WARNING: This contains possible spoilers.
So let me just get all this infantile, off-topic bullshit out of the way in one paragraph. Once upon a time, I had a great hatred for Michael Cera. He came across to me as a poor man’s Woody Allen and while Woody has one of those particular styles of acting you either love or hate, it goes without saying I also at one point couldn’t stand his first impression either, but then I saw the right films with him, and suddenly, I got it all; I got him, and not only his sense of humor, but his whole perspective of entertainment and approach to comedy. I am completely digressing here, but only to prove a point that I no longer feel the need to elaborate on, which is, as an actor, Michael Cera was born to play the title role in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and it’s a wonderful performance that exhibits promise and lights the way for an eclectic adventure with an even more eclectic supporting cast.
Edgar Wright is without a doubt one of the most talented visionaries working within the mainstream today. While I hold Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the legendary television series Spaced in the highest regard as some of the greatest entertainment to come along in the past decade, Scott Pilgrim is a film I was wary about at first, due to its wacky style and the director’s choice in its lead. But time passed and one day I realized that I needed to man up and finally pull that stick out of my ass and watch this already. When I finally did, I realized that Wright had again made something that, while it wasn’t as accessible as his previous work, was still an experience that succeeded in being worth the time and effort.
Make no mistake, this is indeed an acquired taste, but there’s something going on throughout Scott Pilgrim that I feel certain people will get a kick out of. There’s no denying that it is a film catered to fans of comic books and retro games alike, but even then I feel this is an experience you’ll either thoroughly enjoy or just be lost to the point of finding it alienating. The best type of films I could compare it to are the more screwball martial arts-oriented films of the 80’s, such as Big Trouble in Little China, or Jackie Chan’s City Hunter. We could move even farther back to the Seijun Suzuki era of cartoonish-style Yakuza flicks from the 60’s as a possible influence, or the more contemporary chaotic cinema of Takashi Miike and his more recent Crows Zero film series as a fare comparison. If you’re familiar with any of those movies and were entertained by what you saw, then Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is at least worth a watch.
The supporting cast is without a doubt some of the most memorable and interesting characters I’ve come across in awhile. Anna Kendrick, who’s unfortunately best known for her miniscule role in the Twilight films is here as Scott’s sister, and while her role is again minor, it’s still plenty effective, playing an over-the-top, yet somehow accurate depiction of the typical ball-busting sister. The League of Evil Exes is an idea that sounds pretty lame once you initially give it thought, but as they come to life, Wright makes it work thanks to his choice in casting and direction. The Exes all succeed in their larger than life roles: the stand-outs being Chris Evans as the prima donna action skater, Brandon Routh as a hyper-cosmic telekinetic vegan, and Jason Schwartzman as the colorful de facto villain and the final boss who Scott must beat to win the object of his desire. The two actors I tip my hat off to for stealing the show would have to be Kieran Culkin as Wallace, Scott’s charmingly promiscuous gay roommate and Ellen Wong as Scott’s hyperactive child-like girlfriend, Knives Chau. The story in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just as much about Knives as it is Scott. While we watch Scott endure his own personal pursuits, we also witness Knives’ transformation from a once lovable schoolgirl into an independent woman, as she must endure her terrible first break up while learning to outgrow it herself. Her personal development is that she needs to accept that, while she has lost the first love of her life, she must learn that Scott was good for her then, but she can do better now.
Some people might be put off by the way Scott tosses Knives aside for the new object of his desire, Ramona, a character who in a lot of ways isn’t really that likable, but there still is reason behind why Scott is so crazy about her and while it might make sense that the guy should end up with one girl over the other, this all shows how effectively Edgar Wright has fused this comic book/video game realm with the hard truths of the real world. In that more offbeat sense, it sort of reminds of the indie romance 500 Days of Summer. In that film Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character spends a great deal of the narrative having difficulty accepting a break-up until he finally realizes that, while she was perfect for him in their time together, he served his purpose for her in that time, but now she needs something more than what he could ever offer her. If anything their relationship was practice for each other, and this is exactly how I see the characters of Scott and Knives. Nobody is right or wrong. The experience surrounding the love triangle in Scott Pilgrim is handled in an honest and realistic way and I commend that. It’s not a happy or sad ending; it’s an honest conclusion. Sure that aspect of the film can be seen as a satire on childish romance, but while it even goes as far as engaging in sword fights over the love of a woman, all ridiculousness aside, there’s more than one meaning going on here and I fell in love with how everything played out.
Make no mistake, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a ridiculous film, but if you enjoyed the charm a film like the ones I mentioned in comparison have to offer, then I believe there is something here you can take a way from enjoying. Is it Edgar Wright’s masterpiece? Personally I don’t think so, but that could be debated. As far as direction goes, I find it to be a stunning achievement in its visuals and atmosphere.
I never read the Scott Pilgrim comics, but from what I’ve gathered it’s more of a valentine to the retro nerds: the 90’s generation of yesteryear and that’s where this film succeeds. In a lot of ways, it’s the definitive comic/video game adaptations, but even then that still underrates its charm. I hate to be that guy who says “You just didn’t get it”, but that really is the case with a film like this: either you get it or you don’t, and whatever end you’re on in that spectrum, you’re not wrong. That’s what makes a movie a cult film: the people who don’t hate it love it and the people who don’t love it end up hating it. It is what it is.
What I enjoyed most about this film, outside of its retro game and comic book inside jokes was the core story of a twenty-something who really is never meant to be likable or sympathetic from the start. He’s the perfect depiction of a man-child: an adult who exists within his comfort zone of still acting like a teenager and that’s a quality that myself as well as many others can relate to. He’s not meant to be a typical hero. Instead Scott is depicted as a flawed character, always putting his most admirable qualities out there for everyone else he invites into his comfort zone while hiding behind them so he won’t have to face his own idiosyncrasies and imperfections.
I suppose that’s what I enjoyed most about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is that outside of its screwball comedy and surreal, nonsensical video game world, there was an amiable story of a young guy learning the hard way about growing up and maturing and learning to be confident to everyone around him, and most importantly to himself. It really is surprising just how this film works on so many levels. Considering its subject, I was not expecting to take so much from it. The scene where Scott’s band plays so perfectly that he’s awarded a +1 life and later fails to the point of getting “game over”, only to use his extra life to play through again to the “final boss battle”, goes far beyond the video game homage and transcends to an almost existential level, where the protagonist has realized and admits to his past wrongdoings and must man up and not only admit to his mistakes, but overcome them as well. In that sense, Edgar Wright has worked this film on a brilliant level. As opposed to using this atmosphere to represent something superficial, he instead conveys through the medium an important commentary on the youth of today and how easy it is to stay in our comfort zones and refuse to grow up and face harsh realities.
Sure, I could go on about all the little game and comic book inside jokes here and there, but I think the point has been made. Edgar Wright took a chance with something he knew might alienate most, but in the end, he succeeded again in using his talent at being equal parts visionary and master storyteller. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just as much a fun homage to yesteryear’s nerd culture as it is a bold look at a young man who must learn to put all the fun and games aside and embrace the agony and ecstasy that life has to offer.
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