The year is 2007, and Edgar Wright has just released the second film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy: Hot Fuzz. Whether you prefer the comedy horror spoof Shaun of the Dead or its spiritual successor, it was clear that Wright had found his momentum and was on course to tie up the series nicely alongside co-writer and lead actor Simon Pegg.
Unfortunately for the franchise, The World’s End would eventually (and disappointingly) be released in 2013 as Wright set his sights elsewhere, across the Atlantic and into Toronto.
After having his heart torn apart by his ex-girlfriend, 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) begins dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a 17-year-old high-school student who becomes madly obsessed with Scott and his band Sex Bob-Omb. As Knives falls deeper into her unethical relationship, Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who he becomes madly obsessed with. Mystical and enigmatic, Ramona is everything that Scott isn’t, and to win her heart he must fight off her seven evil exes; anything is possible with the power of love (and a cool edit or two).
Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim, Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall not only adapted the story for the screen but brought a whole aesthetic with them. The visual pacing is intricate and borderline alienating, but Wright has created a world that not only fits neatly on the screen but also feels oddly real.
Scott’s fictional Toronto lives in its own universe. Soundtracks are normally for the viewer, not the characters, but here every piece of music and added effect is heard and seen within their world.
As Scott fights off the League of Evil Exes, the visualised sound effects (Pow!) appear within the world and not set apart from it, the same happening when a Street Fighter-esque displays appear as Scott prepares to fight yet another piece of Romana’s past.
Wright’s obsessiveness at creating something unique works visually as the film becomes an eclectic clutter of cool and quirky additions: the information boxes that appear when a character is introduced, lights cutting out instead of fading to black, background bokeh in the shape of hearts as Ramona and Scott share a kiss. Everything fits, except the story.
While the film pops with a bouquet of colours, the oppressiveness of the style extends into how the film is narrated. Scott Pilgrim vs the World plays how the comic reads: fast and with very little breathing room.
This flow of continuous action is great for an explosive start but starts to wear thin as the film becomes repetitive. Scott fights off ex after ex, a concept which works well when you can split it up into issues or episodes, each its own mini story as Scott prepares and then fights the next big boss.
But about halfway in, I struggled to care about Scott; not only because he can be quite unlikeable but because I felt like I was watching a series of oversaturated fights that lost most of their flare after the third one.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World’s gimmick is its only selling point. Does this make it a bad film? No. But it doesn’t make it a great film either.
Take Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a film that perfectly combined comic tropes into a single filmic narrative. Instead of focusing on one aspect, Spider-Verse used frames within frames to convey ideas, yet the characters don’t acknowledge them nor interact with them.
Whichever way you look at it, Scott Pilgrim is a good film and time has not hurt it. I would even argue that time has helped the film, as Scott’s relationship with Knives is certainly more interesting in a modern context.
But there are problems. Wright has created visual nostalgia with a killer soundtrack, but it is hard to truly love someone else’s nostalgia, even when it looks cool.
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