We all have movies that stop us in our tracks. Whether you watch hundreds, dozens, or just a couple of movies a year, there is always one that just hits differently than the others. It could be as simple as the overall quality of the film or that you just connect with it on a different level. Regardless of the reason, we can all relate to the experience of a movie changing either you or how you relate to movies. One of those movies for me celebrated its 10th anniversary on August 13th, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Admittedly, I was late to the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World party. I watched the film for the first time just a couple of years ago, and it was a transformational experience.
My memory isn’t great (a wonderful trait for a film critic) and there are more films than I’d like to admit that I have completely forgotten. But, I remember everything about my first time watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I was at my in-laws’ house lying on the floor with my head propped up on my hands like a child, (their TV is entirely too small) and I was blown away. All I knew going in was that Edgar Wright was an intriguing director (having only seen Baby Driver at this point). I also knew I liked Michael Cera, and that this film is a cult classic. My lack of expectations allowed me to be open to anything and I immediately fell in love. It’s now one of my favorite movies and is why I love film.
My admiration for the film comes from a place of deep respect for its creativity. It’s a dynamic film that has no immediate peer. Visually it completely shatters traditional expectations of what a film can do and be. Edgar Wright weaves comic book and video game visuals into the film, which gives it a familiar vibe while still being wholly original. Each of the fights is reminiscent of plenty of fighting games (as well as the one Scott and Knives play in the film). Quick, straight to the point dialogue, and fast cuts also resemble comic books. The incorporation of visual representations of sound is next level. Blending the two seems an impossible task but works perfectly here.
Wright is the perfect person for this film because he has a style that is quite unique, and that style also adds more creativity to the film. It’s his self-aware humor that elevates it. A good example of this is in the first fight with Matthew Patel. From mocking his outfit (“pirates are in this year”) to Scott’s confused demeanor, everyone finds it bizarre and that’s part of why it works so well. Aside from that, there is a smart and sweet story at the center. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World explores love and the baggage we all carry into our relationships. It’s a wonderful metaphor on how that baggage can complicate and even derail relationships. This gives the film weight and something more to marvel at than visuals.
A Prophetic Cast
Here is the lone benefit of catching up with this movie so late. This is an absolutely incredible cast, especially from a more modern context. At the time of the release, a lot of these actors weren’t stars yet. While the collection of talent is obvious, it certainly hits a bit different now. Brie Larson and Chris Evans have become two of the biggest action stars in the world. Anna Kendrick is a legitimate movie star, Aubrey Plaza and Mary Elizabeth Winstead appear on the verge of a star turn, and HBO’s Succession has turned Kieran Culkin into a TV star. Alison Pill is a wonderful actor, Jason Schwartzman is comedic gold and Michael Cera, who was the biggest star at the time, is still doing great work.
Those are just the names that most people know, some of the lesser-known names are just as talented, especially in this film. Brandon Routh and Mae Whitman are excellent as two exes. Ellen Wong is a bit of a scene-stealer, especially late in the film, and Mark Webber lives up to the moniker of “The Talent”. To merely say that this cast is good, does quite the disservice to the talent and careers of these actors, but even more so to their performances. The chemistry is great, which is impressive because the pace of the film doesn’t give each performer that much time. They play off each other wonderfully and bring the dynamic performances that an Edgar Wright film needs. It cannot be stated enough how good everyone in this film is, it’s pitch-perfect casting and acting.
Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim
Alison Pill as Kim
Kieran Culkin as Wallace
Ellen Wong as Knives Chau
Brie Larson as Envy
Chris Evans as Lucas Lee
This is an incredibly difficult choice! Each of these seven performances is wonderful and adds something special to the film. Chris Evans is the funniest of the evil exes; his version of the pompous movie star is so incredible. Everything Brie Larson is doing is perfect, especially her singing! Larson possibly does more than any of the other exes. It’s obvious why Scott would have a hard time with their breakup but she also makes Ramona more desirable because she’s also kind of awful. Kieran Culkin brings his uniquely dry humor to Wallace making him one of the more quotable characters. Then there’s Knives Chau, who is one of three characters to have a full character arc and Ellen Wong handles this beautifully. She takes Knives from a naive girl to a mature and independent woman, which is a great additional piece to add depth to the film.
Really, this category is a three-person race. Michael Cera is an obvious contender, as he is the star and handles the leading man role so perfectly. His awkward, self-aggrandizing charm is unique for a leading man but fits so well in this film. Alison Pill is an actress I love because of her roles in other things, but this might be my favorite performance of hers. Everything about Kim fits the type of humor, and characters I like. The quiet, soft-spoken, but ruthless sarcasm is hilarious. Her ability to pop up in a scene and steal it with one line is great.
Winner: Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona
Ramona is the focus of Scott’s attention and subsequently the movie. What I appreciate the most about her performance is the full range of emotions she brings without speaking. Ramona is an internal character that is wrestling with her past, in front of everyone and the weight of this is constantly present in her face. She also pulls a lot of the emotion of hers and Scott’s relationship with subtle nonverbal cues. Also, she kicks ass! Ramona is an incredible character and Winstead brings her to life, which is a large reason why the film is so effective.
Music plays a big role in Scott Pilgrim. Scott is in a band, which performs several times in the film, there is a bass battle, Envy Adams has a performance and there is a whole battle of the bands’ subplot. So the music isn’t exactly a forgotten portion of the film. The reason why it’s my choice is that this is about as far away from music that interests me as you can get. However, it is so good in the film that I can’t help but love it. I even find myself listening to the soundtrack just to hear some of the songs. I don’t know if Sex Bob-Omb is any good, but I quite enjoy them. Additionally, they (along with the rest of the music) function as an effective soundtrack for the film. All around it’s great and a brilliant way to incorporate a story subplot.
Ranking the Evil Exes
My criteria for ranking is simple: which scenes were the most fun and well-choreographed. The quality of the ex is also a factor. All of them are great so these rankings change with each watch. It’s incredible how Edgar Wright was able to bring these to life. They look like a real-life video game, with humor and plot cleverly woven throughout them. Each fight scene is truly brilliant.
#6: The Katayanagi Twins
The amp vs. amp battle is cool, as is the Gorilla and Dragon fight, but it’s the shortest of the fights and there is no real exploration of the Katayanagi Twins. We get at least some time with every other ex, so that would have been cool.
#5: Todd Ingram
The vegan bit is so funny and has aged quite well. The ending of the fight isn’t great but the Vegan Police make up for it. It’s just a really funny sequence.
#4: Lucas Lee
Chris Evans is the funniest of the Exes and obviously is great in the fight sequence. Scott fighting his stunt doubles is a fun twist.
#3: Roxy Richter
Roxy is just awesome! I don’t love how Scott defeats her but the fight choreography more than makes up for it. The tandem fight is incredible and this is the first time we get to see Ramona fight, which is great.
#2: Matthew Patel
The Patel fight is amazing because it sets up the other fights. We also get to see the full breadth of creativity in this film. It’s a tone-setting fight, both for the story but also for the viewer to understand how to watch the movie. Very funny, well-executed, and it even has a musical sequence!
#1: Gideon Graves
There is no real debate here. Between Schwarztman being great, the actual fighting, and the video game stuff, it’s a perfect sequence. It works on every level that it can and is a wonderful climax to the film.
Thomas Jane & Clifton Collins Jr. as the Vegan Police
There are so many funny bits throughout this movie, but the Vegan Police has to be the best. It’s a nice twist to the end of that fight but they are also identifiable actors. Westworld and Deep Blue Sea are two of my favorite things, so to see Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins Jr. is absolutely hilarious. It’s a great cameo that lands the bit perfectly and provides an extra laugh. Things like this are why this Scott Pilgrim is so great but personally, it’s extra special because of the cameos. I look forward to their appearance and laugh out loud every single time.
Who’s the MVP?
I’m going to cheat a little bit for this one and go with co-MVPs, Edgar Wright and Bryan Lee O’Malley. I have yet to mention O’Malley in this piece, but he deserves as much recognition as possible. He is the creator of the Scott Pilgrim comic book series that the film is adapted from. He doesn’t have much to do with the film past that, but I feel like he is due his flowers. A lot of what is seen on screen is in the comic book. I read the first volume of the series and was blown away by how similar the book is to the film. From the visuals all the way down to the tone, the film pulls from O’Malley’s book. As the creator of this incredible creative piece of art, he is due as much credit as possible.
As the director, Edgar Wright deserves flowers too, because he had to bring this wholly unique book to life. The degree of difficulty on this task is about as high as an adaptation can get. What O’Malley created is unlike anything else but also quite specific in its inspiration and references. Wright takes the book and essentially brings it to life on screen. Oftentimes the film looks like a comic book in how it’s presented, edited and stylized. When it doesn’t look like a comic book it looks like a video game, which is a near-impossible task on its own. Then he marries the two in a way that feels completely natural. It’s an amazing feat of directing.
Does It Hold Up?
Absolutely! 10 years later and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is still amazing. Visually, it’s a unique masterpiece. Emotionally, it’s effective and quite smart. This film is the complete and total package with the added benefit of allowing you to see bonafide superstars before they leveled up. I absolutely adore this movie and will probably watch it 100 times before its 20th anniversary.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? Comment down below!
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