Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
By Josh Spiegel
August 18, 2010

Don't worry...he will be okay in the end.

In reading up on the film version of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, I noticed a little tidbit in one article by The Guardian that I haven’t read anywhere else: that, in the process of writing the script for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with Michael Bacall, the film’s director, Edgar Wright, was working in the guest house of one Quentin Tarantino. What’s more, while Wright was writing Scott Pilgrim in the guest house, Tarantino was hard at work at his most recent film, Inglourious Basterds; Tarantino would run lines by Wright to make sure that the English characters sounded appropriate to their land. Aside from how strange, surreal, or awesome (depending on your opinion of Tarantino) it must have been to write anything, let alone the script to a studio picture, in the presence of an inconsistent genius, it made perfect sense to me that Wright was so friendly with Tarantino.

Leaving aside the obvious connection (Wright directed one of the fake trailers in Grindhouse), what doesn’t strike me as odd about the combination is that both men are fiercely in love with popular culture. Most people don’t know Edgar Wright’s name, but those who do are probably not just aware of his witty skewers of zombie and cop movies in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, respectively. Before either of those was Spaced, a charming, fast-paced, hilarious show about a couple of twentysomethings who hung out in their apartment and were consumed with pop culture, day in, day out. Of course, unlike Tarantino, Wright is able to create completely new pieces of work instead of make movies that are meant solely to remind me about past films, songs, or TV shows.

I haven’t said it explicitly yet, but I write for Box Office Prophets, this movie is called Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and you’ll notice that there are no tarring and feathering sessions planned for me from my colleagues. So, yes, I loved Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Like most of the folks at BOP, I’ve read the series and I liked it. I was happy to read the final volume and see that it stuck the landing, but I was not really sure what to expect from the film version. What I got was one of the most joyous, exuberant, exciting films I’ve seen in a long time. The casting (yeah, including apparent Hollywood whipping boy Michael Cera) is uniformly excellent, the script surprisingly funnier than I’d have expected, the music catchy and just right, and the technical aspects of Scott Pilgrim are far more dazzling than I could have dreamed.

By now, of course, you have probably read the post-mortem for the past weekend. We all know that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is many things, but a big moneymaker is not one of them. The whys can be debated until the end of time, but I wanted to address a generalization I’ve been seeing among those who’ve seen and talked about the movie. If you’re under a certain age, you will love this movie. If you’re over a certain age, you will hate or not understand this movie. If you don’t like video games or comic books, don’t come any closer to the movie. If you love video games and comic books, well, then, Mr. or Ms. Nerd, why haven’t you bought your tickets yet?

That these statements are being made is unfortunate if unsurprising. That people on both sides of this argument are making these stereotypes into something they believe as fact is the worst possible thing that could happen to Scott Pilgrim. If you haven’t yet seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (and even if you’re reading this review, it’s more likely than not that you haven’t, sadly), let me tell you who the movie is for. It’s for you. It’s for anyone - anyone, that is, who likes movies. Anyone who likes movies that aren’t exactly like everything else. Is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World going to challenge you in the same way that Inception may have? No, I don’t think so. But is it as thrilling? You bet. All you need to enjoy Scott Pilgrim is a love for the new.

The movie’s plot is almost secondary to the many pleasures it offers. The title character (Cera) is a cheerfully shiftless 22-year-old Canadian living in Toronto. He mooches off his gay roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin, the film’s top scene-stealer), he plays in a crappy rock band called Sex Bob-Omb with a few friends of his from high school, and he dates a 17-year-old Chinese schoolgirl named Knives (Ellen Wong, a newcomer who, with any luck, will be huge soon). In essence, Scott is a Peter Pan figure without any of the respect. His friends mock him for his many, obvious flaws, but he ignores them because why not? He’s having fun. That’s what matters…until he has a strange dream where he’s visited upon by a mysterious girl who has brightly colored hair and gets around town on roller blades. When he sees her in person at a party, Scott makes it his mission to woo the girl, named Ramona.

As it turns out, wooing Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as aloof and alluring as the character was in the graphic novels) is going to be the most important and, thus, difficult thing he’s ever done. See, Ramona has seven evil ex-boyfriends, and if Scott wants to date her safely, he has to destroy them. With that, the plot is dispensed with, and we’re left with one of the most breathless romantic comedies to ever exist. Though the movie never leaves Toronto, in some ways, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World transports us and Scott through a strange and singular journey, one that you can’t process by asking too many questions. If, for example, you watch any of the fights Scott has with the Evil Exes and wonder why he walks away unbloodied, you are asking the wrong questions.

Why does Scott have pretty cool fighting prowess when he needs to? Because that’s how the story is; you can either view the movie as a video game writ large (and the first successful film to bring video games to the big screen) or as our ride through the mind of an overgrown kid who’s being nudged into adulthood and maturity. Either way, the movie clearly does not take place in reality. Unlike dumb-for-the-sake-of-being-dumb action movies, it’s intentional, not just lazy writing. Here, we’re meant to accept that this world isn’t real, but still has some tether to the world we’re all familiar with, and not just in everyone making constant fun of Scott for being with a child (and doing nothing more than holding her hand). The surreality of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World gives Edgar Wright free rein to make the movie he’s been working towards for a decade.

Watching Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I was reminded of the experience of watching Inception earlier this summer, and of watching the superlative There Will Be Blood from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Like Anderson and Christopher Nolan, Wright is a younger auteur, someone whose movies are clear from the very first shot. Like Anderson and Nolan with There Will Be Blood and Inception, Wright is the true star of his film. What’s more, Wright’s work in the film is so assured, so confident, so giddy in its invention that you can’t help but smile. Even the best movies these days aren’t pure fun (Toy Story 3, while excellent, demands that you tear up at the end unless you’re heartless); Scott Pilgrim vs. The World defies that expectation, destroys it, and then picks up the coins that appear once the expectation disappears in a puff of smoke. Though this movie will live on DVD and Blu-ray, you’re doing yourself a favor by seeing it now.