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rrramble retrospectives: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’

This week, three of our rrramble writers team up to take on the first of our brand new strand of reviews, rrramble retrospectives. For these reviews, we’ll be taking super popular artworks (film, tv, novels, albums…you name it), and seeing if they stand the test of time. 

First in the series is cult-classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. 11 years after its release; is it still a heartfelt love-letter to nerds everywhere, or a minefield of cringe and manic pixie dream girl tropes that doesn’t hit the same in 2021? Let’s see what our writers think…

Scott Pilgrim (a white man with tousled mousey hair) and Ramona Flowers (a white woman with a choppy blue bob) wield weapons menacingly. Scott's image is overlaid with strips of pink fire, and Ramona's is overlaid with blue lightning. They look like they mean business.
Game faces on…

Sabrina

If you’ve seen this film already and want an idea of my general expression while watching it, just refer to the scene where Stacey Pilgrim exclaims, “WHAT?!” during the film’s first smackdown/sudden musical number. If you haven’t, just picture the shocked Pikachu meme and you’d be about right.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of the most unique, unpredictable movies I’ve ever watched. Every time I thought it couldn’t get stranger, it proceeded to prove me wrong. (The fact that I forgot to read the synopsis before starting the film probably also added to that.) The unfiltered, utter randomness of Scott’s stream-of-consciousness dialogue, the hilarious video-game and comic inspired annotations (I loved the Pee Bar), the cast’s delivery of lines and melodramatic reactions – I just kept cracking up. I actually had to pause once for laughing. Something I also found interesting was how the film could be so light and funny yet turn on a dime to create a very tense and chilling atmosphere when it addresses an abusive relationship in Ramona’s past (and present).

I also loved the camera transitions – several of which reminded me of TikTok/Instagram Reels for some reason – and the video-game effects, sounds and references were so fun. It reminded me a lot of the things I loved in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph. Some of my favourite visuals were the exes exploding into game tokens and +XP!,  the roiling waveforms during the Battle of the Bands and the written sound-effects. The visuals were pushed so hard that sometimes I had to squint – I think the opening credits are seared onto my eyeballs, I can only imagine what it’s like on a cinema screen versus my laptop – but they do fit well with the overall aesthetic of the film. The dynamic fight sequences were cool too, though halfway through the third fight I did catch myself thinking, “oh god, we’ve still got how many left?”

Many of the jokes are so incredibly exaggerated that I think they may be parodies of real-life issues and stereotypes, for example Knives Chau’s character (at least at the start of her arc) and the whole Vegan Police scene. There were other aspects that hovered on the fence between feeling ‘dated’ and ‘purposeful use to illustrate character’. I’m thinking of things like the use of the R word, the fetishisation of sapphic relationships and an antagonist calling Knives ‘kung pao chicken’.

However, some bits really didn’t sit well with me. The exchanges between Scott, Ramona and her ex-girlfriend Roxy made me really uncomfortable, especially when Ramona said that being with Roxy didn’t “count”, and the way that the fight with Roxy was sexualised in a way that the others weren’t. I was so disappointed. Prior to this, Ramona had so adamantly corrected Scott whenever he refers to her ‘seven ex-boyfriends’ instead of ‘seven exes’ (itself a reflection of Scott’s internalised heteronormativity) that I was looking forward to some halfway decent bisexual/pansexual representation…and this really wasn’t. I also wasn’t a big fan of the girl-on-girl hate between Knives, Ramona, Envy – even between Kim and another girl drummer – especially as it seems to revolve around Scott or male approval in general, but at least some of it was vaguely resolved towards the end.

Speaking of the end, I quite liked how it fell halfway between surprising me and fulfilling my expectations. The arcade game-like countdown into credits obviously helped – I’ll never get bored of those!

Scott Pilgrim (a thin white man with tousled mousey hair) is center to the image, eyebrows furrowed. On his right hand side is Knives, a short Asian woman with a harsh black bob, and on his left is Ramona, a tall white woman with choppy green bob. Both Knives and Ramona have their fists raised in a fighter-stance, ready for a tussle.
I wouldn’t mind having these two as back up…

Anna

Rewatching Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was something I was quite excited for but also equally quite anxious to do. The last time I watched this film was about 10 years ago and being in my early teens, I remember loving it and constantly fanning over Ramona Flowers (I think almost all of us have been there). Having to look back on it after such a long time (and after my obsession with Michael Cera films has long gone), I was almost sad because I did not want to have to harshly critique a film that I once really loved. Equally, I also wanted to give it a fair review, untainted by nostalgia that always has the power to make something seem better than it actually is.

Sitting down to watch it, I quite enjoyed the flashy effects, Michael Cera’s awkwardness and all the coolness around Ramona. I laughed at the tropes of all the characters – particularly Anna Kendrick’s – that I had not noticed when I was younger. I also loved the quirky fight scenes which transformed the entire film into a live action video game. The little touches – such as Ramona speeding away on roller skates and melting the ice in front of her house – add fantasy elements to the film but it still keeps its real-life qualities alongside it.

However, just as I expected, there were some elements that ended up falling short. While the film was entertaining, it sometimes fell short on being engaging. The fight scenes leading up to the climax near the end of the film had me looking away, I don’t remember much about Battle of the Bands, and I don’t know why anyone didn’t call out Scott’s cheating a bit more. I also found the ending to be a bit sad, which I hadn’t noticed before. Scott ends up leaving his home and friends to go away somewhere with a girl he just met – after having a track record of commitment issues. On paper, it’s great that the two main characters have managed to work through everything and be together in the end. But looking deeper, it just seems a bit odd to me.

Ultimately, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World did manage to take me back in time to when I was younger, watching the film with my best friends and loving it. It has its own unique stylistic features and takes inspiration from comic books and video games in a fantastic and beautiful way. The soundtrack compliments the story wonderfully, its cinematography and mise-en-scène are strong in portraying who the characters are across to the audience. Stylistically, the film is unique and pulls off what it’s trying to do very well. Where it now falls short for me is in the plot – sometimes it gets too wacky and loses you a bit. Overall, I still loved the film and nostalgia wasn’t the reason why I did. However, growing up has allowed me to view Scott Pilgrim from a different perspective and has ultimately unearthed its low points.

A selection of 5 Scott Pilgrim vs The World characters' faces are arranged in a comic-book style screen splice, all facing forwards with wide eyes and open mouths, looking shocked and horrified
When you realise ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ was released over 10 years ago…

Wayne

I wasn’t wowed by Scott Pilgrim vs the World when I saw it on its original release. We all have baggage.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult comic hadn’t been on my radar, but I was a fan of the film’s director and co-writer Edgar Wright. Critics had loved it. I thought it was an okay couple of hours, and that was that.

A few years later I was haunting the two-for-one aisle of HMV like I did most lunchtimes. I’d picked up the comic-book adaptation Kick-Ass (long consigned to the charity shop pile), but I couldn’t find anything else. Spotting the Blu-ray version of Pilgrim, I thought why not? That’s when I began falling in love with it. But let’s rewind Scott vs Gideon Graves final battle style to that first encounter.

Like most of its characters, I thought the film was shallow. It tried too hard to be liked and cool and clever. The visuals, the manic editing, the text exploding across the screen… everything was so brash. It was such an assault on the senses I thought I’d explode into coins at any moment.  

Michael Cera’s one-note performance made Lucas Lee look like Olivier. The only character I rooted for was Knives. I still think she had a lucky escape and wouldn’t be surprised if Scott later dumped Ramona for his real soulmate, Nega Scott.

Now, after countless rewatches, I get why it’s one of the best comic book adaptations ever. I Am So Sad. I Am So Very Very Sad I couldn’t see the limited theatrical run marking the film’s tenth anniversary.

Closer to Wright’s sit-com Spaced aesthetically only with a bigger budget, I like how he runs riot. Energetic, audacious, the film skips genres, parodies tropes with a subtle wink to the camera, seamlessly integrates music and repeated viewing throws up new surprises.   

The visuals and sound FX are still absurd. There’s onscreen comic book text, split screens, an occasional voice-over, crazily choreographed, splash page slo-mo smack-downs; nods to classic computer games. It’s the sort of thing commonplace in countless movies these days, proving how far ahead of its time Pilgrim was. 

It’s still hard to take though (especially during the fight scenes) and is, perhaps, more suited to home viewing where you can pause, rewind and admire. The craziness for the sake of it sometimes still trips the film up. 

The flawed hero is a common cinematic cliché nowadays, but Scott was an unusual champion back in the 00s. Cera was a contentious choice but his, shall we say, distinctive style, no longer gets in the way of me enjoying the film’s heart.  

Look past its excesses and you’ll see Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a very different take on a classic coming-of-age story. But it’s one perfectly suited for its original audience whose lives were driven by computer games, music, films, TV, comics and the burgeoning internet. 

Some of the references haven’t aged well –  how many youngsters will recognise or appreciate the perfectly timed use of the Seinfeld theme? But it’s not enough to detract from the universal story of boy meets girl, falls in love and defeats her seven evil exes to discover self-worth. If you were there, you’ll love the nostalgia of it all. If you weren’t, you’ll love the 8-bit kitschness. A deserved cult classic.

You can currently watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on Netflix.

One reply on “rrramble retrospectives: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’”

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