A homage to video game and comic book culture
a movie review of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World by passant
If you asked me about my favourite movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will always make the list. I would also probably say that I think referring to a movie like it as a “cult classic” is an understatement. It deserves to be a classic. The movie is based on the comic books by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It follows the kinda dorky twenty-two-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) , a bassist in the local garage band Sex Bob-Omb , who got his heart broken by Envy Adams (Brie Larson) and is now in a relationship with the 17-year-old high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) much to the disapproval of everyone around him. Everything changes when he falls for the “out of reach” manic pixie dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and finds out he has to battle her seven evil exes to be with her. We also get to follow Sex-Bob-Omb as they compete in a battle of the bands, sponsored by Gideon Graves (Ramona’s seventh evil ex).
One really impressive aspect of the movie is that it manages to blend Bryan O’ Malley’s six-volume comic series without making it feel rushed or confusing. Edgar Wright successfully captures the essence of the graphic novels consisting of characters lost in a world of videogames, manga, and indie rock music. He honors O’ Malley’s artwork and style so beautifully to the point where he actually made the movie feel like a comic book. Wright rarely uses the same shots twice. His scene transitions are executed so well with the aim of making them similar to comic panels as he smoothly moves the characters to an entirely new location to continue the conversation without us really knowing it. His transitions were so unexpected and always took me by surprise. He even went to the extent of not letting the cast blink during scenes so it was more like a comic book (not kidding Alison Pill only blinked once throughout the entire movie). It’s technical details like these that distinguishes Scott Pilgrim from other movies and puts it in a category of its own. And that’s why in every interview the one thing the actors all unanimously agree on is that “Edgar knew exactly what he wanted.”
The moment the opening credits appear on screen with the 8-bit arcade style universal logo (done in classic Scott pilgrim style), you’re made to feel as though you’re witnessing something special. I’m not exaggerating when I say the title card is the best title card I’ve seen in a movie because it immediately transports you into a different world. It breaks the fourth wall and completely blurs the line between reality and fantasy. The way it visually represents the intensity of the song and the way the opening credits turn into a graffiti zone for the editors to insert symbols relevant to the characters the actors are playing displays the love, care and dedication that went into this film. You can’t help but have the same reaction as Knives in that moment (it really does make you “geek”)
The fights in Scott Pilgrim display that same level of uniqueness and technicality. I usually get tired of fight scenes when they’re excessive but I didn’t find that problem here because each fight was so different from the last. Each fight had its own choreography, rhythm, story and style to match the evil exes and their abilities accordingly. For example, the Katayanagi Twins used their music to summon double dragons to fight against Scott during a battle of the bands performance. Scott’s band had to fight back using their own song and videogame referenced beast. The battles are so clearly influenced by Street Fighter with the “VS” on screen between combatants, Wallace shouting “Fight” for the battle to begin, and Scott landing his first KO.
A central and significant element in the movie is the soundtrack. The thing about it is that it has this naturally real raw vibe. It’s not overproduced but rather sounds like it could actually come from a struggling local garage band. I think a contributing factor was Wrights’ decision to get all the main actors to learn an instrument and form a band together when most of them (excluding Michael Cera) had never picked up an instrument beforehand. Beck also did such an amazing job writing Sex Bob-Omb’s songs, giving it that rough garage sound. In fact, he did so well he managed to make a song about a garbage truck ride sound good. The soundtrack is just one of those soundtracks you’ll always find yourself going back to.
The dialogue is extremely witty and funny, even unintentionally at times. It also likes to poke fun at both the music and film industry fanatics through background conversations (“The comic book is better than the movie”) The main characters are multilayered and they complement each other really well. While Scott pilgrim is our protagonist, he’s actually pretty unlikable for a large portion of the film. O’ Malley mentioned that he purposely designed him to not just be an antihero, but an extremely indecisive and passive one too. Yet you still find yourself rooting for him at the end because the way that Bryan O’ Malley wrote his lead character and the way Edgar wright and Michael Cera present him is nothing short of genius. It fully displays his flaws as a main character through his platonic and romantic relationships (and how he interacts with the world around him hence Scott Pilgrim vs. the world) consequently allowing for a much more satisfying character arc. We can see his own insecurities and indecisiveness being portrayed through his relationship with Knives and his fear of spontaneity being represented through Ramona (even though he desperately wishes he didn’t fear it as much).
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World feels genuine because it is. You can tell it came from a place of love and nostalgia. No other director would have been able to handle the movie with the same level of care and effort Edgar Wright presented, or write a letter to Ninetendo, begging to use a five second music cue from The Legend of Zelda because, as Wright put it, it was the “nursery rhyme of this generation.” While other directors would’ve looked at the concept and saw an adaptation, Wright looked and saw a homage. A way to honor videogame and comic culture, without coming off as overbearing or insincere, and honor the generation that grew up loving that culture.