Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriters: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Chris Evans, Brie Larson
Following the success of the first two entries in the critically and commercially acclaimed Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright turned his attention to North American audiences with his adaptation Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novel series. With the film turning 10 in 2020, and with a theatrical release promised by the director himself, now seems like a fine time to revisit one of the filmmaker’s most under-watched gems.
Whilst a box-office flop at the time of release, Scott Pilgrim has gained a steady number of fans in the decade since, becoming something of a cult classic. The New York Times wrote that “Its speedy, funny, happy-sad spirit is so infectious that the movie makes you feel at home in its world even if the landscape is, at first glance, unfamiliar”. The film additionally earned praise in the UK with a five star review from Empire Magazine.
The protagonist of the film is the titular character Scott Pilgrim (Cera), a 22 year old from Toronto who is the bassist for struggling rock band Sex Bob-Omb. The plot focuses on Scott’s pursuit of a relationship with newcomer to the area Ramona Flowers (Winstead), who is trying to escape her past. To earn her affection, Scott must defeat her seven evil exes in a series of fun and elaborate video-game styled fights that could have leapt straight from the screens of classic Pac-Man or Super Mario. As an avid video game fan (as proven by their significant inclusions in ‘Spaced’ and Shaun of the Dead), Edgar Wright delivers in colour, stakes and homage, for a joyful sensory journey through the original material’s witty and relateable content.
As with each of Wright’s other films, the casting of Scott Pilgrim is spot on, and many of the core cast have gone to achieve great success in the years that have followed. Michael Cera is fantastic as Scott, the ‘Arrested Development’ star bringing his blend of humour to proceedings and nailing the empty-headed character with his typically endearing delivery. Mary Elizabeth Winstead offers some great support work as Ramona, with her tough attitude coming across as mysterious and interesting in wholesome opposition to the protagonist. In smaller roles, Chris Evans and Brie Larson (now veterans of the MCU) both excel in playing against type, and we are offered an early glimpse at Kieran Culkin’s talents prior to the smash hit series ‘Succession’.
Similarly, Wright is able to effectively and humourously balance the changes in tone that Scott Pilgrim’s original material has to offer, ensuring that comedy, action and romance exist seamlessly within the same picture. Early scenes with Scott and his initial love interest Knives, as well as his initial interactions with Ramona, seem to come from an entirely different film to the comic-book/video-game hybrid on offer later on, these early moments feeling more like a rom-com than an action-comedy. The juxtaposition of the tone works in the film’s favour, offering a graphic novel adaptation about as unique as you’ll find in pseudo-mainstream English language cinema.
The action sequences of Scott Pilgrim are perhaps its most unique feature however, with each of them illustrating Wright’s unique gift for making absurd situations work, the climactic showdown between Scott and Gideon proving an audio-visual delight. Many of the fight sequences are lifted straight from the pages of the source material, showing Wright’s reverence to the text and translating as unique and enjoyable cinematic inclusions in their own right.
With the film predominantly focusing on Scott and his band-mates, the music in Scott Pilgrim is of course a crucial ingredient as regards the film’s success. Many of the original songs performed by Sex-Bob-Omb fit the alt-culture tones perfectly, and Brie Larson nails her musical number as Scott’s ex Envy Adams – remarkably Larson was only 19 at the time of filming. The indie/alternative artist Beck features prominently on the soundtrack too, and he even composed some original material for the film, illustrating the reach of the novel and of Wright’s music-led directorial approach. There are even several video game pieces from the The Legend Of Zelda video game series scattered throughout.
In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it was refreshing to see Wright stretch his muscles and begin to show the variety in his releases that would be further demonstrated in his next non-cornetto film Baby Driver (2017). Pilgrim, like Driver, proved that Wright could operate without co-screenwriter and leading man Simon Pegg, and worked to solidify Wright as a trusty filmmaker in the Hollywood realm despite its financial woes. Funny, creative and endearing, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film very much in the mold of its director.