If you’ve been writing about how amazing the idea of Scott Pilgrim vs The World is but haven’t gone out to see the movie, bought the game, or bought the book: what is your problem? The movie, despite massive amounts of marketing, hasn’t been doing as well as it deserves. I’m here to give you a second take on the film from the perspective of someone who has enjoyed the book and game beforehand. I won’t be spoiling anything here, though I will make non-spoiler remarks to vague plot elements from the books. The best part is: if you haven’t the books, seeing the movie won’t actually spoil any of the important storyline! Seriously, if you have any interest in the movie, be sure to check out the books, which I reviewed a while back.
For starters, it should be noted that it’s pretty admirable how well the books were translated into a movie format from a directing standpoint. Most scenes and dialogue in the film are straight from the books, and everything taken from the comics is framed practically identically to the source material, making adjustments to make it all work better as a movie. It’s a superb example of experimental film direction at work, with a lot of sequences bursting with the kinetic energy a comic should express in motion. Bryan O’Malley, the series creator, had to make some tough decisions when he scripted the film, but at the very least, it looks and sounds altogether proper. Watching some of the sequences you remember (and some of the lyrics with no music become songs) is a treat. Seeing the effects spring to life in full color and the various sounds that are portrayed in animated letters adds a nice touch. In short, the presentation is pitch perfect for a translation to film.
Scott Pilgrim has a lot of gaming references, of course, though most of them are through audio and visual cues. From the moment the story opens with that signature harp from the beginning of A Link to the Past, you will be sold. I started applauding right there, myself. Very classy, very retro, and very recognizable to gamers. From Mario to Zelda to Sonic, there are tons of sounds and cues to games that people who are Scott’s age grew up with. The fact that they are the official sounds (and in some cases music) really adds to the genuine feeling that this is homage to the gaming culture. I have to say, the film is probably the most accurate and faithful depiction of gaming culture in any movie I have seen to date.
The plot is expectedly trimmed down from its original form. Kim and Steven Stills have narrowed roles, with Kim’s importance being stripped away to merely a couple of references. This is a bit tragic but also makes perfect sense for the shorter format of film. Ramona and Knives take the bulk of supporting roles, with Knives and Scott sharing scenes that never actually happened in the books. A lot of little things are adjusted to make the movie more sensible, such as some of the ex-boyfriend battles being taken in a different, more visually interesting direction. More complicated plot elements, like Ramona’s past, Kimberly Pine, and the entire Subspace plotline, were removed in favor of simpler ideas that could be conveyed quicker. It all makes better sense for a movie, I have to admit, despite missing some of those components. The plot element that binds Ramona to Gideon Graves is much weaker than the books and felt unoriginal, but that’s really the only plot element I can earnestly complain about, and it only impacts a fragment of the film.
Certain bits feel a little rushed, but since the movie doesn’t set up so many of the more complicated arcs that the books do, these feel more referencial than tacked-on. The script is a solid translation that changes things up to suit the medium better, cutting only a few corners but making up for them with a lot of refreshing changes that make for a fun alternate flavor of Scott Pilgrim, just like the game. The presentation is perfect, with art and sound design that couldn’t be more perfect. The last thing to discuss is the casting.
It’s kind of a shame that the movie can’t be as long as the books, as I’d have really liked to see the cast here get more deep into the character development the series expresses. However, for a briefer, more comedic take on Scott Pilgrim, the cast here is brilliant. Everyone looks and feels as they should. Wallace is sarcastic and bright-eyed, Knives is giddy and psychotic, Kim is grouchy, Steven is ‘the cool guy,’ and even Scott’s sister shares a significant moment with him that the books didn’t have. Ramona looks the part and plays the kind of “hip but mysterious spunky indie” chick…thing. Scott, played by Micheal Cera, is the most intriguing of the bunch. It’s a seemingly obvious role for him, but I was a touch disappointed that he played the role a little too close to the chest. It was just a little too familiar compared to other films he’s been in. Not necessarily bad for this role, I suppose, but I always envisioned Scott to be a little less quiet, being awkward in a more ‘loud’ way. That said, there’s no real problem with his performance at all – it’s solid and what you would expect and does illustrate how Scott is mumbling, awkward, and has ADHD tendencies. Speaking of which, that’s pretty much the personality of the whole film.
I’d hate to say it, but this truly is a generational piece and older audiences just won’t “get it.” That’s the truth of the matter. The references will go over their head, the editing style will give them a headache, and they won’t be able to follow what’s going on unless they’re pretty savvy to our ways. Just be cautious of who you take with you to see the film, as they may just walk away confused by the spectacle.
As a fan of the books, I’m naturally going to be a bit let down that certain parts had to be changed or removed, but I was pleased with how the movie ends up not feeling gimped, rushed, or incomplete (see: The Last Airbender) but instead was a brisker, compact version of the same great taste. Think those bite-sized versions of candy bars. The movie is flashier, funnier, and just as random and crazy as the source material, so be prepared for a wild ride. Fans of the books will enjoy the adaptation for what it is, and anyone not familiar with the franchise but into geek culture will enjoy it just as well. If you somehow missed out on this film opening weekend, make it up to yourself and check it out the second week around.