Robot 6

Scott Pilgrim vs. the snarky movie review

The Scott Pilgrim cast

The Scott Pilgrim cast

I always find it difficult to critique a film when I’m a fan of the source material. Playing the continual game of compare and contrast in my head tends to leave me a bit muddled. Am I appreciating the film on its own merits or do I just like it because it’s a spin-off of something I’ve really, really like a whole lot? Am I griping about it because it’s legitimately flawed or because it doesn’t match up with the perfect movie version I’ve been playing in my head for months on end? Are my criticisms fair and balanced or sloppily biased? Am I just playing yet another round of “Well, it’s not how I would have done it”? Obviously any review is subjective, but am I being subjective in a totally objective way? ‘Tis a puzzlement.

So I’m not sure what to say about the new Scott Pilgrim Vs the World film, which I happened to catch a preview of at my local cinema center last week. I liked it; it’s peppy and entertaining and, at least on a surface level, extremely faithful to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work. Yet I’d be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t have flaws — flaws that, depending upon what drew you to the graphic novels, may sink the movie for you.

Spoilers await after the jump.

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As you might expect with a comic series that spans six volumes and more than 1,500 pages, a bit of compression is needed to make the film fit its hour and a half running time. What’s impressive is just how much director Edgar Wright and company were able to contain. All seven evil-ex battles are here, as is a good chunk of author Bryan Lee O’Malley’s dialogue — about 90 percent, by my account, seems to be taken verbatim from the books, though switched around to different speakers occasionally.

With all that compression, though, it’s natural for things to get left out. The fight sequences are the main ingredients here, to the point where many of the supporting characters are relegated to snappy-sidekick status. That’s not so much of a problem for someone like roommate Wallace Wells, but it hurts much of the rest of the cast, especially the female half, like Kim Pine, who is reduced to becoming a snappy, snark-pouting machine. No one gets off worse than Envy Adams, though, whose cartoonish, one-note bitchiness makes you wonder what Scott ever saw in her in the first place, or vice-versa. Whereas the books suggested that everyone — even Young Neil — had a life apart from Scott, the movie decidedly doesn’t. Here, Scott is the sun around which all other planets revolve.

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That’s kind of a problem, since one of the big themes in the series (as I interpret it anyway) involves Scott realizing that the world does not in fact revolve around him. Scott is charming, but he can be callous and selfish in his treatment of his friends and lovers, a fact which O’Malley often underscores by focusing on other characters’ back stories, Kim’s in particular. As the series progresses, Scott’s cluelessness becomes less enduring and more irritating, as it should. In the movie version, though, why should the audience care what Kim does in her spare time? She’s not Scott Pilgrim, the hero of the movie.

The only character who seems to be raised above minor supporting status (except for Ramona, of course) would be Knives Chau. Indeed, her character arc is changed somewhat so that she morphs from weepy, clingy, naive teen into a sincerely possible contender for Scott’s affections. By the end of the film, as the pair were actively whomping on the film’s “big boss,” I wasn’t sure if Knives was going to end up with Scott after all, and I wasn’t sure whether I minded if she did.

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And that’s another problem with the film. Since the focus in on Scott and his battles against the evil exes, the relationship between Ramona and him, speeded up from a year to about a month or so, suffers a bit as well. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Ramona as so mysterious and aloof that we’re never quite sure what she sees in Scott or whether she’s worth all the attention. Most of their scenes together involve engaging in annoyed banter that makes explicit the things that O’Malley left lying under the surface. Again, it’s necessary, given the film’s running time, but I felt like I never got the chance to see them actually be a couple.

Wright goes to great pains to ensure that the look and feel of the film mimics the original material, if not literally then at least in as much spirit as humanly possible. Sound effects explode in the sky like an episode of the Adam West Batman show. The screen is divided into “panels” to mimic actual comics as frequently as possible. Video game references — life bars, power-ups, basso voices intoning “fight” — abound. And indie rock blasts from the speakers at every opportunity (the soundtrack is one of the best things about the movie). Even those sequences where the movie deviates from the printed material (the Todd Ingram fight, the last one-third of the film) are given, at great pains, the same carefree, pop culture mash-up spirit that O’Malley’s work so clearly inspired. (The one possible exception may be the battle with Roxy Richter, but I’ll let Jog describe that sequence for you.)

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My earlier comments aside, the cast does a decent job with the material. Michael Cera makes for a better Pilgrim than I think many pundits, myself included, had initially expected, though he lacks the wide-eyed exuberance of comic-book Scott. The standouts, though, tend to be the evil exes, particularly a hammy Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, and Jason Schwartzman as an insufferably smug Gideon Graves.

What Scott Pilgrim ultimately amounts to, however, is a run-of-the-mill Hollywood romance, the kind that Michael Cera usually stars in, albeit one with lots of fourth-wall breaking, great music and sly references to dated bits of pop culture.

But that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Despite my long list of complaints, I can’t say that I hated the Scott Pilgrim movie. In fact, for the most part I enjoyed it. For all its faults it remains an engaging, entertaining piece of cinema that, while missing some of the elements that are central to the comic for me, is clever, entertaining, funny and gosh-darned speedy enough to not make me mind, beyond pointing it out in an overlong movie review like this one. Wright’s film is much shallower than what spawned it, but when is that not the case?

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16 Comments

I really really liked the movie. Then again, I never read the books.

Reading the source material often makes the movie harder to watch. It’s tough to seperate the two mediums, to like the movie for what it is and like the comic for what it is. I don’t know. Opinions differ but I’d say most of the reviewers problems with the movie is his inablity to seperate the two enough. I see his points, and they’re good points, I just can’t see how a single movie could possibly include all these other things and then to fault the movie for it.

I quite enjoyed the movie but had some problems with it as well. Most of my problems were due to the necessary compression of the story to make it all fit in a single movie. I appreciated the development of Knives though, something I felt disappeared as the comic series progressed.

I think a film adaptation serves as a “Reader’s Digest ” version, and if people enjoy it, they should seek out the source material and read it.

I’ve done this with several novels that films were based on, and in my experience it’s easier to enjoy them as separate entities no matter how different, when you see the film first rather than the other way around.

I think this is because when you read the book first, all you can think of while watching the film is how much they left out.

Having sat a few seats away from Chris (and Jog) during the movie, I was curious to see what his take would be. I’m glad to see we agreed on the good things and were…concerned…with some of the lesser parts of the movie.

My only real complaint was the casting of Michael Cera. Don’t get me wrong, I like his special brand of awkward innocence. For some reason though, he just felt…wrong…throughout most of the movie. In fact, the first few minutes completely threw me off to the point of wishing someone, ANYONE, else was on screen instead of him. The quirkiness grew on me in the end. And the supporting cast was pretty darn cool too.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the flick. Maybe it’s because I haven’t reread any of the books since they were first released. Maybe it’s because my head is so mashed with pop culture artifacts that the smaller details, like character relationships and faithfulness to the printed version, alluded me. Maybe it was my crow-like ability to be distracted by shiny objects (in this case the AMAZING soundtrack and funny references).

Whatever it was, if you go into the movie with no preconceptions of “this better live up to the books” you should completely enjoy the experience. After all, it is just a movie.

And, for the record, Stephen Stills is the best character on screen.

Wait, Stephen Stills is in this? Please, do tell!

I’ve not read the books, at least not yet, so if there’s some significance to Stills showing up it’s lost on me. I think it’s cool though, as I’ve been a longtime Stills fan.

Shaun — Stephen Stills is the name of one of the characters in the series/film. It’s not THE Stephen Stills.

I haven’t read the books yet, so I’ll be judging the film on its own merits.

Can someone please tell me how the movie ends?? Heard it has a different ending from the GN.

I will see the movie (or attempt to). While I have only read volume 1, I’m not about to wail and gnash the teeth over changes made in the transition from source material to the film. It happens in every case. Hell, I _expect_ to see differences or elements dropped from the source material.

Unless someone has a bright, brilliant idea on how to adapt a six-volume comic into the space of a two hour film, well…the changes gotta come. ‘Tis the nature of the beast. If you can do it, well, you must belong in the sainthood of screenwriters.

So long as they get the essence that made the original material work, no problem.

I will make sure that my reading of volume 1 will spoil my viewing of the film. Who knows–I might even think the film is a gosh-darned, honest-to-goodness train wreck. But I’ll choose to see the film on its own terms, not on a mental checklist of elements present in the comics. That way….simply doesn’t work.

But hey, that’s just me.

Going from one form of media to another always muddles up the end product. There are so many things that you can’t do in movies that you can do in books/comics.
There is the time issue, the “how the hell are we going to do that on film?” issue, etc.
As long as it stays relatively close to the source material without being a carbon copy with no personality for its own, I am fine with it.

I enjoyed the movie, maybe even more than the comic, which I thought was just okay. Knives was so much hotter than Ramona, though, that it made Scott’s interest in Ramona a little less believable.

Imagine of it was a movie series? That would have been awesome. Like, Harry Potter for hipsters.

Can’t wait to see it. I’m a Scott fan, AND a Wright fan, so I think I’ll enjoy it a lot.

Capper sez…
“Knives was so much hotter than Ramona, though, that it made Scott’s interest in Ramona a little less believable.”

A “little less believable”?
How about “not plausable”?
Hopefully, reading the graphic novels will clear it up (Saw the film, haven’t read the books…yet.) because the movie sure doesn’t!

As I watched the movie, I was thoroughly amazed at how good the movie was. All the quirks, cinematography, video game references, fight scenes, etc. After just recently finishing the novel, I understand this critics’ review and has qualms with the fact the movie left out Scott Pilgrim’s realization of a world around him. However; I don’t see that as the main hit against the movie. I completely understand due to the length of time, focusing on Scott Pilgrim’s life was a necessity. I have no problem in the slight changes of the story, the removal of back stories and specific characters, but as a movie that is ultimately based on a relationship between two people, the on-screen chemistry wasn’t there. This fact is what I feel the film missed out the most, even without reading the novel. There was nothing that hinted at something deeper between the two main characters. The characters never entered a stage where they felt comfortable around each other accepting each others quirks, making the whole romance thing seem like an after thought. Personally, I feel this one factor prevents the movie from being a absolutely outstanding film appealing to a wider audience, rendering it to be just as a great movie for those enjoying nostalgia from their childhood (and pretty cool fight scenes).

I pretty much agree with Chris on this. I didn’t hate the movie, in fact I quite enjoyed some parts but the fundamental problem I had with it was the casting of Michael Cera. He’s just not Scott Pilgrim. and I couldn’t bring myself to care for his interpretation of Scott no matter how I tried. The movie belonged to it’s supporting cast and it’s a shame because the Scott from the books is a genuinely likeable (if flawed) character and is undoubtably the star of the show. but there I go comparing the movie to the book which is unfair.

but how about this. Scott Pilgrim just doesn’t work as movie, it worked brilliantly as a serialised comic book but as movie? no. not for me anyway.

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