Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a 2010 action-comedy movie directed by Edgar Wright, based on a graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It stars Michael Cera as the eponymous Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year old slacker from Toronto, who falls in love with Ramona Flowers and must battle her seven evil exes in order to date her. The film’s fictional world is heavily influenced by videogames, creating a surreal style of comedy and plot. This essay will define the factors that contribute to a film’s overall quality and examine Scott Pilgrim vs. The World according to these factors.
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There are universal properties that allow a film to be described as good, regardless of genre: good editing, consistency, character motivation, and characterization. In choosing a theme for the film, its crew should, consequently, follow said theme faithfully and display an understanding and respect of it. For the comedy to work, the jokes and gags should be delivered well. Finally, a good action movie has well-choreographed and well-edited action scenes. Conversely, a film that fails to meet these criteria can be considered bad.
Videogames as the Movie’s Central Theme
The film, as well as its graphic novel counterpart, is heavily based on videogames. The references begin with the Universal Studios logo, done in a 16-bit visual style with an appropriately lo-fi theme (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). The very first musical piece the viewer hears in the movie proper comes from The Legend of Zelda series. Audio cues borrowed directly from videogames are common, from the sounds used in fights to all manner of power-up and score sound effects. Visual elements of various games are ubiquitous throughout the film: from score popping up from defeated enemies, who explode into coins instead of dying, to duel scenes starting with set-ups reminiscent of fighting games. Furthermore, the film’s story is heavily affected by videogame conventions. The structure of fighting a series of increasingly powerful enemies, forming the central conflict, is typical for a fighting or beat-em-up game. When the protagonist decides to “get a life,” he literally gains a 1-UP, also known as an extra life — and later uses it to return from death. Therefore, one can conclude that the film is faithful and consistent in its videogame theme.
Videogame elements are also used heavily in characterization and defining key plot points. Early in the film, Scott and his girlfriend Knives’ relationship is characterized by their playing Ninja Ninja Revolution — a reference to Dance Dance Revolution — at the arcade (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). The couple performs complex maneuvers, accompanied by the game’s commentary of “good,” indicating that the two are close. Later, when Scott considers breaking up with Knives at the same arcade, her “Should we keep going?” and the cabinet’s “Continue?” countdown can be interpreted as referring to their relationship, rather than the game. Similarly, during Scott’s confrontation with Gideon, the movie’s “Final Boss,” he first gains “The Power of Love” in a shot reminiscent of an RPG. When that proves to be inefficient, and he retries the fight thanks to the 1-UP from before, he acts differently, this time gaining “The Power of Self Respect.” These scenes demonstrate an understanding of the medium and respect towards it.
Editing and Choreography
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World relies on quick cuts to supplement its visual comedy and action scenes, or deliver gags through editing. One such joke is that whenever someone mentions that Scott’s hair is shaggy, when the camera cuts back to Scott, he is wearing his hat. Another happens when Scott orders a package to engineer a meeting with Ramona — the quick cuts highlight the eagerness in signing for it, and the scene immediately cuts to their date. Furthermore, cut gags are even used to give fight scenes a comedic tone and underline Scott’s prowess. When Lucas Lee’s stunt doubles start kicking a downed Scott, the camera cuts to Lee — only to reveal Scott standing in the middle of a pile of unconscious stuntmen in the next cut (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Similarly, the second attempt at fighting Gideon’s bodyguards — after using the 1-UP — skips through most of the fight with quick cuts, both for comedic effect and to express the protagonist’s improved skill. Overall, the movie uses editing tricks like quick cuts and cutaways to significantly strengthen both its humor and action.
The fight choreography is competent, once again relying on fighting game style and conventions for effect. The first fight against Matthew Patel showcases these stylings with exaggerated motions and an extended section where both characters are in the air, unsupported (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). While once again making heavy use of quick cuts and camera movements to empathize blows, the camera work never makes the combatants’ position or actions unclear. For instance, the fight against Gideon’s bodyguards once again makes good use of the camera to underline the chaos of fighting off multiple attackers coming from unexpected angles. Overall, the combat always looks fitting, with moves that would not be out of place in a fighting game, and clear enough to follow.
Characters and Motivation
Any film requires engaging characters with whom the viewer can sympathize and understand what motivates them to act. Unfortunately, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World seems to substitute them with dry sarcasm. Scott and Ramona’s romance drives the central conflict, but in all the scenes they have together, they seem to be more interested in resolving their own internal conflicts than engaging with one another. Conversely, Scott and Knives are shown to have mutual interests and enjoy spending time together, and yet he ultimately chooses to stay with someone with whom he is momentarily infatuated. This choice, along with his generally uncaring attitude, can make it difficult to empathize with the movie’s protagonist.
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Over the course of a narrative, characters should also undergo growth and change. The final scenes explicitly state that Scott’s new-found self-respect is what allows him to triumph, supported by his off-screen encounter with Nega-Scott. However, this growth seems to only amount to a sterner expression and a string of apologies to his bandmates — these ultimately seem more like a solved puzzle than legitimate character change. Ramona’s change is similarly nonexistent; she only stops being worried about her past; overall she is a passive character that does little beside serving as Scott’s source of motivation. Earning the power of self-respect can be more aptly said about Knives. She is the one who goes from being passively obsessed with the protagonist and his band to becoming an active participant in the story at the end. Ultimately, a lack of growth devalues the ending by leaving the two main characters virtually the same as they were in the beginning.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is, overall, a good action-comedy movie. Most importantly, its commitment to its central theme — videogames — is commendable. The theme is utilized throughout, never allowing one to forge that Scott’s world is heavily based on games. Its humor and action are strong and consistent, making good use of editing. However, the film has little to offer to viewers who are looking for stronger character motivations and development. This can ultimately limit its long-term appeal and memorability, but the movie still accomplishes its goal of entertaining.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Directed by Edgar Wright, performance by Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Flowers, and Ellen Wong, Universal Pictures, 2010.