- Edgar Wright, already an accomplished visual storyteller, steps it up several notches for Scott Pilgrim vs. the Word. From the 8-bit Universal logo, it is clear that Wright is aiming for the moon here. While most of the attention should rightfully go to the video game and comics infused visuals, Wright also does plenty of interesting things with sound and especially editing. Transitions are abrupt and jarring, often happening in the middle of sentences and moving several days ahead. It creates a kind of feverish, frenzied speed to the film that, if nothing else, makes Scott Pilgrim frame-for-frame one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
- But it is disappointing that Wright’s visual ambition doesn’t extend to his storytelling. For all of the interesting stuff going on here, the movie is ultimately a frustratingly staid coming-of-age tale, Knocked Up with fighting.
- There’s something to be said for how much fun this movie is (indeed, it is not unlike playing a video game). The fight scenes are intricately realized and detailed, the video game references never stop being hilarious, and the film is packed wall-to-wall with far too many jokes to catch on a first viewing. Shrugged off with deadpan disaffection, the fights in “Scott Pilgrim” represent just one way that the film reflects its characters’ pop culture fixation. In the world of “Scott Pilgrim” people regularly fight and explode in a shower of coins, 1-ups are distributed, and people level up. Not that there’s much competition, but “Scott Pilgrim” is decidedly the best video game movie ever, a movie that engages gamers instead of condescending to them (although it would be fair to say that it panders to them). That kind of respect for that audience and that (dare I say it) art form is pretty rare in Hollywood.
- That said, while it feels slightly disingenuous to complain about there being too much fighting in a film about fighting, the fight scenes got pretty tedious after a while. The middle section felt a little sluggish as the film slogged from fight-to-fight-to-fight without taking a breath. It takes so long to get through everything that by the time Scott is fighting ex number four it feels like two or so hours have already passed. Dorks like me might have complained if Ramona had only had 5 evil exes, but for a movie this tight to feel so flabby is inexcusable and I can’t help but think that it might have been a little better if one or two exes got the Indiana Jones treatment.
- As with most adaptations, a lot of stuff that worked like gangbusters in the comics falls flat here and vice versa. One of my favorite lines in the book (YOU HAD A SEXY PHASE???) dropped like an anvil in the movie. Alternately, while I enjoyed the way the book handled Scott’s 1-up, I thought the way the film did it was even better (with him replaying level 7). Wright, much more than directors who recently tackled beloved comic books, understands that the two are separate media and that attempting a one-to-one translation does both a disservice.
- Unfortunately, in making the transition, Wright pushes all the female characters to the margins. Characters who, in print, were far richer get reduced to simply one-stop advice chutes for Scott Pilgrim. Anna Kendrick’s Stacy, Aubrey Plaza’s Julie, and Alison Pill’s Kim all exist to talk to Scott and tell him about how he needs to grow up and help him through his problems. This article in The Awl makes this point far better than I will, but when the film can’t even pass Bechdel Test we have a problem. I understand this is already a busy movie, but it is problematic that, when things needed to be trimmed, strong female characters were on the top of the list. It is doubly problematic since the source material has some of strongest female characters in comics. Wright and screenwright Michael Bacall hollowed out the core and created a film that, while looking awesome, is somewhat lacking in humanity.
- Nowhere is this clearer than with Ramona and Knives. The former transforms from a fascinating cipher to a bland MPDG whose only character trait is that she changes her hair color. Maybe she isn’t supposed to be as complex; the film does seem to be saying that Scott is too immature to realize that his infatuation with her isn’t exactly based on her as a person. And yet, just because that is true doesn’t make the other point false. Ramona is reduced to less than a person so she can help Scott learn something about himself; just like Natalie Portman in Garden State or Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer. The result is that the relationship between Ramona and Scott is not wholly convincing (again, I know that’s not the point but then why even bother?) and I have a hard time caring about the movie if it is just about watching another immature 22 year old learn to grow the hell up. Knives gets it even worse; her part is expanded but she only exists so Scott can hurt her and then learn what a bad person he is for doing that. The ending where she encourages him to chase after Ramona felt very false to me; a lazy and immature Hollywood fantasy without much grounding in the real world.
- The cast does a phenomenal job across the board. Best in show honors probably go to Kieran Culkin, whose Wallace Wells is the most consistently hilarious. I was also especially impressed with Chris Evans and Brandon Routh, who each had a little fun subverting some of their past roles as two of Ramona’s evil exes (and as weird as Ramona’s dating portfolio seemed in the books, the movie’s casting makes it doubly strange). Even Michael Cera is good playing the movie version of Scott Pilgrim: a decidedly different character from the books. While book Scott is destructively self-assured and propulsively convinced of his own awesomeness, movie Scott is frozen with self-doubt and perpetual whininess. It makes for a funnier contrast with the fighting even if it just adds to the bland “man-child grows up” story arc (ground which, btw, Wright already covered far more effectively in Shaun of the Dead).
- Hollywood’s go-to young romantic lead is Michael Cera. Its go-to young action lead is Shia LaBoeuf. Men ages 18 to 25, this is what Hollywood thinks of us.
- “Still it could be worse, you could be represented by a revolving door of underwritten, blandly supportive female companions without their own personalities” –Women ages 18 to 25.
- Please don’t let any of the above complaining distract from the point that this was a ridiculously entertaining movie, pretty much exactly what you want from the summer. In many ways it is like Inception: good enough to stand head-and-shoulders above the cavalcade of tedious blockbusters and deserve to be criticized on a higher level, but possessing of some serious flaws. The movie is somewhat incoherent on the point of what growing up means and tries to excuse too much of its hollowness with a “that’s the point!”
- I wrote a review of Scott Pilgrim and didn’t once feel the need to use the word “hipster.” You’re welcome.
Jonah’s Score: 60
TUIW Grade: B-