Fri
Aug 13 2010 4:15pm

That Was Fun, But I’m Not in Lesbian With It. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is frenetic, funny, flashy, and overall just a really solid bundle of entertainment. But I kind of wish I hadn’t read the books before I saw it.

Non-spoiler review: Mainly, I was expecting more gravity from the characters than what ultimately appeared. When the Scott Pilgrim series kicks off, its characters are concerned with toys and surface luxuries and define their lives by those accoutrements. Scott’s identity is so tied to outside culture, in fact, that video game tropes show up impossibly in his actual life. The books begin to cast this off about halfway through the series and both Scott and Ramona are forced to take their relationship seriously while dealing with the momentum of their past. (Basically, the duels.) This growing sense of maturity is a big part of why the series functions as a whole and engaging story.

The movie has a hard time weaving this into the story, although it knows this and does the best that it can. However, this leads to an odd turn in the final act that plays into, or seems informed by, this deficiency. This turn isn’t present in the books but the thing is...I’m not sure I’d consider it odd if I didn’t already know how the books end.

Tor.com’s own Megan Messinger will have a newcomer perspective for us on Monday, but for now, I’ll be elaborating on the movie (with BIG SPOILERS for both movie and book!) below the cut.

I’ll come back to the issue above, but first I want to heap praises on this movie, its pacing, its set pieces, and its amazing cast. There are a plethora of scene stealers in this film, the foremost of whom is Ellen Wong, who takes the second-tier role of Knives Chau and makes it enormous. She plays the hyperactive 17-year-old Knives to an absolute hilt and her performance is both unsettling and mesmerizing without going overboard into camp or parody.

Broadway veteran Alison Pill disappears into the role of Kim Pine completely that I have a hard time believing that Kim isn’t a real person playing herself. Kieran Culkin is top notch as Scott’s gay bedmate/big brother figure Wallace Wells. Anna Kendrick is surprisingly engaging as the two-note Stacey Pilgrim, managing to be both touching and terrible to Scott at every opportunity. Most everyone else only gets to play a broad character type, but they’re still fun to watch. In fact,  think I liked the characters of Envy Adams and Julie Powers more after seeing this movie.

The bands in this movie sound just as you might have imagined them in the comic, which is no small feat to accomplish. Envy is a golden-voiced sex idol dripping with indie glamour (think Jenny Lewis on her way to becoming Lady Gaga). Sex Bob-Omb is a distortion-fueled pop mess, fueled by amateur lyrics and a lot of tight, manic energy. Scott’s “Ramona” song is achingly sweet and touches a character note that Michael Cera doesn’t often get to play as Scott, but which still comes off as perfectly natural. The soundtrack choices themselves are excellent, as well. (Sharp ears will pick out “Ramona” off of Frank Black’s first solo record, an album that I have just now realized is as old as the character of Knives.)

The fights in the movie are very larger-than-life and engaging, although there’s a confusing disconnect between the powers that the Evil Exes possess and Scott’s inherent ability to outfight them. No one ever seems surprised that Scott can win, as if it should be obvious that this poor, skinny slacker can take a tremendous beating then execute flawless swordplay. I realize the fights are half-metaphorical, but you still don’t really get the sense that Scott could lose, or that he is actually fighting for something. He just seems annoyed.

The filmmakers use the Evil Ex confrontations as an opportunity to flesh out Ramona’s history, but this is what serves as character development for her, and it’s where the story starts to wane. To be fair, the books have this problem, too, and the filmmakers seem aware that this is a shortcoming, but the histories come off as a patch-up effort after the fact.

This problem culminates in the fake-out ending, which is where the movie unsettles me the most. During their final battle, Scott and Gideon fight over the possession of Ramona, with her sitting on the sidelines. Knives Chau then shows up, be-scarved and wielding her sai, to fight Ramona for hurting Scott. Ramona and Knives fight. Scott dies and Ramona reveals to him the extent of Gideon’s control over her. Then eventually Knives and Scott team-up to take out Gideon, with Scott paying service to the fact that he was a jerk to both women, but without having to actually apologize or experience the consequences of his actions. When the fight is over, it is Knives and Scott who have done most of the gruntwork.

How did Ramona get shoved out of her own story? Here, she is reduced to the status of a prize for two men to fight over, rather than an individual with her own past and her own shortcomings. In the book series and for most of the movie, Ramona is visibly trying to become a better person and needs Scott to remind her of what that ideal is like. Scott’s character arc is the very same, although he takes a good deal longer to realize it. The movie seems to chuck this out for its ending, pairing a wet-behind-the-ears Scott back up with Knives and running with that to the point where I was genuinely afraid that this was how the movie was going to end. In fact, the only reason it doesn’t is because the filmmakers have Knives tell Scott to run after Ramona. (The theater started bringing its lights up at this point, too, just to scare me.)

Reportedly, the books contain an ending that is changed from the outline Bryan Lee O’Malley gave the filmmakers and I wonder if this is because O’Malley came to the above realization. In the books, Gideon is only beaten when Ramona and Scott are working together.

But, would I be so unsettled by this if I hadn’t read the books? The movie’s ending and Scott bonding further with Knives makes more sense if you see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as the beginning of his maturation, and not a culmination of a long process. But I’m not able to fully immerse myself in that perspective, so I came away from the film entertained but a bit confused.


Chris Greenland thinks his League of Evil Exes wouldn’t be Evil so much as they would be Leading Stable and Happy Lives.

4 comments
Church Tucker
1. Church
Fair critique, but remember the sheer volume(s) of material that had to be packed into one movie. I think the end basically works, since they were mashing the Scott/Ramona/Gideon thing with the Scott/Ramona/Knives thing (although the final scene with Knives *was* a bit eye-rolly.)

I'm curious to see what people who haven't read the books think, though.
ZetaStriker
3. ZetaStriker
As much as I loved the original comics, I have to say that despite the points made in the review, the movie's ending just struck me as a far conclusive that that of the Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour.

While I'd take the comic in any other aspect any day, the resolution with Ramona, or the fact that they ended up just saying "there's nothing to resolve!" and calling it a day, was incredibly frustrating. When Ramona left at the end of Volume 5, Scott's relationship with Ramona was on the rocks as their separate personal issues threatened to overwhelm the both of them; instead of there being a moment to address this, Ramona just sort of showed up again, took Scott's side and everyone acted as if none of the above ever happened. I felt cheated, and considering I was in love with everything up until those last couple of chapters that is no mean feat.

The movie, on the other hand, at least has the excuse of not offering resolution. Whereas at the end of the comic, Ramona and Scott are at the end of their personal growth, the movie quite clearly showed them still making fumbling steps towards a healthy relationship; they showcase this very clearly when Ramona's first instinct is to run in the ending, and Scott is forced to follow her to keep her in his life. It's not perfect, but it didn't feel like the slap in the face Finest Hour's ending was.

In fact, the only problem I have with it, as a whole, was Knives' role; not that she helped Scott, but that she failed to develop to the self-assured girl that no longer wanted Scott as she did in the comic. The entire ending would've worked perfectly, in my mind, if it had acknowledged that Knives loved Scott but had let him go. Unfortunately, they didn't make time for it in the confines of the film, and I agree with everyone who says that the last moments between Scott and her felt like they should've ended up together, as opposed to him and Ramona, if the movie is taken on its own. Her last comment, asking him to follow Ramona, simply seemed out of place.
Stefan Hayden
4. STHayden
This is one of those situations where I just chalk it up to the short comings of movies. I am a huge fan of TV and the freedom to deeply explore characters. Movies just don't have the time to do that.

Movies have to be short stories while TV can be long books.

I agree. it was fun but I'm not in love with it.
paul
5. cluegoo
i have to say coming from someone who never got around to reading the book this movie was freakin awesome i am most definitely in lesbians with it. the blend of alternative music, gaming references and just plain awesomeness turned this into my most favorite movie of all time

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment