Connect with us
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Film

Does Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Stand the Test of Time?

An epic of epic epicness.

10 Years Later: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

Over the last two decades, everyone from Zack Snyder to Ang Lee to the Neveldine/Taylor crew has attempted to draw inspiration from geek culture in order to create innovative, bleeding-edge films. Efforts like these wind up feeling compromised at best and ill-fated at worst, either because of enslavement to the source material (Watchmen), overambition (Hulk), or incompetence (Gamer). Simply put, if you want to meld entirely different art forms and still make a coherent film, you’d best have both the chops and the chutzpah to pull it off.

Edgar Wright, as it turns out, is precisely the man for the job. His UK TV series Spaced was laced with pop-culture references but was still ultimately driven by its characters and relationships, and his three features (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) were expertly executed genre parodies that nevertheless thrived on the same qualities. His first foray into adapting material not drafted up by himself or his usual collaborators, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World amounted to an ambitious leap forward both in terms of stylistic ambition and sheer manic energy – but unlike some of Wright’s forebears, the ADD quality of the film is a product of meticulous construction rather than scattershot execution.

Michael Cera, in a more deliberately dickish variation of his usual persona, plays the title character, a 22-year-old layabout who doesn’t accomplish much besides playing bass for a garage band and trades barbs with his outgoing gay roommate (Kieran Culkin). He toys with an underage sorta-girlfriend named Knives Chau (Emma Wong), but his heart is soon stolen by the mysterious, disaffected Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose affections come with a price – if they are to date, he must fight and defeat her “seven evil exes” in a series of battles that take the form of video-game-style skirmishes, even as they act as a simple but clever metaphorical device.

Ten years later, many have derided Wright’s vision, but nobody ever called him lazy.

In the wrong hands, a preposterous premise like Pilgrim‘s could have produced a complete mess, but Wright is so well-attuned to the material that he’s able to exploit its visual possibilities without losing sight of the core idea: the need to get beyond our emotional baggage instead of letting it define us. The epically staged battle sequences – which occasionally take forms other than man-to-man combat – each have a purpose in the story, even if they feature endless CGI trickery. Most importantly, the neverending barrage of references to gaming, comics, and other movies come so fast and with such frequency that if one doesn’t work (the Seinfeld riff springs to mind), there’s another coming shortly – if it isn’t already occupying the same frame. In fact, there are so many cameos, gags, and puns crowding the film (including a few aural ones that might go unnoticed on a substandard audio setup) that a repeat viewing feels like a necessity.

Beyond the effects-driven mayhem, the true key to the film’s success lies in its innovative editing. Pilgrim shares an editor (Paul Machliss) with Spaced, and the film’s hyper-caffeinated comic rhythms are instantly recognizable as being akin to that series. Wright finds innovative ways to communicate a lot of plot information in a very short period of time, whether it’s through clever matching cuts, dazzling montages that divide the frame, or the restrained sequences that act as breathers and feature little to no trickery at all, the film has clearly been the product of tireless tinkering at the hands of expert craftsmen.

The emotional component of the film generally clicks but doesn’t take off with the same gusto as the action and humor, partially because it can be difficult to sympathize for a character whose life, as Alison Pill’s wily drummer Kim Pine so astutely points out, should earn him a good punching. Pilgrim would have benefited significantly from having his ego taken down a few more pegs by film’s end. Additionally, in a problem that plagues nearly every single-film adaptation of a series in film history, the attempts to fill out the supporting players’ backstories (particularly Pill and Cera’s rock-star ex, played by Brie Larson) are annoyingly perfunctory, and will likely only feel complete to those familiar with Bryan Lee O’Malley’s source material.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Nevertheless, it feels churlish to complain about a movie that provides more sheer entertainment than most movies released year after year, and is so willing to exploit new technologies in order not to show off an effects budget, but to magnify its humor and heart. Older generations of filmgoers and critics will shrug and whine at its relentless pacing, video-game staging, and heavy dose of insider humor; Wright, unconcerned, simply sticks to his guns and challenges audiences and filmmakers alike to reject formulaic summer fare. Ten years later, many have derided Wright’s vision, but nobody ever called him lazy.

Simon Howell

Written By

Simon is a sometimes writer and podcaster living in Toronto.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Queer As Folk 1999 retrospective Queer As Folk 1999 retrospective

Queer As Folk – A Cultural Milestone

TV

Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 4 "Dear Billy" Review Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 4 "Dear Billy" Review

Stranger Things Hits a Terrifying Home Run with “Chapter 4: Dear Billy”

TV

John Carpenter's The Thing 1984 movie retrospective John Carpenter's The Thing 1984 movie retrospective

Ambiguity Makes for Better Horror in 1982’s The Thing

Film

The Witch: Part 2. The Other One The Witch: Part 2. The Other One

The Witch: Part 2. The Other One is a Disappointing Genre Hybrid

Culture

Web of Make Believe review Web of Make Believe review

Netflix’s The Web of Make Believe Gets Off to a Scary Start 

TV

Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 "The Dive" Stranger Things Season 4, Chapter 6 "The Dive"

Stranger Things Scrapes the Bottom with “Chapter 6: The Dive”

TV

Jurassic World Dominion - Tilt Jurassic World Dominion - Tilt

Jurassic World Dominion Misunderstands the Entire Franchise’s Allure

Film

Stranger Things Catches Its Breath with “Chapter 5: The Nina Project”

TV

RRR RRR

RRR Delivers Infectious Charm and Unparalleled Action

Film

Stranger Things Screeches To a Halt with “Chapter 7: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”

TV

The Interceptor The Interceptor

Netflix’s The Interceptor is Sunk by Laziness

Culture

The Wilds vs. Yellowjackets: Which is Better? The Wilds vs. Yellowjackets: Which is Better?

The Wilds vs. Yellowjackets— Which is Better?

TV

Ranking the 10 best Stranger Things characters Ranking the 10 best Stranger Things characters

10 Best Stranger Things Characters

TV

Rutger Hauer Rutger Hauer

Blade Runner and the Particular Qualities that Noir Fans Can Appreciate

Friday Film Noir

Stranger Things Pulls Itself Together with “Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero” Stranger Things Pulls Itself Together with “Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero”

Stranger Things Pulls Itself Together with “Chapter 3: The Monster and the Superhero”

TV

Queer as Folk 2022 Review Queer as Folk 2022 Review

Queer As Folk Perfectly Blends Tradition and Innovation

TV

Connect