Monday, June 16, 2014

Nick's Pick: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Film: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Format: DVD from Johnsburg Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

This is the sixth in a series of monthly reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at YourFace.

I know that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a favorite of Nick’s, so of all of the films on his list, this is the one that made me the most nervous. I also thought I should give Nick a chance to defend it. Here is the Instant Messenger conversation I had with Nick while watching and after watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Steve: We need to talk, man.
Nick: uh oh
Steve: I am 7 minutes into Scott Pilgrim and I want to punch every character in the face until my knuckles bleed.
Nick: lol! You’re one of those people.
Steve: Yeah, I’m out of my 20s.
Nick: Maybe just give it some time? They might grow on you. I mean, yeah, Scott’s an asshole. But they call him on it throughout the movie.
Steve: No, I mean everyone’s an asshole.
Nick: eh
Steve: Wallace is an asshole, Kim is a precisely-tuned world weary riot grrl, Knives is suitably naïve…
Nick: Wallace is amazing, though
Steve: Right now, he’s kind of a dick.
Nick: he’s a lovable dick.
Steve: This movie is some 20-year-old’s hard on. I’m watching some comic geek’s wank material.
Nick: I’m not sure if I should take offense to that.
Steve: Well…I’m assuming you don’t watching this with your pants down.
Nick: >.>
Steve: But someone does.
Nick: You at least gotta give it up to Edgar Wright’s style here. It’s fantastic.
Steve: We’ll get there. It’s early yet. I should get back to it, but we can talk about it later.


Steve: I think I understand Scott Pilgrim.
Nick: oh?
Steve: It’s the perfect movie to define the Facebook generation.
Nick: I dunno about Facebook generation, but definitely anyone my age and younger.
Steve: Yeah. That’s pretty much who I mean. And I’m going to say something here that’s going to come across as rude, so I’m not speaking of you personally. Scott Pilgrim isn’t merely an asshole. He’s a completely loser.
Nick: lol, well…yeah. That’s the whole point.
Steve: But everything that happens in this film is of critical importance to him, which means that it’s of critical importance to everyone else. It’s all about this sort of inflated self-importance and sense of entitlement. “It’s about me, so EVERYONE HAS TO CARE AND KNOW ABOUT IT!” So, ultimately, the only way it makes sense to me at all is to imagine that this entire thing is going on in his head and isn’t reflective of any sort of reality at all.
Nick: Yes, and I’m like 95% sure that it was done on purpose for that very reason. It’s not an accident that everything centers around completely loser Scott, or that it’s edited to smash cut to him whining, or Wallace texting out every little thing, even when he’s sleeping. And the “whole thing is happening in his head is actually a legit commentary that I’ve heard before.
Steve: Okay, then. So I’m going to finish it up now.
Nick: The fact that it plays out like an epic video game is both just flat-out awesome, but also a commentary on his mental state.
Steve: Yep. I see that. That’s a major part of the reason I came to that basic conclusion.


Nick: Did your opinion on Scott Pilgrim get any better?
Steve: I don’t hate it. But I also don’t love it. It’s a lot of insanity about nothing.
Nick: lol. Well, that’s better than I could have hoped.
Steve. I think I’m too old for it. It’s like The Breakfast Club. If you see that when you’re around high school age, you love it. If you see it for the first time when you are older than that, it’s a lot of whining.
Nick: Scott Pilgrim is definitely a cult film. It’s for a very specific group of people. Even when I taught high school, only a select group I heard from there really “got” it.
Steve: Yeah. And that’s not me. Or if I do get it, I’m just not that interested in it. It reminds me of some people I have as friends on Facebook.
Nick: lol
Steve: Virtually all of their posts are memes about how special/wonderful/unique/whatever they are, but they don’t do a fucking thing with their life except talk about how special/wonderful/unique/whatever they are.
Nick: lol, yup. But at least in Scott Pilgrim, every single person calls him out on it until he learns to have some self-respect at the end.
Steve: Does he?
Nick: well, for at least 5 minutes
Steve: If the whole thing is essentially in his head, I think I can argue that he’s just telling himself that he has self-respect. How far into his own navel do we need to go here? Claiming to be wonderful and unique because you say so doesn’t make someone wonderful and unique.
Nick: Indeed.
Steve. This is, bottom line, someone with big, expansive dreams and beliefs about himself and unwilling to do anything but live that in his own head.
Nick: What’d you think of Wright’s direction of it?
Steve: I love the look until I got tired of it. It’s ambitious.
Nick: lol. I never got tired of it.
Steve: Ironically, it exhibits all of the ambition that Scott Pilgrim attributes to himself and lacks completely.

This really does sum up my opinion on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s inventive, and the visuals are completely staggering. I’m suitably impressed with them, although they did start to bug me after a while. But mostly I stand by my assessment of the characters, particularly Scott Pilgrim himself. I’m convinced that this is all a fantasy in his head, and that substantially large parts of this film are more or less wish fulfillment of the character. If we all spend our lives in quiet desperation, it’s only natural that we want to break out of it, to shout to the universe that we exist and are important. For most of us, Whitman’s barbaric yawp only sounds in our own heads because we don’t get off our asses to do anything about it. Scott Pilgrim is one such character, living a life of importance and meaning inside his head while he’s a loser on the outside where the rest of us can see him. I can sympathize with the desire for that, but not with a character who accepts it so completely and willingly, and is so ready to give up even trying for something in favor of a fantasy where he’s a big fish in a big pond.

This is the only reading that makes any sense to me—this is all Scott Pilgrim’s fantasy world where he is central to the world and every decision he makes is important to everyone else. I think most people have that fantasy in their own head. I’m just not interested in it.

Full credit for the visuals, half credit removed because I still want to bloody my knuckles on every character’s skull. Except maybe for Wallace. I’ll give you that Wallace is an ass, but pretty awesome. You’re 4.5 for 6 now, Nick.

Why to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: If you’re just a touch too old for Catcher in the Rye, knock yourself out.
Why not to watch: If you want to slap Holden Caulfield around, you’ll want to straight up murder everyone in this film.


  1. When it comes down to it, sure, Scott (and others) are assholes. I just have zero problem with that and can easily look past it because... hey... it's a live action video game and it's badass and tons of fun. It's all about the style, geekery, and nostalgia here.

  2. See, despite my video gaming past, I don't get any nostalgia out of this. Style, yes, but not nostalgia. And that style is in service of a story that doesn't warrant it, which makes it feel like a waste to me.

  3. It's not the fact that Scott is an ass the entire movie. The problem is that the filmmakers literally crammed all six books into one mess of a film. Scott doesn't have time to mature and the videogame references make sense in a series of books as it shows him "leveling up" to a better person. You know how Peter Jackson split up the Hobbit into three films even though it's just one book? Well cramming 6 books into one film is even worse. If I had not read all of them beforehand, I would have been completely lost. All of the humor and character development is completely gone. This film should have been broken up at least into 2 or more films. It would have been far better. I was extremely disappointed with this film.

  4. Guys, I really enjoyed this post. I'm more inclined to agree with Nick in this case, and I'm hardly the target demographic. I enjoyed the style, particularly its connection to video games I played as a kid.

    Steve, I agree that Scott is a jerk and doesn't even realize it for most of the movie. That matches with the books, though I feel like he's even nastier in the books. Lindsey makes a good point that he's given more time to grow in those books, but for me that doesn't hurt the movie. I think it's just a case where I was drawn along by the visuals and overlooked some things that would have bothered me in a lesser film.

    Regardless, I loved the format of this post!

    1. @Lindsey--I could follow it, I think. It doesn't surprise me that the source material is a lot richer, though. For all the visual appeal, this felt really insubstantial.

      @Dan--Poor Nick didn't realize I was going to do this. Frankly, I didn't really until I realized it contained pretty much my entire thought on the film.

  5. I'm afraid I'm with Nick on this one. I loved this film; it was in my top 10 for the year. And I'm a little older than you, never played the video games it uses for it's style, and never even knew there were graphic novels of this story, let alone read them. Oh, and I had no clue the director had also done Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz until long after I watched it. I went into this knowing nothing about it, other than critics liked it, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for me, and knowing who the star was, and he was irrelevant to me.

    Why did I like it so much? It made me laugh a lot, and I really liked the skewed story. Having to defeat "seven evil exes" who have formed a "League of Evil Exes"? That's got me laughing again right now as I write it. It's like the Evil League of Evil from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

    Throw in sleep texting, Vegan Police, the battle of the bands, the drummer, the "getting a life" joke, Knives Chao (and "ciao, Knives") and many, many more things. I've watched this film three times now and probably will again soon. This has reminded me of how much I liked it.

    1. That's fair. I'm happy to be in the minority on this one.

  6. A friend of mine (he's in his 40s) calls this movie "Scott Dumb-Ass Vs. the World" because he can't believe Scott is dumping Knives.

    1. Well...that's my age bracket, too. My hypothesis stands one step closer to confirmation.

  7. I thought this was an abomination of a movie. The acting is horrible, particularly from Cera. The big battle scenes are tiresome, because there is never any at stake. We know Scott will win and even if he doesn't we know the battle isn't really taking place so what's the point. Asinine beyond comprehension, irritating beyond expression Scott Pilgrim is a soulless, pointless experience.

    1. So, you've got my basic opinion and taken it a step or two further. I'm okay with that, since I agree at least in principle.