Original US release date: August 13, 2010
Production budget: $60,000,000
Worldwide gross: $47,664,559
When Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World hit theaters in 2010, I remember that I wasn’t able to catch it on opening weekend, for some reason that I can’t recall. What I do remember is that one of my co-workers saw it and told me that it was right up my alley and that I had to see it as soon as I could. I was able to, the next weekend, and was sadly disappointed. Would some distance change my perspective in 2016?
I’ve never read the comic upon which this film is based. However, I pride myself on predicting the success of one of the film’s stars, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, long before most people had ever heard of her and probably before she was even allowed to go out on a date. So, her continuing upward trajectory in this film was of particular interest to me, in 2010, as was seeing what Scott Pilgrim was all about.
Looking back on the film, now, it’s fun to see that Winstead is joined by a cast who has largely gone on to make real names for themselves in the business. Aside from her, we have Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, and Alison Pill is also on her way up the ladder. In addition, there are a few talents involved who seemingly plateaued at this level (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Jason Schwartzman), and one who was already on their way down and has yet to right that ship (Brandon Routh). Still, it’s an impressive cast that would have cost much more today than it did in 2010.
And they all do fine, though there are no real standout performances. Truthfully, they aren’t given much to do, when it comes to pushing themselves and their talents. Only one character in the entire film is in any way likeable: Knives Chau, as portrayed by Ellen Wong who has sadly gone on to do little else of note with her career. The rest of our cast of characters are cold, selfish, a-holes who don’t seem capable of comprehending how their actions affect others. After learning that he must defeat the seven evil exes of his new girlfriend Ramona Flowers (Winstead), Scott Pilgrim (Cera) proceeds to limp through his days, reacting to these battles as they seek him out, and then mercilessly murdering each of his opponents, one-by-one.
Yes, Scott actually kills a mountain of people in this movie and never once shows even the slightest minutiae of remorse or regret. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) tries to mask this fact by coating the film with a video-game veneer, so that each slaughtered foe explodes into eight-bit pixels, rather than flesh, blood, and bone. But, they’re dead, no question.
And for what reason? Ramona never once displays any redeeming qualities or characteristics that would make her appealing. She’s rude, solemn, and inconsiderate. At the same time, after being led on by Scott, poor Knives Chau continues to pursue him throughout the film, even though he’s possibly the most repulsive human being in the entire movie. Sure, I suppose that young (and old, really) people often behave this way, but this is fiction and it’s not fun to watch it play out on screen.
Nor is much else in the film. I’ll admit, it’s a little funnier than I remembered, but it’s a full thirty minutes before the film reveals the hook (the propulsive event). And that thirty minutes mostly consists of the unlikeable characters sometimes saying slightly entertaining things to each other with little actual consequence or by Scott using poor Knives in order to make himself look good to his horrible friends. The film is about 20-30 minutes too long and much of this first act could and should have been trimmed in order to more quickly get to the point.
The writing is just poor, in general. After Scott kills Ramona’s first ex, she lays out the deal: that he is going to have to “defeat” (kill) all of her evil exes in order to date her. Yet, when the second ex shows up, Scott is completely bewildered, and needs the whole thing explained to him, again. The ex even asks him if he’s heard of the evil exes and he says that he hasn’t. Combine blunders like this with the lack of believable character motivations, the bland dialogue, and the remorseless characters in whom we’re being asked to invest, and the film is quite a chore to get through, most of the time.
Even the battles lack originality and aren’t helped by a muted color palette that should have been brighter than a Pixar film in order to inject adrenaline into what’s supposed to be an explosive experience. In the meantime, the entire package is completed by an adequate score, but an awful soundtrack composed of lifeless punk/garage band songs. The climax helps things a little, as it’s better choreographed than the other battles and Scott and Ramona both show that they are, in fact, capable of learning a little bit about themselves. But it’s not enough (still no issues with the conscience after all of the killing) and what’s there is too little, too late.
Edgar Wright is somehow an Internet darling in the world of film and I’ve never quite boarded that bandwagon. I’ve yet to be impressed by any of his works and this one is no exception. There are glimmers of goodness sprinkled throughout the film but they are separated by long stretches of mediocrity (or worse). There is very little joy to be found in this film that is supposed to replicate the feeling of playing a video game. Wright was originally the director of Marvel’s Ant-Man. I celebrated when he and Marvel parted ways and this was a reminder that I should still feel like I was right to. Wright constantly gets stuck in his own head, making movies that only appeal to those with his particular sensibilities and he seems incapable of critiquing his own work from an outside, objective viewpoint. I wholeheartedly believe that Peyton Reed gave us a better Ant-Man film and I wish someone else had directed and written Scott Pilgrim, as well. It’s not the property that’s flawed; it’s the execution of the property.
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