Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

written by David Steffen

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World may be one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s based on a comic book which I’ve never read (though I now intend to). Whether you like it or not depends almost entirely on whether you like your movies with a heavy dose of weird. For me, I like when a director dares to stray from Hollywood formulas and actually has the guts to try something different, even if the results aren’t spectacular. In this case, the results ARE spectacular, at least to my tastes. It’s a movie that will probably get love or hate reactions depending on if it hits your sense of humor. Some, but nowhere near all, of the humor is targeted toward video game and graphic novel aficionados such as myself. If you’re in that group, you’ll get a few more of the jokes, but if you’re not there is still plenty of humor for you, and video game knowledge is never vital for understanding the movie. I’m not going to hold my breath for it to win an Oscar, as I’ve lost all faith in the Academy’s willingness to consider awesome speculative fiction movies, or any movies that don’t fit its own cookie cutter shape (different than the blockbuster cookie cutter, but still a cookie cutte). But for a fun movie, especially if you’re squarely in the center of the target demographic like I am, it’s a huge hit, and is now on my short list of favorite movies. This will most definitely be on my Christmas list.


As the movie starts, the setting seems to be relatively mundane, and it stays that way for quite a while despite the strange and neurotic characters that populate it. Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old layabout with a garage band called Sex Bobomb (there’s one of those video game in-jokes). He has a 17-year old girlfriend in high school, pretty much as innocent as they come–they’ve been dating for weeks and they haven’t quite worked their way up to hold hands. Oddly, her name is Knives Chau. Despite this rather familiar setting, there are plenty of odd things about it, such as the fact that Scott sleeps in the same bed with his gay roommate (Scott himself is not gay). His roommate is played by Kieran Culkin, in the first acting role as an adult that I have seen him in. Yup, he still looks exactly like Macaulay Culkin but with dark hair, and his slightly creepy boyish looks just add to the comedy of his character. The relationships between the characters are weird and often dysfunctional, and played just the right way to keep the humor rolling as the plot continues.

From the beginning there are some strange visual effects, most of them evoking a comic book feel. Most sound effects are accompanied by a written sound effect somewhere on the screen. The doorbell is associated with a “Ding Dong!” popping up on the wall, and the phone is accompanied by a “Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing”. It’s a fun effect and they never overplayed its effect.

Throughout the movie, Scott has a series of weird dreams, most of them revolving around a mystery girl who he has never seen in real life. Until he runs into her at a party in all her pink haired goggled glory, she introduces herself as Ramona Flowers. He becomes immediately infatuated with her, and starts trying to start a relationship with her (without telling Knives). Meanwhile, Sex Bobomb enrolls in a local Battle of the Bands competition and it’s at the first round of that competition that the real premise of the movie really takes off. At the competition, Scott is attacked by one of Ramona’s exes. He is, in fact, part of the League of Evil Exes, an organization of her disgruntled exes dedicating itself to intercepting any of Ramona’s future love interests. To win the right to date her, Scott has to defeat all seven of her exes, each of them stranger than the last.

There are quite a few fairly well known actors in the movie, including Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death, The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Push), Michael Cera in the title role (Arrested Development, Superbad, Youth in Revolt), and one big guest star but the movie doesn’t just try to ride their popularity. In fact, the roles and lines are often so absurd that it’s extra fun because these guys do not take themselves too seriously.

The fight scenes are what makes the movie really unique. Each one is different from the others, and most of them evoke a sort of Anime fight feel. They’re not even slightly realistic, with each of the exes tending to have some kind of improbable superhero-like power, and the effects showing these off are vibrant, even while the banter and stupid lines are hilarious.

My Views

I was pretty certain I would like it from the moment the Universal logo came on the screen in 8-bit color and graphics (picture the original NES circa 1985). And then recognizable Legend of Zelda theme music within the first few minutes.

Long story short: I loved it. If you like special effects, video games or comics, absurd humor, or if you just like movies that take the path less traveled, give this movie a try. Even before the fight scenes the special effects are great, and they just get better and better as the movie goes on. One of the greatest things is that I only saw one preview before the movie came out so I had little idea what to expect–too many times I have to shut my eyes when I keep seeing trailers because they keep giving away important details. Whenever there’s not action, there’s comedy, and there were some scenes that were so funny I had to laugh into my hand to keep from drowning out the movie with my guffaws. Great stuff!

One of the greatest parts is that the writers/director are aware of all the movie/game/comic cliches and they played them off very well for comedy effect. For instance, before they go to the opening competition of the Battle of the Bands, Scott gets an email from the first evil ex, telling him of the upcoming fight to the death. Scott reads it aloud for the audience, and we’re absorbing the information with a grin and wide eyes until Scott groans and deletes the email before finishing it before it’s so fatally boring. We’re expecting this to be the vital info-dump explaining the premise of the movie and it just gets cut off in the middle. So when the ex shows up, he has to re-explain everything from scratch, exasperated that Scott has such poor etiquette to not even read it.

All in all, I’d highly recommend it if you like a good laugh, if you like special effects or supernatural fight scenes, or if you just like a movie that doesn’t come from the Hollywood movie templates. Go see it in theatres while you still can–the special effects make it worth it.


Not too many spoilers here, there were just one spoilerific thing I wanted to mention that particularly tickled me. Near the end of the movie, after he defeats all of the exes, Scott meets a shadow-version of himself. This is an old, old video game trope, the shadow self adversary. It’s always a grueling battle because your enemy has the exact same weaknesses and strengths as you. So when the shadow Scott shows up, I was mentally rubbing my hands together with glee. Ramona and Knives offer to join in the fight but he tells them this is one for him alone. They leave him alone to fight, cut scene, and the two Scott show up a while later after they’ve stopped at a waffle house (foregoing the fight entirely). “We really have a lot in common,” Scott says. Loved it. 🙂