Scott Pilgrim Vs the World (Review)

Dude you rock!

Edgar Wright emerged from TV nowhere and promptly made two of the better films of the decade, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Shaun was a horror comedy aimed specifically at fans of classic horror and provided more laughs than scares.

If you weren’t a horror fan you might have got a few chuckles (but then why were you watching it in the first place?) If you were even if you got the references you then had to have some sort of sense of humour to allow yourself to be amused… go to imdb chatrooms and check out some horror boards one day – not a chucklefest.

It basically tried to entertain a segment within a niche market, but as it was so brilliantly conceived and intricately and carefully created it became very buzz-worthy across the world in a short time.

I think I have established my cred as a horror fan, I was hooked into SotD after seeing the first trailers. I loved it, and when word of a follow up effort came I was on board early;

That follow up became Hot Fuzz, this time a twist on the buddy-cop genre. The film should have had a slightly broader appeal in theory, but was a little too smart for the average less talky – more shooty action fan, and British accents apparently put some people off.

I personally think Hot Fuzz is a shade above Shaun of the Dead, but I would happily watch both back to back for days on end. So when I heard about Scott Pilgrim Vs the World I thought “Kooky title”, when I saw Edgar Wright was behind the helm I signed up immediately.

Scott Pilgrim has been labelled a love letter to video games, and it is that, earlier this year I thought Kick-Ass nailed the style and look so well I wondered if that was the future of action films… Edgar Wright must have watched that and chuckled to himself, knowing exactly what he was already sitting on.

Pilgrim Smash!

In true Wright style though the film eschews the easy out and focuses the bulk of the video game references – and there are many – to the late 80s to mid 90s era in gaming and entertainment.

(There is a Seinfeld homage replete with the signature bass noodlings and unfunny jokes, and if there was still doubt as to the target era in the finale Scott Pilgrim rocks a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt, the Pumpkins released Siamese Dream in 1993, Mellon-Collie and the Infinite Sadness in 1995, name an album they released after that… See; mid 90s.) There are no GTA references, no Gears of War, not even a God of War bit.

This is all despite the film obviously being set in the present day or near enough, texting is rampant throughout the film and email is referenced, and there is enough indie rock to fill many buckets with tears and casualty wards with razor cut victims.

But what of the film? Scott Pilgrim Vs the World is a total headfuck. I think a deaf person would get as much from this film as anyone else, from first frame to the credits the screen is chock filled with colour and most sounds are spelled on the screen.

We get right into the film from the first sequence, it is band rehearsal for the Sex Bob Ombs (pronounced “bobboms” great name actually), as each band member appears onscreen his/her vitals are listed for the audience, this happens at various times through the film, other touches include brief cutaways and written narration and segues, the intent is to always keep things moving swiftly at all times.

The Sex Bob Ombs include Kim on drums, Stephen on guitar and lead vocals – and Scott Pilgrim on bass, “young” Neil rounds out the group as roadie cum back up plan.

Scott is 22 and in that phase of not having a steady anything, no job, prospects, direction or relationship. But today he has informed the clan of his new girlfriend, a schoolgirl no-less. A Chinese schoolgirl in fact named Knives Chow. The band view this as a short lived act of desperation by Scott that can’t and won’t last.

Knives in doe-eyed and energetic, desperately wanting to be adult and part of the “scene”, she instantly becomes the band’s #1 fan. Scott and Knives don’t as much date as play-date, video arcades and music stores are their haunts, and hand holding is as far as the romance goes.

All this changes when Scott glimpses a purple haired girl one day and is instantly besotted despite knowing nothing about her. A little homework later and he and Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) meet. Despite his sorta-girlfriend Scott asks Ramona out and after some awkward moments and a near first date home run they are officially on…

Complicating matters though is the continued presence of Knives, both the band and Scott’s gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) tell Scott to break it off with Knives immediately if he is serious about this new coloured hair alterna-vixen.

And he was gonna, but the battle of the bands is coming to decide which band is rockin’ enough to get a record contract from the mythical producer G Man.

Now it was a crazy film to this point, but halfway through the first battle of the bands it gets crazier and never lets up from there.

In short: Knives is geeking out in the crowd, oblivious to Ramona, who sits a few seats away oblivious to Knives. Scott’s sister Stacey is aware of the goings on and asking prodding questions to all, Wallace is also there making goo-goo eyes at Stacey’s boyfriend. Scott is onstage with the Sex Bob Ombs trying to impress Ramona when… the walls explode and a heavily stylised young man flies in. He announces himself as Matthew Patel and he immediately gets Street Fighter on Scott’s ass.

A mid-fight speech informs Scott that to be with Ramona he must first deal with the League of Evil Ex’s, of which Patel is the first, all of whom have had dealings with Ramona in the past…


A simpler time…

That’ll do for plot. The remainder of the film deals with Scott attempting to do just that. The evil Ex’s are all quite cartoony and over the top, in fact only Ramona appears semi-normal in this film despite all the insane goings around around – and largely because – of her. Winstead plays her with the impassive resignation that apparently encapsulates Gen X and is both spunky and annoying at various times.

Each level-boss equivalent necessitates a fierce one on one battle, some of which are waged with fists and feet, others instruments and still others with dual dragons taking on a huge monkey. Upon completion of each “level” Scott gains points and coins that appear from the exploded victims… yes it is exactly that kind of film.

Every frame is packed with colour and action, there are dozens of musical cues from classic games like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog throughout, and many more that I obviously didn’t get, and in true video game fashion the defeated foes are never onscreen for long as they vanish, or again explode into coins.

I keep thinking that Michael Cera’s “I’m clumsy and sorta whisper my lines almost apologetically but darn it I’m a nice guy” routine will get old fast, and it will at some point – but it works yet again here. Ellen Wong is spunky (and jail-bait-ey) as Knives, spawning a chat-room handle for thousands of young Asian girls, Chris Evans and Satya Bhabha steal scenes as evil Ex’s, but the surprise for me was Kieren Culkin as Wallace. Wry and sarcastic, he is nonetheless very loyal to Scott and always there for him, he’s just not that into or involved when he doesn’t really have to be. Wallace gets a lot of laughs in the film, and almost all of the sex, something the pre-teens in the screening I went to weren’t capable of dealing with (none is onscreen, don’t panic).

I wanted to love Scott Pilgrim and at times I really did, it is breathlessly inventive and unbelievably creative, everything is filmed and edited in a way like no film I have seen before. In fact the only stylistic comparison I could come up with was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure crossed with Crank and produced by Speed Racer, and that’s still a ways off the mark. I found myself grinning throughout, the sheer audacity and creativity often makes it impossible not to be impressed… even in bits where I got a little lost or there was simply too much going on.


The thing with video games is this;

Unless you are the one playing watching on is only amusing for so long. When I was a kid the only place in town with video games was the pub and the swimming pool, being too young for the pub I would hang out at the pool for hours even in winter to play games and ping-pong (that place was the Bob Omb!), but at 9 or 10 cash was finite, so a few games would see me run out of loot. My buddy Skeeter had no such problem, he would steal his Dad’s change from home and rock up with pockets bulging and clinking, set to play for hours, so I found myself watching over his shoulder some days as he chewed through what would be weeks of my pocket money in one arse-numbing sitting.

My point is this, you can look over a guy’s shoulder for 2 hours when you’re 8 or 9 watching him go through the motions again and again (“there’s a guy on your left”, “watch the blue monster”), but sitting through 6 boss-battles grew a little old nearing the two hour mark even though I had absolute faith in Wright as the guy in control, knocking out a couple battles would have maintained the pace and interest level a little better.

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World is most definitely one of a kind, just the kind that will appeal more to gamers than anyone else, but even more than that gamers of the 80s and 90s who will get most of the references continued within. It works well if viewed as just a film, but needs a basic understanding of the subject matter to be more than that.

It must be said that the peril of that demographic is that most of us (I am mid 30s Gen X… apparently) no longer play games as much as you do when in your teens and twenties, nor do we go to the movies quite so much, so exactly who is Scott Pilgrim’s audience?

  1. Not the pre-teens in the screening I went to, most jokes and references flew over their 5 ft tall backwards baseball caps
  2. Not the bulk of the couples in the audience, (this is definitely not a date film). I showed the preview to my wife to see if see if she wanted to go… twice. Her response: “I give you permission to go with anyone else but me.”
  3. Not anyone over 45, I joked as we walked out that I would take my Dad to watch, he wouldn’t last 5 minutes.

Who does that leave, the coveted mid 30s – no kids – still lives with their parents and thinks Arrested Development is the bob-omb coveted demographic? His name is Eric.

What did ya think Eric?

Daniel Tosh has a joke where he says that he starts a joke and continues until everyone is laughing, then he keeps getting more and more abstract until he loses almost everyone in the audience as they wonder what the hell he is talking about… Edgar Wright seems to subscribe to that same theory.

I’ve never given such an abstract film “Great” status before, this film is less a film than a concept, I nearly did here but there was just enough doubt that I decided to throw it an 8.

I know Scott Pilgrim Vs the World is the work of a brilliant mind, carefully crafted and lovingly created… I hope it does well and I know it will be a cult classic (and devoured on DVD, this is one film that actually should’ve gone direct to DVD. It would’ve made more money that way.). I just can’t see word of mouth bringing in big box office, which is a shame.

Yesterday I had the choice of The Expendables or Scott Pilgrim and talked TOG into Pilgrim, I have no doubt I’ll see The Expendables soon. I have even less doubt that it won’t be anywhere near as good as Pilgrim but it will most assuredly be easier to shut down the brain and watch. I think many others will think the same thing and take the easy way out.

It’s a shame, but facts is facts.

TOG’s take: “Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old in a coming of age tale that meets Mortal Kombat. Throw in some random events and you have a movie that will be one from cinemas in 2 weeks but will have a cult following.”

Final Rating – 8 / 10. Near greatness, remarkably ambitious and meticulously crafted. The beauty of Edgar Wright is that he is only in his mid 30s and has already made three excellent flicks, we hopefully have 20 years more to enjoy his output.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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