Tuesday, August 17, 2010

REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

The short, spoiler-free version? It captures the spirit of the books perfectly but doesn't get bogged down in trying to replicate every little detail. While some of the changes do annoy me somewhat, they don't distract from the story at large. It's good. Not great. But I still recommend it.

I'd suggest reading the books first but you don't have to have read the books to enjoy the movie. You do, however, need to accept that not everything is going to be explained and be a geek-of-all-trades who is well versed in the tropes of 8-Bit Gaming and Anime.

My friend Keith asked me how I could easily sum up Scott Pilgrim in 30 seconds. And then, when I hesitated, he said I could have a minute.

I managed it, but it was still a trick. This isn't like the other two big movies that opened this week - The Expendables (A Bunch of Action Stars, old and new, team up in a Bayian orgy of violence and explosions) or Eat, Pray, Love (Julia Roberts travels around the world and explores her feelings.) There's no really clear-cut way to explain the whole Scott Pilgrim series simply - it's six whole books, for crying out loud!

And that, at its' heart, is the biggest problem with the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's just too much to cram into two hours, without cutting out a lot of the heart. The soul is still there but a LOT of the story - particularly regarding the supporting cast - has been jettisoned in favor of making a more traditional romantic comedy. Thankfully, the soul of the story is one that does lend itself well toward the romantic comedy genre.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie yet or read the books (FYI: You should! They are awesome!), let me sum the whole thing up, as simply as possible, in one sentence. "Scott Pilgrim, a slacker man-child, grows up after meeting the girl of his dreams and helps her to overcome her own troubled past."

Yes, the whole thing is set in an alternate version of Toronto, where the laws and physics of video games apply. Yes, there are a lot of in-jokes to various 8-Bit Video Games, the tropes of Anime and geek culture in general. And the whole thing is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about how utterly awesome it would be if, in real life, True Love gave you a magic sword and it was actually possible to beat up the bastard/bitch who made your ex miserable.

That's just window dressing, though. At it's heart, the movie - like the books - is all about that potentially awkward time of adjustment a lot of young adults go through. Where you're technically an adult but still feel like a kid and you're still struggling to find your feet and figure out life. When you're just out of the house for the first time and you are reveling in the freedom even as it just hit you how much your parents did for you and how much responsibility you have now.

Those of us who go through this phase cope with it in different ways. In Scott's case, he deals by making his life as simple and uncomplicated as possible. He has his band. He has his low-maintenance girlfriend, Knives. No fuss. No muss. No worries.

That all changes when Scott meets Ramona and not just because of Ramona's Seven Evil Exes (aka The Quirky Miniboss Squad) trying to kill him. In a lot of ways, Ramona is wiser than Scott and she makes him more aware of just how much better he can be than the no-account slacker everyone sees him as. By the same token, Scott manages to help Ramona free herself from the baggage brought on by her past actions ("I've dabbled i being a bitch", she says at one point regarding her exes) and inspires her to quit letting other people define her as a prize to be won.

The movie changes up some of the fine details - including the final battle - from the books, but ultimately the same core message is there: it's okay to not know what you're doing, so long as you're true to yourself and try to do the right thing.

Not bad for a movie where Vegans are Super Saiyans, Battle of the Bands contests are literal battles using The Power of Rock and The Power of Love can cause a magic flaming sword to grow out of your heart.


  1. It's like a musical, except where a musical would use song anddance numbers to express emotions that characters can't or help devloppersonality, SPVTW uses fight scenes.

  2. Looks like somebody read the review up at Cinema Blend.

  3. Actually, my sentiment popped up in an immediate post-movie conversation with . That review expresses it even better.
    Of course, I love beat-em-ups and musicals, so...

  4. Yeah. I agree with the sentiment but I really hate that review for presenting the idea that geek movies can't deal with relationships and that all of us comic fans are trolls who live in our parents basements and have never known the touch of a woman.
    I've lived on my own for eleven years now. I never lived in the basement, even when I did live with my parents. And admitting that it has been a while, I have actually touched a woman. All over. Without having to pay anyone first.

  5. To be fair, "like a musical, only with punching" can be used to describe just about any kung-fu movie worth watching. I've used the analogy myself (before Scott Pilgrim, natch) and I've seen it in various academic essays, too. :)

  6. How about, "like a musical, only with explosions"?

  7. I just saw it, and I loved it. It felt like the first movie to really shoot to the heart of being a young'un in the early 90's. It wasn't what life was like then, it is what you wished it was like. This is the movie the Wizard could have been. Sadly now it is so niche, and Cera hate is hurting it as well, that it will likely never stand on its own two feet.

  8. I think the best case scenario is it will eventually become a sleeper hit on video, ala The Princess Bride.
    If nothing else, the movie deserves nerd cred for pairing up both Captain America and Superman as villains. :)

  9. Word of mouth is going to be huge for this movie. But it will be like Princess Bride or Boondock Saints where it takes years to really get the audience. I will be proudly buying the blu-ray and showing it to many people. And when I realized it was Cap and Supes, I was filled with glee. Also, the soundtrack kicked all kinds of butt.
    Now I need to read the books. I have been curious about them for ages, but never got around to it. I Will now. I have the game on PSN, and it is pretty rocking, with an amazing chiptune soundtrack of its own.
    In the end, this movie made me happy, while I have fun with a lot of movies, not many make me feel warm inside at the end.
    And one last thing, when he broke up with Knives, I actually felt for her, and I never feel for people being dumped in movies, but the contrast of her world being completely black, while Scott just went on, really hit home.

  10. See, that bugs me because now a lot of people are hating on the movie because they like Knives more than they do Ramona and are convinced that Knives totally deserves Scott more. All of which completely misses the point that...
    1) Scott is an asshole who is only dating Knives because she's low maintenance and a fetish trifecta (Chinese, high school senior, school girl) he can show off as a trophy.
    2) Knives goes crazy stalker and starts following Scott around like a lost puppy (admittedly, this is barely played up in the movie past the fight with Evil Ex #3)

  11. I think Knives deserved way better than Scott, and he was kind of her "learner boyfriend" She got to date the "bad boy" who wasn't as bad as many women go through. He was her taking of the training wheels. She wa sa good person who got hurt.
    Scott and Romona deserved each other because they were both broken, both treated others badly, and by the end both of them wanted to "fix" themselves and be better people. Romona just realized it sooner than Scott, but couldn't leave behind her considerable baggage. Scott luckily had way less than she did.
    I really liked Romona, they did kind of cut her short in the movie, which I am sure the books didn't do. But she struck me as a smart woman who needed to realize her mistakes, but wasn't quite strong enough to change things on her own. Scott fighting the exes was more to show her she had value as a person and that she was on the right track.
    It is no different than the Lifetime movie where there is a divorce, and the handsome chap with the heart of gold and cowboy boots teaches the divorced mom how to love again by paying her legal fees.

  12. I won't say anything more for fear of spoiling the books, but yes. The books are just as much about Ramona growing up as they are about Scott, albeit they have different problems. The books also allow Scott a more direct chance to make things up to all the exes he mistreated.
    And one of the touches in the books that I didn't like? Instead of gaining the Power of Self Respect, Scott realizes that while his sins against his exes were committed a smaller scale than Gideon's, that where it counts they are very much the same... that he understands Gideon and that he doesn't want to be like that. And so Scott gains the power of Understanding as Ramona...
    Ah, well that would be telling. ;)
    Read the books!

  13. Well, since I need a USB cable, and they are so cheap at Amazon, but I need to get to $25 to get free shipping... I think I need to pad my order with 2 or 3 Scott Pilgrim books.