Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

You’ve heard the story before. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy has to defeat girl’s seven evil exes in a series of intense, incredibly stylised fights in order to win her heart.

…wait, you haven’t heard that before? Well that’s the general gist of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Michael Cera (of Arrested Development and, more recently, Juno fame) stars as the eponymous hero of the film; a 23-year old slacker, permanently in a state of “between jobs”. Indifferently dating high-schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) despite his friend’s protests, he soon meets mysterious delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls head over heels for her. He learns that in order for him to be able to date Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes, who have all joined forces in order to control Ramona’s future love life.

Now if this doesn’t sound like the type of film you’d enjoy, I recommend you stop reading now, because (and I’m not going to lie, here), I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. A hell of a lot. And I fully intend on singing its praises for the next 633 words.

Despite having described the plot, I don’t even know where to start to describe what the film actually is. Part rom-com, part postmodern parody, part comic book adaptation, part superhero movie, Edgar Wright manages to pull off the seemingly impossible; he seamlessly weaves all these different elements together to create something that barely ever seems schizophrenic or jarring. Because the film is set against the backdrop of Scott Pilgrim and his media-saturated upbringing, he becomes the unreliable narrator of legend; indeed, the basic situation he goes through is entirely commonplace and thus is almost worthless from an artistic perspective. Most of us have been there in at least one point in our life; running into a partner’s ex and having to deal with the inevitable ‘unfinished business’. This is, inherently, one of the main themes the film is exploring, but Scott’s media-saturated imagination has exaggerated the situation into the one we actually see. This not just a film about a character named Scott Pilgrim; it’s essentially Scott’s film…and this is perhaps why it all seems to sit so coherently together.

Speaking of Scott, it’s definitely refreshing to see Michael Cera play a character who is actually a bit of a dick. There are certainly aspects of George-Michael Bluth echoing around inside Pilgrim’s psyche (if such a word can be used in reference to a fictional character), but for the most part, Scott’s a douche. He’s lazy, dispassionate and indifferent, and Cera actually handles it very well for saying how often he’s been typecast as ‘the affectionate awkward guy’ in the past. Actually, the acting is a delight almost uniformly right across the board; though Alison Pill’s sardonic Kim Pine, Chris Evans’ self-important Lucas Lee and Kieran Culkin’s sensitive-yet-libidinous gay roommate Wallace Wells stand out as particular highlights.

Stylistically, it’s incredible. Wright and his team have assembled a film that truly is a comic book adaptation; complete with transcribed sound effect overlays, motion lines and that just that specific brand of comic book violence that has proven so popular. Although it’s not entirely original in its aesthetic, I’m hard pushed to think of even three live-action films that look like Scott Pilgrim, and for that fact alone it is impressive.

The pacing may not sit too comfortably with people at times. Instead of the usual ‘three-act story’ we find in the majority of modern films, Scott Pilgrim seems to play out more like a video game than anything, with our hero battling his way through the seven levels of the film, taking on and defeating the bosses at the end of each level. For a film this may seem a little frenetic, but the rather charming subplot involving the development of Scott’s band ‘Sex Bob-Omb’ help anchor the narrative firmly in place.

Having been a fan of Edgar Wright since Shaun of the Dead (I’m afraid to say Spaced followed later for me…), the main thing I appreciate in this movie is that despite its huge budget, it still seems to retain that ‘indie’ sensibility. It’s a celebration of both film and filmmaking, the latter specifically. Despite being so audacious, it’s also remarkably nuanced, and definitely stands up for repeated viewings (if only to pick up on all the pop-culture references and subtleties hidden within).

I fully acknowledge that this isn’t the sort of film that everyone will enjoy. It’s not perfect; there are some moments that don’t sit quite right (the large majority of which stemming from Wright trying to condense so much material into a single film. Ramona wasn’t being sarcastic when she mentioned the subspace highway going through Scott’s head, folks), but to be honest I haven’t had as much of a blast watching a film in a long, long time, and for that reason, I forgive it its flaws. Thoroughly, thoroughly recommended.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★

9 Comments on “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”

  1. Scullion says:

    10 Stars?! Filmic perfection? Often I’d like to give a movie some time to settle into my history and hindsight zone before lobbing a 10 starrer at it. Personally I mostly agree and felt Scott Pilgrim was very enjoyable, exciting, kinetic, bonkers and original. I also thought it was inconsistent, predictable in places, awkwardly childish and bathing in a pool full of “style over substance”.

    You admit “It’s not perfect; there are some moments that don’t sit quite right” which makes me question the 10 star rating. Does it have re-watch value? A little, yes. But I wouldn’t rush to buy it.

    This is, as you mentioned, not a film everyone will enjoy. My Mum would be baffled, my boss would walk straight out after the first five minutes and my uncle would just say something racist. I enjoyed it, but not with 10 stars of enjoyment!

    But this is why I love films – they divide people. Hey, I hated Avatar and happily admit to thinking Lost in Translation was a load of boring shite. As for Transformers… don’t even get me started…

    • Phil Taberner says:

      I know, I know…I did seem a little enthusiastic on this one, didn’t I?

      I’d like to think the review itself is pretty accurate, but trust me, I did think long and hard about how many stars I’d give it. I actually saw it four times in the cinema and loved it each time…and to me, that says a lot about a film. Very few films have inspired that level of adoration in me, and to a certain extent that’s the main reason I gave it such a high rating.

      It’s part of the reason I’m wondering whether to write an article on reviewing itself; namely, how tricky it is to strike a balance between reviewing a film and reviewing the experience of watching a film. I admit SPvtW wasn’t perfect, but to me I had a complete blast every time I watched it, and still found myself noticing new subtle background jokes every time. To me, if you can enjoy a film just as much as you did when you first watched it three watches later, it speaks volumes about how much you enjoyed that film, no matter how flawed it is.

      Just to contextualise it a little, I actually found SP far and away more exhilarating than Kick-Ass, even though Kick-Ass was a more ‘well-rounded’ film. So how do I portray that in terms of ratings? To give SP less than 9/10 (for I agree with your rating for that one) would be accurate in portraying its flaws, but would downplay how much I enjoyed watching it. And conversely, a higher rating than 9/10 would show that I enjoyed SP more than Kick-Ass, but – as has happened here – would to a certain extent imply cinematic perfection. So which carries more weight in terms of a rating; enjoyment or filmic quality? I did take a look into what other reviewers had given it in order to try and gauge reactions, and Empire’s review clinched it for me; the woman who reviewed it (who freely admits to being ‘emphatically’ not a gamer…!) gave it 5/5.

      Perhaps I wasn’t the best person to review this, in hindsight. I tend to be a little over-generous with my ratings (even films I’ve rated 9/10 in the past I didn’t find myself rushing to rewatch as I did this one), and so when a film I adore comes along I have no choice but to give it a 10/10 rating, if only because there’s no other way to show HOW much I adored it. In a similar vein, I’d like to think I fall into the exact demographic that this film was aimed towards, so I doubt I’d be the best person to accurately convey how everyone else will see it.

      I dunno. As you say, films divide people, and I suppose as long as we can all accept that we all have different opinions then all is good!

      (and by the way, I fully intend on rushing to buy it when it comes out on December 27th…!! ;) )

  2. Sarah Law says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Dave on this one. I re-watched it again in case I’d been in the wrong mood when I watched it the first time but I’m sad to say I was really ‘meh’ about it both times.

    I dislike Michael Cera and his catalogue of precisely one character and thought the script here was absolutely dreadful. It came across as though someone had commissioned a pensioner to emulate Diablo Cody’s cool-teen-speak vibe and failed miserably. There were parts that even made me outwardly cringe (the singing during the first fight? Ugh.)

    I certainly didn’t hate this movie but I can see why it lost so much money at the cinemas. All the video game stuff and the subtle nods to the geeks are very male oriented but essentially, it’s a very girly love story so the whole thing felt a bit ill-at-ease to me.

    Like I said, enjoyable enough but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. Edgar Wright is worth more than this.

    • Phil Taberner says:

      It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it as much, but in all honesty that doesn’t surprise me. Not that that’s any reflection on you of course, Sarah, but I’d imagine that SP is one of those films that just naturally divides people.

      I understand what you mean about Michael Cera, but in all honesty, on the Venn Diagram of Cera’s repertoire, I don’t I think Scott as a character falls entirely within his usual characters. Just to use the quote I noticed on your FB status: “…is that the one where Michael Cera plays an awkward virgin unsure about himself and girls?” To me, it’s a definite and resounding ‘no’, in this case. It’s made perfectly clear in the film that Scott for the most part isn’t awkward. He gets a little tongue-tied around Ramona, admittedly (but so would I if I found myself talking to Mary Elizabeth Winstead… :P ), but I can’t imagine Paulie beating up seven guys to be with Juno. Plus, prior to Ramona, Scott had three girlfriends, and he was basically a complete dick to two of them. That was the whole point of the film; Scott coming to the self-realisation that actually, he’s not the saint he thinks he is. Plus, I can’t remember whether it’s mentioned in the film, but certainly in the comics, Scott is shown sleeping with Envy prior to their breakup. Which means he’s not a virgin either. :p So basically I think of the four characteristics mentioned in that quote, I’m inclined to agree with one, at most. To me, SPvtW was a welcome break to see Cera playing someone different.

      Mind you, I know exactly what you mean. I’m inclined to hate every film Adam Sandler’s in, just because I can’t stand him as a person…

  3. Sarah Law says:

    Michael Cera was a minor gripe for me to be honest. I dislike him but it was the film itself that irked me and the issues I detailed above are why. He was a pretty small part of what ruined it for me. I think, even with a different lead, my opinion would be the same. It’s a shame really, as I wanted to love it :(

  4. Rag says:

    For both balance, and so Phil doesn’t feel picked on, I’m coming down on the TOP FILM side of things.

    Like Phil, I think I fall into the demographic as it hit several spots at once for me. Admittedly, I do tend to throw myself into films and am often (rightly) accused of ignoring or failing to even notice glaring flaws in plot or execution. But having said that, I cannot think of one thing that bugged me about this film.

    Yes, Micky C (we’re close, so I can call him that) is a bit one dimentional when it comes to range. But the role could have been written for him (and may well have been).

    I also have the added bonus of having lurked in arcades for sufficient years to appreciate many of the nods to game classics.

    But all that aside, the pace and the humour worked for me. And yes, I will be dashing out to buy the DVD. I say good review (even if it’s not exactly a horror film).

    • Phil says:

      Late reply, but thanks for the support! Glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it so much. It’s odd how much this film divides people…a friend of mine actually had to turn it off out of boredom! I can’t see how that’s possible…I found it one of the most exhilarating films I’ve ever seen…

  5. admin says:

    But isn’t that the beauty of film?! If we all liked the same stuff, the discussions afterwards would be pretty damn yawn-inducing! :)

    • Scullion says:

      Damn straight!

      I mean, I’m pretty sure someone out there actually likes Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2… although they may currently be residing in an asylum.

      Love filmic debate.

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