Like an ex you still pine for, there are some movies you find yourself wanting to revisit every now and then. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is such a movie. The 2010 film was ingeniously directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and has since reached a cult status few films obtain so soon after their release. Based on the beloved graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the story followed loser bassist Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and his quest to win the heart of his dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), by defeating her seven super-powered evil ex-lovers in combat.
The adaptation was promising due to the originality of its premise and the talent involved. Fresh off the hilarious action flick send-up Hot Fuzz, auteur Edgar Wright was at the height of his powers. The film enjoyed very favorable reviews (81% RT score currently) and one of the strongest web-focused marketing pushes ever seen. All the more perplexing it utterly tanked at the box office. It made just north of $31 million during its entire domestic run with a production budget of $60 million.
An analysis on Scott Pilgrim’s failure at the box office could be an entirely separate article. The video game influenced zaniness of the film likely alienated many too old, or too young, to fully understand its satire. The graphic novels it’s based on were obscure to even those well-versed in comics books. And though packed with terrific young talent, it lacked anyone with the star power to draw an audience. Whatever the reasons, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World deserved better.
The box office performance may have been puzzling, but there’s no wonder why the film easily found a cult following. Edgar Wright was arguably the reigning king of cult cinema and the perfect choice of director. His kinetic shots and frantic editing were at their peak in Scott Pilgrim, making for his most visually satisfying and eclectic film to date. Onomatopoeias fly across the screen with a frequency that would make Adam West’s Batman blush. Anime-style speed lines accent the beautifully choreographed fight scenes. Wright didn’t just bend genres with this movie, he twisted them into a pretzel. It’s a comic book inspired love letter to video game culture by way of an alternative rock opera; an unapologetic Saturday morning cartoon where vanquished villains exploded into coins. It was one hell of a balancing act and Wright performed nimbly. The material would have drowned a lesser director.
However, substance was not lost amidst the style. The script, penned by Wright and Michael Bacall, gave the characters added dimension and infinitely quotable dialogue. Like many of Wright’s films, the slapstick comedy is anchored by a smaller emotional story. At its core, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a heartfelt story about young love and the power of self-esteem. The drama has an earnestness not typically seen in your standard comic book movie. A lot was thrown at the wall and a surprising amount managed to stick. This isn’t to say it was all perfect, but it’s a film where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts by virtue of a layered experience. A big portion of that experience was a truly incredible soundtrack.
The music for Scott’s fictional band Sex Bob-Omb featured original songs created by Beck. The rest was rounded out with tracks from contemporary bands like Metric and Broken Social Scene, along with a few classic gems from T. Rex and the Rolling Stones. It’s all highlighted by a “Battle of the Bands” that serves as the backdrop for Scott, well, literally battling bands. The music in Scott Pilgrim is so prominent it can practically be considered a musical. The soundtrack was essential in setting up the movie’s pivotal moments and introducing a number of characters.
Speaking of the characters, the cast has become a revelation since the film’s release. That’s now Oscar-winner Brie Larson covering Metric’s “Black Sheep”. Scott Pilgrim’s supporting cast, relative unknowns at the time, has since matured into some of Hollywood’s brightest young stars. Notable inclusions are Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Alison Pill. More well-known talent like Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman flexed comedic muscles not previously seen in any of their prior roles. Even the bit parts featured inspired choices. SNL’s Bill Hader provided all the voice-over work. Tom Jane and Clifton Collins Jr. combined for hilarious cameos as the super-powered “Vegan Police”. It was a brilliant ensemble that helped elevate the material. You got the sense everyone was having a blast making this movie and the fun carries over to the viewer — but the fun wasn’t limited there.
Of course, no video game-inspired movie wouldn’t be complete without a video game tie-in. In preparation for the release of the movie, Ubisoft teamed with Bryan Lee O’Malley to create Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, a retro side-scroller based on O’Malley’s original graphic novels. Much like the film, the game was a lovingly crafted homage to the ubiquitous 16-bit beat’em ups from the 90’s. It was released for download on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to solid reviews, earning a Metacritic score of 77%. It was another effort to make the film an immersive experience that extended beyond the silver screen.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was an ambitious project that has yet to be duplicated, whether through lack of trying is debatable. However, Scott Pilgrim may have blazed a trail that allowed like-minded action movies to follow behind it. Last year’s 8o’s genre action pastiche Turbo Kid certainly feels like an R-rated spiritual successor to Scott Pilgrim. The same could be said for the off-the-wall, martial arts cheese-fest Kung Fury. Their unabashed tone and nostalgia-heavy influence clearly target the same Gen Y’ers that so thoroughly enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. But the separation is that these films are “manufactured cult”, limited release cheapies aimed at drawing a niche audience. Scott Pilgrim was meant to be hit. It wasn’t aspiring to be cult — it was actually trying to create a culture. It dares you to step into its world and live in its characters. The movie makes for a familiar bedfellow — one that maybe isn’t perfect, but you still adore for all its charms, proving there’s a reason you haven’t deleted their number.