by Luke Harbur
From the October 2015 IssueScott Pilgrim vs. the World: a perfectly cast, fast-paced, colorful, relatable and respectable film deserving praise for each shot. Criticism for this film also deserves recognition, but it serves to be trite in the grand scheme of the film as a whole.
Scott Pilgrim is one of the most underrated films of the last few years. The movie’s director, Edgar Wright, literally clasped a chalice of success with this novel-to-screen adaptation. The characters, the editing and even the script (often accused of being poorly-written) justify the sheer genius of why this film is worthy of close analysis.
Let’s first examine the main cast members. Michael Cera portrays Scott Pilgrim, the film’s main protagonist. Cera is known for being widely typecast as an underdog whose awkward social skills ironically grant him his desires. Examples of this particular portrayal include his roles of George-Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, Paulie Bleeker in Juno and Evan in Superbad. Though Cera takes on his usual image as the passive hero within Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright’s decision to cast Cera compliments his typical performance. He is able to passively kick ass with his words and the different side you’ll see from Cera involves his aggressive nature within the film. In the comic books, Pilgrim brings out an unexpected set of kung fu fighting skills that dominate Ramona Flowers’ seven evil exes. Other than his stereotyped self in This Is the End and his double casting in Youth in Revolt, Cera’s performances do not usually involve boisterousness and confrontation. Through watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a viewer will be able to see an angry Cera through his bass grooves in Sex Bob-omb, epic punches in fast-paced fights and unrestricted rage towards anyone who gets in the way of his friends.
On the other hand, Jason Schwartzman shows off the diversity of his talent through a role unlike anything he’s ever played. His portrayal of Gideon Graves contains no lackluster skill. Schwartzman had just finished Fantastic Mr. Fox, where he played Ash, a negative-minded protagonist who underwent a change-of-heart by the end of the film. But the character Gideon Graves uses a sly, deceptive and manipulative personality to leech off Pilgrim’s aspirations. With a cool, collected approach, Schwartzman watches Cera’s character suffer by using little to no dialogue. In fact, a great metaphor for Schwartzman’s excellent performance is how he chews his gum throughout the film. Whenever Schwartzman feels comfortable about his circumstances within the film, the gum is loosely chewed or barely moved by his mouth; however, whenever he becomes irritated or enraged, you’ll see those lips smacking hard. Pay attention to the end of the film; you’ll then see why the gum becomes one of the most important aspects of Schwartzman’s character.Lastly, two female actresses complete the Scott Pilgrim picture. After only a couple minutes into the film, you meet Ellen Wong as the obsessive Sexbob-omb fangirl, Knives Chau. Her passive persona, combined with back-to-back tribulations, evolves her into an assertive superstar. As the obsessive character watches Pilgrim level up in confidence from defeating Flowers’ exes, we’re watching her slowly drift away from Pilgrim. At the beginning of the film, Chau is almost no more than two or three feet away from Pilgrim’s side. She holds his hand, only plays a knock off version of Dance Dance Revolution with Pilgrim, and is the only one screaming for his band, Sexbob-omb, at the Battle of the Bands competition. As Pilgrim defeats each of the exes, we watch her experience separation, depression and a lack of belonging. But through her low points came her own journey to confidence. Near the climax of the film, Chau enters the final battle with utmost confidence in her methods of defeating Gideon Graves. At the resolution, Chau is effectively depicted as the real hero of the movie.
And of course we cannot forget Scott Pilgrim’s muse, Ramona Flowers. Mary Elizabeth Winstead portrays Flowers as a somewhat private, somewhat sassy, character. With the comic books showing minimal details of Flowers’s backstory, Winstead does a great job keeping a veil on Flowers inner thoughts and opinions in a situation. As a viewer, we are only able to see the frustration and consistent mental battles Flowers puts herself in. When she initially meets Scott Pilgrim, her first impression reflects skepticism; however, within that same scene, Pilgrim’s persistence interests her, and she casually hands over her number. This is how most of her interactions with other people happen: we can never gain a sense of all her thoughts and feelings. Flowers only displays full vulnerability at the end of the film, making Winstead’s performance spot on.
Now let’s briefly talk about the film’s editing.
As mentioned at the beginning, the film revolves around a quick pace. Although the runtime sits a little over two hours, there is almost no shot that lasts more than a few seconds. This matches the pace of reading the comic books almost effortlessly. If you take the time to read the comic books, most of the speech bubbles are only a few sentences long. That leads the comic book series to focus more on the visual aspects of the story. The director, Edgar Wright, emphasized the visuals over the words. An example of this phenomenon can be seen in our introduction to Wallace, Scott’s roommate. Within the comic book, there is a layout of Scott and Wallace’s home in which labels of who owns what pop up beside each piece of furniture. Displaying this layout takes up at least two-thirds of a page within the comic book. Wright inserts this same layout by using a tracking shot across Scott and Wallace’s room. The viewer, like in the comic books, can read each piece of furniture’s ownership label from left to right.Another editing compliment goes toward the large number of video game references. According to the Scott Pilgrim Wiki, there are at least 40 video game references made within the film. A few examples include: any time Scott obtains a coin, the sound comes from Super Smash Bros; when Scott defeats someone in a battle, the “K.O.” sound comes from Street Fighter Alpha 3; and when Ramona Flowers dyes her hair pink, blue and green, that refers to the colors of all the Goddesses in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Each reference lends itself to the story and tone in order to best capture the original intention of the comic books. They serve to cater toward the generation who may enjoy the film: the people who played consoles in order to escape their normal lives. This movie, in that sense, serves as a great escape to a videogame-like adventure.
Most critics slammed this film for its poorly written script; however, for any movie-goer who read the graphic novels, the writing in the movie fits exactly how the source material depicted the characters: they are not very smart and they are either underdogs, jocks, house partiers, or couch-potatoes. Also, the text within the movie fits the scripts found in 8-bit video games: anti-climatic, simple, yet relatable.
The conclusion of the story is stereotypical in the sense of the guy getting to date a girl and the two of them living happily ever after. The way the two love birds come together is like a videogame in itself. At the end of video games, usually the heroine rejoices with his or her allies for overcoming such intense obstacles. In the case of Scott Pilgrim, the ending moment of Ramona and Scott holding hands symbolizes their success. They’ve defeated multiple villains and restarted their friendship, and ultimately, their care for and cautiousness around each other’s feelings brought them together.
Please do yourself a favor and rent these graphic novels from the library and stream this movie as soon as you can. It’s engaging, it’s different, and it’s a fun tale for the video-gamers, editing fanatics and casting enthusiasts of our generation.