) this film is for you

Kyle’s review: During my three years as a comic book store employee, one of the unexpected highlights was a little manga-esque series starring the titular Scott Pilgrim.

Although the first volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, was actually released in August 2004, it wasn’t until I starting working at Comic Quest that I deigned to read it. Being a self-proclaimed comic book snob, anything that wasn’t the typical size of a comic book (6 ⅝” × 10 ¼”) tended to be regarded with initial derision, and certainly anything that resembled manga style was to be shunned, politely or otherwise. But the Scott Pilgrim saga was receiving plenty of pop culture props from legit sources, and soon enough I was yet another faithful proponent of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series. I awaited the release of each new volume (of six) extremely impatiently, and when it was announced that a film adaptation was in the works, I was overjoyed yet concerned.

How could a movie capture the kinetic insanity of the music and video game-obsessed world O’Malley had created for Scott and friends? How could you make a movie that was half the story of two cautious hipster slacker types trying to connect romantically and half a comically violent hero’s quest of a man defeating his love’s seven evil exes to ultimately win her heart? How could Michael Cera handle not only his usual lovelorn schtick but also said comically violent fight scenes?

Turns out I was right to be concerned but for different reasons.

See, the problem is that so many people are just completely turned off of Scott Pilgrim, either because Michael Cera is “too much” (actual quote from fellow grad students!) or it all just seems too hipster. So even though Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is absolutely fantastic, there is a massive segment of the world’s populace that will never even bother to give it a ‘looksee’ even though their lives would be wonderfully augmented by such contact. It’s a bummer, man. It’s a real bummer.

Although, in a way that’s true to both Scott and Hamlet, it’s remarkably easy to vacillate on the authentic pleasures of Scott Pilgrim. While the influence and ‘look’ of the source material is deftly woven into the overall texture of the film, it often borders upon a complete distraction. Which sounds odd, I’m aware. But the fact that while I LOVED some of the stranger, more subtle edits (lots of moving comic panel-like shots and effective use of fades), some of it seemed a bit too much. Even now, I still can’t quite put my finger upon why such things bothered me, but I think it has something to do with a bit too much of a manufactured effect than anything real. Granted, the look of Scott Pilgrim extends quite properly from its universe, which is one of casual indifference to comic-y and video game-y violence breaking out at any time and a even more pronounced indifference to someone like Scott Pilgrim, whose skills and exploits would rightly make him a god in our reality but leave him markedly slacker-esque in his own. How bizarre!

In terms of content, though, Scott Pilgrim is a film that  YOU should have already seen a bunch of times or that you will quickly regret having never viewed in theaters once you put it on a constant rotation in your film player of choice. It has essentially EVERYTHING your standard/substandard Mutant Reviewers from Hell reader would ever desire in a film: Michael Cera, the hot/fun ‘it’ girls from various cult (non-)smashes of recent  years, a thoroughly modern perspective towards diversity and human acceptance of differences, video game-inspired fight scenes, an uplifting and resonate (which is to say ’80s film-like) romance, and a rockin’ soundtrack. Truly, it has at least one thing for all of you and even more for everyone else, and it’s the sort of film you can point to and think “well, finally there is another new film that was made pretty much exclusively for ME.”

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has a heart and an authentic soul, and I think it’s important to view it as such if you’re (somehow!) fortunate enough to be seeing it for the first time after reading this here review. Just be prepared for a narrative that seeks to meld the modern worlds of thrill-seeking kinetic action (as our private video game-happy living room lives are like) and of shoegazey possibly-overly emotive vulnerability (as my and probably your outdoor life is). Whatever your general state, please please please give Scott Pilgrim a try!

Drew’s rating:

EQUIP —> Film Adaptation:
Win +4
Enlightening Masses +1
Box Office Receipts -3

Drew’s review: I almost didn’t review Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Not because I disliked the movie (far from it), but because I thought I’d be incapable of staying unbiased. I dig the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels so much (after initially resisting them, story of my life) that I suspected I’d love the film just by virtue of being adapted from indie comics’ answer to Harry Potter. But the more I thought about it, the more that argument fell apart. If anything, isn’t someone who cherishes the source material going to be the MOST critical of an adaptation that (gasp) dares to do things differently? Isn’t he going to hammer the director and actors for anything that doesn’t work as effectively as it did on the printed page? Exactly. So you may take it as the unvarnished truth when I tell you that SPvtW is 90% pure awesomesauce, with just a few chemicals and preservatives keeping it from perfection.

Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is dating a high schooler (Knives Chau, played superbly by Ellen Wong) as therapy from a devastating breakup, since high school girls are the only females naive enough to be impressed by a jobless bass player living in a shared apartment. (Shared with Kieran Culkin, who between this and brother Macaulay’s turn in Saved!, is earning the family some serious cult cred.) But when a chance encounter brings Ramona Flowers (Winstead) into his life, Scott starts to feel truly alive for the first time in ages. Minor hurdle: Scott is still, if you want to get technical about it, dating Knives. Major hurdle: Ramona possesses a league of evil ex-boyfriends (evil exes) who control her love life, so if Scott desires any kind of a future with the literal girl of his dreams, he’s going to have to take them apart one by one. That’s okay, though- anything worth having is worth fighting for, right?

Though I enjoyed Mike’s review, I’m going to disagree with him on one point: I don’t think all older critics are writing SPvtW off just because they “don’t get it.” While the majority of negative reviews do seem to stem from the aged set, there are any number of older critics who gave the film positive reviews (81% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing). The fact is, not to sound pretentious, it has more to do with understanding than age. Perceptive individuals of all generations seem to be recognizing the fresh viewpoint SPvtW brings in singlehandedly inventing a new film subgenre, the rom-combat. (Much as I’d love to claim credit for that term, I cribbed it from another review.) Young or old, they grasp the central concept that the entire story hinges on: the video game trappings, the fights, they’re all just metaphors filtered through a Gen Y lens for the baggage that accompanies any new romantic partner. Sure, it’d be nice if we all found our soulmates on the first try, if there were never any nasty breakups or sexual history or emotional hang-ups to deal with. Guess what? For 99% of us, that just ain’t realistic. With every new partner who might be The One, there are the things from their past that we have to either overcome or allow to defeat us. For my part, I’d just as soon see them overcome on the big screen through well choreographed, hilarious fight scenes, thank you very much. That’s just how I roll.

Likewise, the tragically unhip critics are turning up their noses regardless of how young or old they may be. The majority of complaints I’ve read highlight that the relationship between Scott and Ramona never feels fully developed, that they can’t understand what independent Ramona sees in whiny, dweeby Scott, and that the film is too long. The middle critique is the easiest to address because the answer’s obvious: after dating the collection of successful freaks we’re exposed to throughout the film and finding them all wanting, wouldn’t you think Ramona would seek out the most down-to-earth, underachieving person she could find? Enter: Scott Pilgrim. As to the last point I can only say… they’re absolutely right. I know, blasphemy! But it’s true. While I’ll defend the necessity of most of the fights, we didn’t really need the Battle of the Bands faceoff with the twins. Even in the books it was the least important battle, since that volume (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe”) centers around the growing disconnect between Scott and Ramona and the alienation of Scott’s friends, with the actual fight presented almost as an afterthought. A second viewing of the movie (complete with two pee breaks) convinced me of how easily it could’ve been cut, trimming some running time and enhancing the flow a bit.

Hell, I’ll even cede — to a certain extent — the first and most important criticism. More time could’ve been spent developing Scott and Ramona’s relationship, but I also think that misses the point of what this film is about. It’s a surreal romantic comedy, not a true romance, so we don’t need to see every second of the relationship maturing; it has to be simply understood and taken for granted that they like, maybe even love each other to get to what we’re here for, which is the comedy and action. But I can understand why that might’ve rubbed some critics the wrong way, so I’ll offer this disclaimer to potential viewers who may not have made up their minds on SPvtW yet: this will not be the most realistic, heartfelt romance you’ve ever seen. Hopefully it’ll make you feel something, but if you’re looking for a truly passionate, deep relationship, watch Casablanca or, better yet, read the Scott Pilgrim books. And if you think it’s odd that Scott and Ramona fall in love over what seems like two days, realize that in the novels it’s more like the better part of a year. (Or just recall that Luke Skywalker became a Jedi after training with Yoda for a day-and-a-half.)

And that’s my overall take on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: by necessity, the film is essentially a Cliff Notes version of the Scott/Ramona relationship and the series as a whole. Does it hit on every high point? Most assuredly not. Does it avoid some of the pitfalls of the books while creating some of its own? Yes. And sure, if he’d broken the story up into two or even three movies, maybe Edgar Wright could’ve included more of the drama, more exploration of how Scott’s clueless charm makes him into a user, more of the relationships between characters. (I missed Kim’s unrequited love for Scott, myself.) But y’know what? Much as I hate to say it, SPvtW is tanking at the box office. Everyone has their theories on why that is, but the fact remains that given the revenue, we never would’ve gotten a second or third movie; or if we did, they’d have had zero budget and horrible effects. What we instead ended up with is an imperfect but remarkably entertaining adaptation of an intensely original story. My sincere hope is that this film becomes an after-the-fact sleeper hit in the vein of Blade Runner or Office Space; but if it makes just a few people interested enough to check out the Scott Pilgrim series? Well, that’s good enough for me.

+3 to awesomeness, bitches!

Mike’s rating:

Mike’s review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s hugely awesome series of graphic novels, is quite possibly the most difficult movie to review I’ve come across. It’s an action flick, an alternative indie rock movie and a romantic comedy. It’s also a loving homage to the Super Nintendo era of video gaming, martial arts flicks and yes, Seinfeld. It mixes so many different genres that it effectively creates it’s own, a sure sign of an instant cult classic.

Admittedly I’m a huge fan of the source material to the extent that I was in line at midnight at Atomic Comics for the sixth and final installment of the series. Which is all just to say that you’re not gonna get an objective review out of me. It’s quite impossible for me to separate the movie from its ink and paper sibling, which has been the object of my geeky affections since my little brother brought it to my attention a few years back (right around volume 4), but quite frankly, judging by a majority of the reviews, at least a passing familiarity with the comic and video game culture is apparently essential to actually getting the point. A staggering and frustratingly high number of “we’re so above it all” critics are writing off this film as indie hipster white noise, while their fingers aggressively avoid getting anywhere close to the pulse of the minutiae of pop culture. At the time of this writing, Roger “video-games-aren’t-art-even-though-I’ve-never-played-one” Ebert has yet to even publish a review, which goes to show you how much he cares about the film. For the rest of us, who grew up listening to punk rock, hanging out in friends’ basements and trying desperately to get that one perfect girl (or guy) to notice us, this is the way we’d like to remember those years just after high school. For those who are sick of Hollywood’s drab formulaic crap being spewed out year after year, this flick is a breath of fresh air. For those of us who grew up playing games like Punch-Out, Metroid, Legend of Zelda, and Street Fighter 2, this is film’s love letter to video games, or perhaps its long overdue apology, since Hollywood has proven incapable of successfully adapting a game franchise.

The eponymous Scott is living out every slacker’s dream. Living in Toronto, he’s unemployed, plays bass for emo-punk band Sex Bob-omb, is pseudo-dating an Asian high schooler, mooching off his friends (particularly his roommate Wallace Wells, played brilliantly by Culkin) and basically living off his “clueless idiot” charm. Scott takes his first steps toward maturity when Ramona Flowers comes skating through his subconscious via a subspace highway running through his brain. Ramona is everything Scott isn’t. She’s independent, employed, confident, well put together and more than a little mysterious. Despite (or perhaps because of) Scott’s cringe-worthy attempts to woo her, the two end up going out and things are looking good. Unfortunately, Ramona’s past comes back to haunt her, and Scott, in the form of The League of Evil Exes: seven ex-significant others determined to rule the future of Ramona’s love life by destroying any potential suitors. So Scott faces increasingly difficult battles, the requisite Battle of the Bands and escalating levels of awesomeness as he fights for the right to date Ramona.

SPvTW’s biggest strength is its visuals. Seriously, there has never been a better visual adaptation of a comic book franchise, and that includes Sin City, 300 and Watchmen. In addition to the eye-popping battle scenes which are top-notch (more on that later), even the quiet scenes of expositional dialogue feature funny, quirky or downright incredible effects. Sound effects like doorbells and telephone rings are spelled out in animated letters. Flashbacks are accomplished by taking pages from the comic and animating them. Certain scenes are viewed panel by panel, kind of like what Ang Lee completely failed to do in Hulk. The fight scenes are pure eye-candy, and shot so that the viewer can get into them, which is to say without shaky-cams and jumpy cuts designed to hide the actor’s lack of skill. I particularly loved the “Versus!” exclamation and visual that preceded each fight. The pace of the movie is just shy of being diagnosed with A.D.D., forcing the audience to pay attention for fear of missing an awesome scene and great joke or even a bit of poignancy that snuck in through the back door. Characterization is handled well and the acting is on point as all the actors really get their characters and have a good sense of comedic timing.

Of course it’s not perfect. For those who view the graphic novels as sacred canon that must not ever be trifled with, some plot changes might be somewhat irksome. In the comics, events occur over the space of a year, and splicing the entire series into two hours, combined with the movie’s breakneck editing, unfortunately diminishes the overall amount of time that Scott and Ramona spend together to at the most, a couple of days. The ultimate result of this is that the audience is given very little opportunity to view Scott and Ramona as a couple and hence are given less reason to care about them. One can start to wonder why Scott is putting himself through the ringer for a girl he barely knows. A few short romantic scenes could have fixed this error, but it’s ultimately a small one, easy to overlook.

Ultimately, SPvTW is a solid comic book adaptation with innovation and originality enough to be deemed a game-changer. As with other movies in recent years geared solely to gaming and comic book geeks (Serenity comes to mind), this one is almost sure to be overlooked by mainstream audiences in favor of testosterone-soaked action flicks like The Expendables, but trust me, this is one cult movie with something for everyone. Romance, action, video games, special effects, martial arts, humor, punk rock, and Superman as a psychic vegan. It’s like a big giant tube of win.

Intermission!

  • One evil ex that Scott (Cera) must defeat is played by Mae Whitman, who played Cera’s girlfriend on Arrested Development.
  • Edgar Wright thought of Cera as his choice for Scott Pilgrim while watching Arrested Development.
  • The stunt doubles for Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) are Evans’ actual stunt doubles.
  • Edgar Wright wrote a personal letter to Nintendo in order to procure permission to use the famous theme song from the 1986 NES game The Legend of Zelda. Wright also gained permission to use the theme song to “Seinfeld” for a sitcom-style sequence in the film.
  • Anna Kendrick plays the younger sister (18) of Scott Pilgrim (22) even though Kendrick is actually 3 years older than Michael Cera.
  • Bryan O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, took the name from a song by ’90s Canadian indie band Plumtree. (They, in turn, got the name from Scott Ingram, an accountant for indie rock bands, and Philip Pilgrim, a music producer.) In the film, the opening strains of the Plumtree song can be heard the first time Scott returns to his apartment. He also wears a Plumtree shirt at one point.
  • All of the band names are video game references: “Sex Bob-omb” refers to Super Mario enemy Bob-omb, and “Crash and the Boys” and “The Clash at Demonhead” were both NES games.
  • Speaking of which, Sex Bob-omb’s songs from the film were composed by Beck, while Broken Social Scene wrote Crash and the Boys’ songs, and Metric were the inspiration for the sound of The Clash at Demonhead.
  • The scene wherein Ramona takes control of Scott’s hands to help him fight Roxy is drawn from the Free Comic Book Day issue of Scott Pilgrim, where Ramona did the same thing to help Scott fight some female ninjas while telling him he’d have to learn to fight girls eventually. This foreshadowed Book 4, where Scott would learn of Roxy’s existence and have to defeat her.
  • During the editing process, Edgar Wright showed a rough cut of the film to Quentin Tarantino, Jason Reitman and Kevin Smith. They all loved it.
  • The film is lousy with actors previously cast in comic book adaptations or superhero movies, including Chris Evans (the Human Torch and upcoming Captain America), Brandon Routh (Superman), Thomas Jane (the Punisher) and Clifton Collins Jr., who was in an episode of The Flash.
  • I appreciate any movie that makes room for a Stones tune, and “Under My Thumb” was particularly well chosen.

Groovy Quotes

Ramona: We all have baggage.
Scott: Yeah, well, my baggage doesn’t try and kill me every five minutes.

Scott:I dislike you, capiche?
Todd: Tell it to the cleaning lady on Monday…Because you’ll be dust by Monday. Because you’ll be pulverized in two seconds. The cleaning lady? She cleans up . . . dust. She dusts.
Scott: So what’s on Monday?
Todd: ‘Cause… it’s Friday now….she has the weekends off, so… Monday, right?

Roxy Richter: You punched me in the boob! Prepare to die obviously!

Scott: You know her?
Ramona: It was just a phase.
Scott: You had a sexy phase?
Ramona: I was just a little bi-curious.
Roxy Richter: I’m just a little bi-furious!

Stacey: Next time, we don’t date the girl with eleven evil ex-boyfriends.
Scott: . . . seven.
Stacey:  Oh, well, that’s not that bad.

Ramona V. Flowers: This is good garlic bread.
Scott Pilgrim: Yeah, I think garlic bread would have to be my favorite all-time food. I could eat it for every meal. Or just constantly, without stopping.
Ramona V. Flowers: Then you’d get fat.
Scott Pilgrim: No, why would I get fat?
Ramona V. Flowers: Because bread makes you fat.
Scott Pilgrim: Bread makes you fat?!

Wallace Wells: Hey Jimmy do they rock or suck?
Jimmy: They have not started playing yet…
Wallace Wells: That was a test Jimmy, and you passed.

Scott Pilgrim: I’m gonna go pee due to boredom.

Scott Pilgrim: Wait! We’re fighting over Ramona?
Matthew Patel: Didn’t you get my email explaining the situation?
Scott Pilgrim: I skimmed it.
Wallace Wells: [shaking head] Mm-mm.
Matthew Patel: You will pay for your insolence!

Scott Pilgrim: When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case I do them all the time. All of them.


Scott Pilgrim: I know you play mysterious and aloof just to avoid getting hurt. And I know you have reasons for not wanting talk about your past. I want you to know that I don’t care about any of that stuff. Because I’m in lesbians with you.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The Wizard
  • Ready Player One
  • Hot Fuzz

7 comments

  1. I’m looking forwards to seeing this. I think though, it’s too cult: it’s very easy for all of us to overstate the importance and knowledge of videogame culture and tropes since we all love them. But not everyone does.

    Thanks for the reviews on it.

  2. Awesome movie, though I’m miffed that they cut out my 2 fave lines from the books: “I’m Knives Chau and I’M A SCOTTAHOLIC!” and “Too fast to live.”

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