Haha, what an epic gamer movie™, am I right, guys? I love video games and leveling up and 1-UP’s. High score!
Despite the hostility of the above snippet, this is actually a relatively faithful (I assume) adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, which ran from 2004-2010. The direction this film decided to take is in light of the novels’ vast array of references to video games and video game culture. And had this been an adaptation of an actual video game, I would deem it the only good film adapted from a video game. Alas, this is the closest we have.
Back in 2010, I was in my teenage years, roughly 16-17. This was when I had my first real girlfriend, some period into when I got obsessively into Guitar Hero, and an incredibly volatile point where I wasn’t really sure who or what I wanted to be. One thing I did love was video games, so the heavy gaming theme of Scott Pilgrim around the point of its release did appeal to me. I also liked Michael Cera, who was just geeky-looking enough to make me feel like I had hope (if only I didn’t look more like young Jonah Hill).
It’s hard to say definitively, but I think I’ve seen this before—maybe not all the way through, but large snippets of it. Mary Elizabeth Winstead in her rainbow wigs, the chaotic band battle scene with the music-founded monsters, “I’m in lesbian with you”; all were fresh watching this again well into adulthood. Some things faded, such as Knives Chau as a character and Scott’s incredibly gay roommate. Even if I have seen this before, this (re-?)watch provided a lot of new things to ponder upon.
For example, I was (perhaps surprisingly) not too invested in this. Many of the critics I trust consider this a great film, and it is well, well received by general movie-goers and fans. It was directed by Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz fame. All of that, combined with the “gamer representation,” seems like it has “Completely my thing” written all over it. Yet all I can do is shrug. I don’t know, I guess I was expecting more.
My comments thus far should not steer you in the direction that this is a bad film; such is far from accurate. Scott Pilgrim is a humorous, visually invigorating, and snappy story that is incredibly quotable and feels just grounded enough to be relatable. Incredibly fast-paced and jokes flying from every corner, whether visual gags or witty comments, it’s something of a fulfilling sugar rush in video form. It does a lot to take you off guard, with very little to breathe throughout. The amount of detail is borderline insane.
Thinking on it, I believe what ultimately failed for me were the characters. Indeed, they’re funny and likable, but developed? Harder to argue, from my perspective. Scott has an arc, Ramona has… something of an arc. They’re fine enough, if not kind of boring in general personality. Knives also gets a little development, though she’s still more of a sideline spectacle. Scott’s band members, his roommate, etc.; all of them are memorable enough, I just don’t care about them at all. One could argue this isn’t that kind of film. Fair, but that means it’s not my kind of film—at least not why I watch film.
Then there’s the implementation of gaming references and aestheticism. Such is always a very divided topic, at least from where I’m standing. Just seeing a big-budget picture include such blatant interpretations of “gamer lingo,” knowing that those in charge may not know shit about gaming, makes me shudder. (Did you know that the Minions studio is making a Mario film?) Many films have tried, and those not even adapted from established gaming IP’s are generally the worst offenders.
In general, I think the way it’s handled in Scott Pilgrim is fine. Some bothered me more than others, and then they had Scott interact with a dream of his and it played a rendition of “Great Fairy’s Fountain” from the Zelda franchise, and I was legitimately blown away. Straight shivers, I tell ya. Scott defeating exes and doing generally “good” things had points fly across the screen, he grabs a 1-UP at some point, there’s one scene where he takes a two-second piss and it shows a “pee meter” decreasing. Mostly just visual things that don’t add too much.
Whatever level of development characters received, I think the actors played them to near perfection. Cera is a bumbling, awkward bro. Ramona is a, as some say, “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” with a hint of brooding mysteriousness. Wong is obsessively cunning and a wonderfully exaggerative groupie. These actors take on their roles beautifully, with my personal favorite being the aforementioned Ellen Wong. Bonus points also go to Kieran McCulkin as Wallace and Brie Larson as Envy, Scott’s ex, despite her relative lack of screen time.
While it’s not to the level that many around me find it to be, what is definitely is is an entertaining, borderline insane adaptation. A fine balance between reality and fiction, with exaggeration properly placed given the synopsis and source material. It’s just not, well, “deep.” Pretty standard story arcs and all of that, just with a great visual style and direction. Helps that it’s funny, too. It’s an easy recommendation… and given the cult following it already has, you’ll likely find it more invigorating than I did.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!