In the red corner, we have self-confessed Scott Pilgrim-fanatic, Ben Mortimer, a man who has read the comics (several times), and who has spent the last few weeks rocking back and forth excitedly at the sheer mention of anything to do with the movie.
In the blue corner, weighing in at an impressive set of scales, is Jon Lyus, HeyUGuys editor and Scott Pilgrim neophyte. He’s also not quite as pretty as Ben.
Round One – Who is Scott Pilgrim?
Ben: Scott Pilgrim is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Except it sort of is. For all the clever computer game references, and little nods to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics, there’s something very familiar about Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Between the snowbound setting, the nice-guy lead, the girl with ever-changing hair colour, and the doomed relationships, it feels very much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. By way of Spaced.
While this was a little unexpected, it certainly wasn’t unwelcome. Eternal Sunshine was an exceptional study in the breakdown of a relationship, and while Pilgrim has little of the depth of Gondry’s film, it covers much of the same territory, with a great deal of skill.
Jon: To me, Scott Pilgrim is all about Edgar Wright. I’ve not read the comics, though I plan to, and only had the numerous trailers and posters to go on. The film arrives on a massive wave of buzz, fueled recently by successful Comic Con screenings, and the internet is the perfect place for this film to whip us all into a frenzy.
When talking to people after the screening the word I kept using was ‘fun’, and there was a signature post-Pilgrim smile on the faces on almost everyone I saw. It was not the second coming as some had predicted, but it is so refreshing to see a film (almost) reach the hype and hyperbole it arrives with. Visually arresting, whip crack funny and rich in geekery there’s much to like with Scott Pilgrim. It is a vibrant and exciting film, Ben likened it to Eternal Sunshine, to me it was more Nick & Norah’s Infinite Combo.
Round Two – And what about his world?
Ben: It’s actually quite interesting that Scott Pilgrim vs The World feels so shallow, because the comics certainly don’t. In adapting the story for film, Wright and co have stripped out a lot of the more complexity. In particular, the theme of coming to terms with one’s past, which is so central to why the comic works, has been reduced to something much more simple and less satisfying.
This lightness is something of a problem for the film, as there are moments where it seems to lose its audience. There was one point in particular, an overblown, computer generated ‘battle’ that simply left me cold. Which is a shame, because in some places the film really does connect. Particularly when Ellen Wong’s Knives Chow is on screen. While O’Malley’s Knives was something of an ancillary character towards the end of the books, Wright makes her very much the emotional heart of the film. Even in very brief scenes, she seems to bring the audience back into the movie, and the fact that she likes Scott, who essentially spends the film behaving like a bit of a whiny dick, makes us like him. It also doesn’t hurt that Wong steals just about every scene she’s in.
While Knives’ character arc is greatly expanded from the comics, and much improved, other characters suffer in the adaptation. The complexity of Scott’s relationship with Kim is only hinted at and Julie Powers is reduced to comic relief. Envy Adams gets the worst treatment, however, as she becomes much more one dimensional, and essentially just another evil ex. Which is a shame, because it would have been fairly simple to develop her into a far more fully fledged character.
Jon: This is Michael Cera’s show, and his tumultuous love life is ably assisted by a great supporting cast. Stand out for me was Kieran Culkin, whose deadpan smarts steal the show more than once. The kinetic style suits the overblown imagination of Scott Pilgrim, and Bill Pope’s cinematography is incredibly seductive and Wright’s visual embellishments work perfectly to accompany us through the lovelorn fantasy world of Scott Pilgrim.
At its heart Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a love story, and Cera and Winstead need to get us engaged in their tryst, and this is where all the sound and fury seemed to count for nothing, I knew what I was meant to feel but their attraction didn’t seem real and while this won’t spoil the film in any way it misses an emotional beat for me which may have been easier to accomplish in six volumes of a comic book.
While I had no reference point for the various compositions which may have been lifted directly from the comic, the invention and the thrill to be had in Wright’s direction was tangible. Scott Pilgrim’s world is a fun place to spend time.
Round Three – Fight!
Ben: Although a few elements of the comic have been cut in the adaptation, it is, for the most part, incredibly faithful. Many of the shots in the film are directly inspired by frames of the comic, and throughout the movie Wright includes many of O’Malley’s visual jokes. It’s also a pleasant surprise how close most of the characters feel to their comic counterparts. With the exceptions already mentioned, every character feels spot on. Cera is essentially still playing Cera, but it works for Scott, and the exes, despite their lack of screen time, each work perfectly, all performed by actors at the top of their game.
This fidelity makes Pilgrim work, but it is also it’s biggest failing. Many of the jokes from the comic seemed to fall flat, whether this was due to an over familiarity with the material, or because they simply didn’t suit Wright’s style is unclear, but this was a problem that ran throughout the film. In contrast, the moments where Wright moved away from the source material were some of the film’s best. An early scene with Scott and Knives playing on an arcade machine is funny, cute and a great set up for later events, and a visual joke involving a shoelace is the film’s funniest moment.
Jon: Playing Scott Pilgrim to the Comic Con faithful may seem like an ostentatious show of confidence but that is the perfect audience for the film. Geek-literate film fans who have played some Nintendo in their time will eat this up, and fans of Wright’s previous film will also find much to enjoy. The soundtrack is pitch perfect and gets the blood pumping throughout, even if the romance flits about like a stoned butterfly with heavy lidded eyes muttering the word ‘whatever’ and never truly engages.
Those looking for more dimensions in their protagonists may find the rapid fire witticisms a little too unreal to fully immerse themselves into, and in adapting the comic book Edgar Wright made almost universally good choices and delivers a film which is as exciting an experience visually as any this year. It sits alongside Kick-Ass as another balls out action comedy, which wraps up its cliches in its fist and delivers a dizzying punch to the senses.
Ben: It is particularly telling that the film really finds its feet when it gets to the point where Wright ran out of comics to work from. While the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as its more complex comic counterpart, it is still the best section of the picture, and while Scott Pilgrim vs The World was certainly good fun, and a decent film, if Wright had been a little more willing to move away from the source material it could well have been perfect.
Jon: This is a very funny film, as we’ve come to expect from Edgar Wright, and its quality lies in the confidence Wright showed in his actors, his own ability and the source material. If you’re attracted by the trailer then you’ll love every second, and if you accept that this film is centred around the imagination and ego of a young, awkward man then you won’t mind the broad brushstrokes applied to the female characters in the film.
I enjoyed the visual thrill and laughed a lot, though it never took my heart and gave it a good beating, it still a lot of fun. There’s that word again.