100 Film Favorites – #27: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
(Edgar Wright, 2010)
Based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World tells the story of a young Canadian musician living in a world very much like our own, but which just so happens to operate under video game rules. Scott (Michael Cera) is a 23-year old slacker, and the bassist of the excellently-named band Sex Bob-Omb. One day, Scott encounters Ramona Flowers, the “girl of his dreams” who has recently been running through his mind (literally: it’s explained that Ramona is able to traverse an interdimensional “subspace” which happens to pass through Scott’s subconscious – a handy ability in her job as a delivery girl for Amazon).
Scott is instantly smitten. But Ramona comes with baggage, and a relationship history fraught with many unhappy endings. Soon, Scott is confronted by Matthew Patel, one of Ramona’s ex-boyfriends, who challenges him to a “battle.” In their ensuing fight, Scott bests Patel, who explodes, leaving behind a small shower of coins.
Ramona tells Scott that Patel was but the first of her “Seven Evil Exes.” These “Exes” form a secret society of sorts, under the leadership of the enigmatic record producer Gideon. In order to date Ramona, Scott must first “defeat” all seven of the super-powered Exes. Each battle scene is a vibrant and comical blend of elements from classic RPGs and fighting games, and each Ex has a unique power of his or her (yes, or her) own. For example, Ex #3 is a vegan. And as everyone knows, veganism grants its adherents psychic abilities. But Scott’s tactics are as clever as his foes are diverse. In the case of #3, Scott tricks him into inadvertently drinking some half-and-half, and the “Vegan Police” promptly arrive and strip him of his powers.
Over the course of the film, Scott advances from Ex to Ex, engaging in progressively cooler fight scenes, with higher and higher payouts. In between epic video game-style bouts, Scott struggles with “real world” problems as well, such as getting a job and coming to terms with his own exes, including the girl he “forgot to break up with” when he started dating Ramona. As the film plays out, Scott not only grows into a skilled musical super-fighter, but also learns something about responsibility, love, and the power of self-respect.
Everything Edgar Wright touches seems to turn to cinematic gold. Director of previous Countdown selection Hot Fuzz and near-selection Shaun of the Dead, Wright brings to Scott Pilgrim a sense of devotion to the unusual, off-the-wall style of the original comics. He really seems to “get” video gaming, and the film masterfully spoofs many of the medium’s more nonsensical tropes (inexplicably getting money for winning fights, spontaneously acquiring power-ups and extra lives, etc.). What’s more, Wright, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, has a knack for understanding the lives of modern 20-somethings. Combining these two areas of Wright’s expertise results in a bizarre but hilarious hipster-gamer-fusion-comedy. It’s an epic adventure! It’s a video game parody! It’s an 8-Bit Bildungsroman.
The film’s dialogue is truly great, and the exchanges between characters are expertly executed to maximum humor potential. As Arrested Development devotees can attest, Michael Cera has an excellent sense of comedic timing and delivery. Not since Walk Hard has one movie made me laugh so hard, so frequently.
Two gags I found to be among the film’s funniest (and which almost single-handedly earned Scott Pilgrim a place in the Countdown):
-Scott’s go-to strategy for breaking the ice with girls consists of delivering a history lesson on the origins of Pac-Man. In fact, ignore the rest of this post. Michael Cera’s oft-repeated Pac-Man pickup speech is approximately %70 of why I love this movie.
-Semi-spoilers: The obligatory secret final boss (after the seventh Ex) turns out to be “Nega-Scott,” a “dark” version of Scott himself. Scott resolves their confrontation simply by becoming fast friends with his nega-self, as they have a lot in common.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a humorous snapshot of gaming culture, and of life as a 23-year-old in the modern, geek-friendly environment. Like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the film is yet another masterwork by director Wright, and I for one can hardly wait for his next film. No matter where that next movie takes us, you can be sure it will be delivered in an unexpected but skillfully crafted way.
*Time-traveler’s addendum: Now that it’s the future, I can safely confirm that Wright’s next film, “The World’s End,” is indeed yet another memorable and quirky comedy with heart. Perhaps I’ll review it on here someday. Check it out if you haven’t already!