Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Reflecting Back On “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”

By Branyan Towe 

In 2010, Edgar Wright’s film adaptation of the graphic novel series “Scott Pilgrim” by Bryan Lee O’Malley, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” was released. The film was a box office bomb, grossing $49.2 million against a budget of $85 million. I personally would discover the film later that year on DVD as a sophomore in high school. The rest, as they say, is history. In my mind, everything about the film was absolutely perfect. From the soundtrack, which featured original songs by Beck, to the visuals, to the cast members, most of whom I hadn’t heard of outside of Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

After watching the movie, I went out and purchased all six volumes of O’Malley’s series. After reading them, I wondered how a nearly perfect adaptation of the series like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” had mainly gone unheard of. As the years have gone on, the film’s box office failure has become even more perplexing to me. The cast, after all, features two of Marvel’s “Avengers” in Chris Evans and Brie Larson (who also would later become an Oscar winner), “Pitch Perfect” star Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation,” and a host of other notable names. It seems to me that if this film were released today, in the middle of the current comic book adaptation boom that has taken the industry by storm, it would be a hit. Instead, it’s a film with a modest cult following. 

Eleven years later, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” has been rereleased in Dolby theaters. The rerelease was scheduled to coincide with the film’s tenth anniversary in 2020 before being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, I finally got the chance to experience the movie that I loved as a teenager on the big screen, with the key difference that I am an adult today. Honestly, I think that it holds up reasonably well for the most part. The visuals are dazzling, blending aspects of film, comic books, music, and video games into one. It’s easy to see why it’s been discussed as a transmedia narrative in scholarly articles.

Another thing I took note of was the sound design. As someone who has seen this film more times than I can count, there were things I heard while watching it in the theater that I hadn’t ever heard before. Little pieces of dialogue from side characters and musical cues added to the story and my enjoyment of the film. The cast is excellent, with Brie Larson, who was just 20 years old at the time of this film’s original, being a personal favorite of mine in the role of Envy Adams. Her performance made a fan out of me as a teenager and made present-day me even more proud of Larson’s strides as an actress. It’s honestly fantastic looking back on it now, the amount of talent that director Edgar Wright put together for this film. As the writer of the graphic novels, Bryan Lee O’Malley, told Clark Collis of Entertainment Weekly in 2020, “The cast was mostly somewhat unknown at the time, but all of them have gone on to great things.” Wright took time and effort to make sure that the characters were reflections of their graphic novel counterparts, as he says in that same Entertainment Weekly article, “As you can see with the finished film, I was being quite literal in terms of casting people that look exactly like the drawings [in the graphic novels].” That level of detail is something that you might not see in other adaptations, and I think Wright and those involved in the casting process deserve kudos for casting actors and actresses that are seemingly ripped right from the page.

I don’t love everything about this film as I did as a teenager, though. In particular, I’ve grown to dislike the character of Scott Pilgrim and think he’s the worst character in his own story, or at least close to it. As a teenager, I idolized Scott Pilgrim, to the point where I bought a “Zero” Smashing Pumpkins shirt, which he wears in the film. Now, as an adult, I realize that he isn’t the hero that I once thought him to be. As writer Darren Mooney of The Escapist Magazine points out, “For all that “Scott Pilgrim” pulses with joie de vivre, the film is unambiguously clear on one central point: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is not a nice guy.” I suppose you can chalk my love of the character up to being young and naïve because as I’ve grown older, I realized that I couldn’t stand him. His relationship with his 17-year-old girlfriend Knives Chau makes me uncomfortable, given that Pilgrim is supposed to be 22 in the film. He also cheats on Knives with Ramona Flowers. Scott, like Ramona, comes with a lot of baggage and shouldn’t really be idolized, in my opinion, even after he attempts to right his wrongs. He is, as Tom Breihan of the AV Club describes him, a “toxic chump.” 

Despite the flaws of its lead character, I still adore “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” as much as I did when I first saw it on DVD, and watching it on the big screen was a real treat. The film is a near-perfect adaptation of O’Malley’s source material, with a superb cast and visuals that stand right up there with those of today’s Marvel Studios blockbusters, if not surpassing them. I also can’t help but love how much the film embraces its Canadian setting and culture; it really enhances the authenticity of the world the film depicts. The music featured, including original songs written by Beck for the film, is, in my view, unlike any other in cinematic history. It’s such a unique collection of songs that fit perfectly, and nowhere is that more evident in my opinion than when Brie Larson’s Envy Adams covers Metric’s “Black Sheep.” It is a moment that isn’t in the original graphic novels. However, as Andrew Buss of Consequence notes, Bryan Lee O’Malley drew Envy as partially based on Metric lead singer Emily Haines. That song, to me, feels uniquely like something the character would write and is a testament to the quality of the soundtrack.

Though I believe that this film was ahead of its time and would have done better at the box office had it been released today, rather than rereleased, part of me is glad things turned out the way they did. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” has a passionate fanbase; much like the graphic novels it was adapted from. Writer Ian Daffern of The Globe and Mail said of the series back in 2010, “Pilgrim is huge, the comics “Harry Potter,” its praises sung by none other than geek god Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” etc.) on the back cover.” While the film didn’t reach “Harry Potter” levels of success, it’s undoubtedly aged relatively well, in my opinion. It seems like an innovative and unique film that will stand the test of time as not only one of the best films of the 2010s but one of the best comic book films ever made.

What are your thoughts on “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?” Did you get a chance to experience it again in theaters recently? Are you excited for Edgar Wright’s two new films this year, “The Sparks Brothers” and “Last Night In Soho?” Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Branyan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @BranyanTowe

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