I first saw the trailer for Scott Pilgrim Vs The World during a screening of Kick Ass a few months back. But I’d heard about the arrival of the film long before in breathless, reverential whispers from a friend whose singsong Geordie patois alerted me not only to the existence of this upcoming adaptation but also to the whole Scott Pilgrim franchise. I’m not a reader of graphic novels or comics in general because oddly I find the images distract me from the words and I can’t immerse myself in them like I can a good old fashioned book.* However, I am a big videogame fan, and so the fact that SPVTW looked like a cross between No More Heroes and…well, everything from the 8-bit era was certainly a plus. But in my ignorance I was concerned that alongside Kick Ass it might feel a little similar. Thankfully that’s not the case, but unfortunately Mr Pilgrim didn’t manage to make me collapse in a reference-fuelled reverie, and I’m not sure that it is any more engaging than a coin-op arcade machine. By which I mean that its appeal is brief and it leaves you feeling emptier in both pocket and mind.
The plot is literally summed up in one sentence: Canadian 20-something Scott Pilgrim must fight all seven evil exes of Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams, before they can be together. He does so using his fists and occasionally the power of his indie band who sound like The Subways (remember them?) and The Hives as interpreted by bored American teens. The whole thing is stitched together with deliberately blunt transitions between scenes, over which the dialogue flows in order to retain the narrative thread and, usually, provide humour based on silly juxtapositions. This definitely echoes the feel of reading a comic, and like Wanted it seems that many of the shots and ideas are pulled directly from the pages of the source material. Which is all well and good, and works here, but slightly detracts from the whole point of making a live action film. At least in my mind.
SPVTW’s biggest asset is that it’s actually very funny. The script is self-aware and all of the actors deliver their lines in such a way as to squeeze the greatest amount of humour from the words. Michael Cera is basically playing himself again, but he actually carries off the mixture of violent strength and mopey falsetto nerdiness quite well, and there are plenty of cameos from faces you may or may not known to keep things interesting. My one issue is that the humour alone will probably not be enough to carry me through a second viewing. For all the surprises that SPVTW has in store, it feels completely impotent once the credits roll, which is something that I could not claim about Kick Ass. The latter uses more traditional narrative and character development tools to intellectually reward the viewer at the end, rather than giving them some flashy fight scenes, sarcastically cool dialogue and a couple of pretty inappropriate comments on race to aid digestion.
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is definitely worth seeing, but I am now less concerned about the fact that it has failed to find an audience in the US, because it’s certainly not for everyone, and threatens to disappear up its own rear end or suffocate under an avalanche of pop culture references and retro gaming chic. At worst it’s like inviting someone around to your house to play a videogame and then sitting back while they hog the controller, drink Coke Zero and moan about their love life. Which is an acceptable way to spend an afternoon.
*That’s not to say that I don’t consider them to be a worthy art form, it’s just that, like ballet, I don’t find myself truly enjoying the experience as much as some of my peers. Those cultured bastards.