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Why Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a bad movie

Richard Naik's picture

Scott Pilgrim vs The World Image

Normally my opinions on film don't go for longer than a paragraph or so. It's not that I don't care, as I can talk about movies for hours if given the opportunity. When it comes to actually sitting down and writing about them however, the words usually just aren't there. Then I watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

People who know me would probably think I'd love this movie. And if you were talking to my 18-year-old self, they'd probably be right. It's chock full of gaming references, campy action sequences, girls with blue hair, lots of stuff that the old me would have probably eaten up. That Richard is gone now though. Well, except for the blue hair thing. That's hot.

I expect some depth from my stories now, something on screen to stir an emotional reaction in me. Scott Pilgrim has none of that, even though it's supposedly composed of things that I love. Instead I saw wholly unlikable characters and a thin, unbelievable romance designed to rope people like 18-year-old Richard into thinking it's good.

Scott

Scott is the single biggest problem with the whole movie. Not only is Scott an unlikable douche throughout almost the whole film, Michael Cera's performance exemplifies his bad traits to the point where they're excruciating to watch. I don't hate Cera as much as some people I know, as his jittery teenager character works in a lot of instances (Arrested Development, Superbad, etc.), but here he's disastrously cast as a hero.

Making a character flawed or less than moral is fine-in fact it's great. But there's a big difference between being a lovable buffoon and a desperate jackass. Scott begins the movie dating a high school girl named Knives (who I'll talk about in more detail later) for the sole reason of getting over is previous girlfriend. Knives really cares about Scott, but it's clear that Scott is only using her as a trophy. So we establish at the very beginning that Scott is an insecure jerk, something that never truly changes.

Contrast this with a character like Jack Sparrow. Sure he's kind of an ass himself, and he's motivated by selfishness more often than not. He has actual redeeming qualities though. He's funny, and despite being a thieving pirate he's still likable because his gregariousness overshadows everything else. Scott has none of these things. Instead of being what most teenage/early 20s guys want to be, he's what they are.

The loser persona is never really alleviated, even after the final battle. He's still an annoying whelp even after he supposedly saves the day, and Cera's presence only makes it worse. I need to be able to relate to Scott, but almost everything he does is so cowardly and reprehensible that it's just impossible. He utterly fails as a main character.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World Image

Ramona

Ramona is the girl of Scott's dreams. Or so we're told. It's hard for me to tell since she spends most of the movie looking completely disinterested in everything around her, including Scott. I understand that her character is supposed to be somewhat cold and distant as a result of her past, but she never really comes out of her shell. Instead she's just a stone-faced, blue-haired sex object for Scott to pursue.

We're also never really given any sort of detailed information as to why she is the way she is. There are the animated snippets of her past with the evil exes and her cheap explanation of her infatuation with Gideon, but even then she still appears to be the same emotionless doll, only there to serve as angst material for the exes. This isn't a strong enough character to carry a lead role no matter how much ass she might kick.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World Image

Scott + Ramona = Loveless Romance

As a result of the things I list above, the relationship between Scott and Ramona is a load of crap. First, it's never really clear what Ramona sees in Scott. He clumsily hits on her and then concocts some strange scheme to get her to deliver something to his house. Despite all this, she goes from "go away" to "let's have sex right now" in a very short amount of time for no apparent reason. What is Scott doing that suddenly makes him so attractive?

On that note, I don't get why Ramona is so worth fighting for. She never returns Scott's affection in any meaningful way, so the only thing Scott can be fighting all the evil exes for is the chance to finally have sex with her. Even when it looks like Scott is about to be murdered she still doesn't seem to really care. Sex certainly can be a powerful motivating factor, but sex alone isn't interesting enough in the context of a story unless we're talking about a porno. Hell, this whole movie would've probably worked better as a porno.

Relationships are undoubtedly complex, consisting of lots of thoughts and feelings that don't always make sense. Sometimes it is possible to love someone (or think that you love someone) for no real reason at all. I'm not saying these things never happen. Nor am I saying that all romances need to be deep and meaningful—not every movie needs to be Lost In Translation. However, I need to understand the attraction between the two characters involved to at least a small extent. Seeing them grow on each other bit by bit over the course of the story makes the relationship believable. It's especially important when only a limited amount of time is devoted to said relationship. None of these things are in Scott Pilgrim, and the movie suffers terribly for it.

You earned the power of self-respect... I think

Scott's climactic moment of epiphany is supposed to be when he finally learns that he isn't fighting just for Ramona, but for himself. But let's step back for a second here. The first sword (the red one) is supposed to represent love, which Scott is finally ready to admit. Again, I don't know why Scott loves Ramona. She's never given any indication that she loves him back or that she even cares about him at all outside of a mild physical attraction.

Then there's the second sword that represents self-respect (the blue one), which Scott gets after he admits that he's fighting for himself and not Ramona. But let's step back for another second here. If Scott is acknowledging that he needs to be content with himself before pursuing Ramona, why is he still willing to fight for a loveless relationship? Outside of Ramona, what is his "beef" with Gideon? Wouldn't the self-respecting thing be to just walk away and not put himself through all of this for someone he doesn't really know that well? Someone does indeed learn self-respect in this movie, but it isn't Scott. Or Ramona. It's Knives.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World Image

Knives is the best thing in the movie

OK, there's probably a credible case to be made that Wallace (a great job by Kieran Culkin) is the best thing in the movie, but he's more of a comic relief provider than anything else. Knives on the other hand is the only person that seems to grow up in a movie that is supposedly about growing up.

At the beginning she's young and enthusiastic, tremendously excited to have her first boyfriend. She clearly has really strong feelings for Scott. Then Scott dumps her so he can chase after a doll, and we see her despair as she gets her heart broken for the first time. She then goes through the expected range of emotion that comes from such an event, going from sadness to jealousy and eventually to anger. She becomes a total badass on her own and tries to avenge herself—she has real motivation to use all those cool video game powers…or so she thinks.

See, at the end she's the one that has the epiphany and not Scott. She realizes that she doesn't need Scott to be happy and that he isn't worth obsessing over. That's called maturing. That's what Scott and Ramona are seemingly doing but actually aren't. Instead they're the same uninteresting hipster jerks we met two hours ago. Knives' arc isn't perfect by any means, as it's obscured by all the other crap going on, but it's the only actual character growth in the whole damn movie. In a world of shallow douchebags she is the one person I could actually relate to, and even root for.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World Image

Yes, this is a videogame movie, I get it

Scott Pilgrim's association with gaming (outside of the actual game of course) is apparent from the start. It's also woven in with all the subtlety of the t-shirt section at your local Hot Topic. The constant in-your-face game references come off as something that's absolutely desperate for geek cred rather than an homage to anyone's childhood. I'm guessing this is meant to cover up the fact that there isn't much of a story to tell here, which is a shame because the movie actually does a really good job of dressing everything up.

The idea of Scott Pilgrim is great. It's original and it's got loads of potential for fun action and characters. It's an extremely visually impressive film, which is saying something in an age where flashy effects are commonplace. I think Edgar Wright did a great job outside of the script. I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and the style from those films fits here. Scott Pilgrim tries to gloss over script deficiencies with pretty visual effects and slick cinematography, but at least it's good at that.

I really wanted to like this movie. Just because 18-year-old Richard is gone doesn't mean I don't remember him, so the idea of real people interacting in a game world is appealing to me. However, I just can't look past something this shallow anymore. Instead of being a story about growing up, Scott Pilgrim is a reminder that I've grown up.

Category Tags
Series: Scott Pilgrim  
Articles: Editorials  
Topic(s): Pop-culture  

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Agree with a lot of your points on Scott Pilgrim

I agree with a lot of your points. Including the one where I expected to enjoy it and didn't.

The thing is, Ramona could have been replaced with a sack of rice and the movie would still have played out the same way. Scott loves the rice, the rice appears wholly uninterested and the rice's exes come back to fight over the bag of rice.

Not a satisfying movie

Nice post Richard. Can't say I agree with everything you wrote as I count myself as someone who really enjoyed the movie (up until the end). I do agree with everything you said about Ramona and Knives though.

Scott Pilgrim fans might argue that the Ramona/Knives/Scott love triangle is better fleshed out in the comics/graphic novels leaving no doubt why the couple winds up together. And maybe that is the case.

But as someone who didn't read the comics and has no interest in doing so, I have to say that Scott Pilgrim vs the World's writer failed at his job. If the movie was written to push Scott towards Ramona then he didn't do a good enough job of telling us why.

Knives called Ramona a hipster chick and it was clear to me with every scene she was in, that this is what she was. What's the appeal in that?

Knives was the more interesting character when all was said and done. She not only looked different at the end, but she behaved differently. She was an adult at the end.

Scott going off with Ramona just looks like he chose to stay in a dream world, or stunted adolescence, presumably leaving Knives to go off and grow up on her own.

Not a very satisfying ending.

@Dale Yeah, exactly. The

@Dale

Yeah, exactly. The cornerstone of the whole movie is that Ramona is so perfect and wonderful that everyone she's ever been with is driven mad with their desire to be with her.

Why? We never see what's so special about her to inspire the kind of devotion it takes to form a cult around someone. She's just kind of....there.

It's no worse than the

It's no worse than the Ateam,Push or Air bender(condition hell, it would make a better 1-3,1-6 film series). Like most alt fiction(comic book like sci fi or fantasy) its rushed. Tho at least the fiction itself is not pissed on like Xmen and most comic fiction.

If anything its overly cliche and shallow kinda like most comic and or action films. Speaking of which Push was better.

All in all I enjoyed it but it could have been much worse and somewhat better, I really have no hope left for good to great alt fiction films as the drugs consumed to make them make the films pompous new fictional base as nauseating as dubbed anime/games is to me.

Better as a supplement to the comics

It's hard for me to be objective about this movie, since I read (and loved) the comics before it came out. The person I watched with hadn't, and when she pointed out all the bits of shallow characterization I realized that in almost every case I had simply failed to notice because I had filled in with knowledge from the comics.

That said, it was blindingly obvious even to me how unconvincing the Scott/Ramona relationship was. It was completely unearned in the film.

Naturally much of this is better in the comics (there is a lot more depth, especially for the side characters, the fights are much more clearly metaphors for dealing with a romantic partner's emotional baggage, and Scott really does grow up). But of course that doesn't excuse the film.

BEGIN SPOILERS HERE!
I find your summary of Knives's arc very interesting - especially because in the original ending of the film (viewable on the DVD) Scott ends up with Knives. The bit at the end where Knives tells Scott to go after Ramona doesn't happen - Ramona goes away and Scott apparently realizes Knives was the cool one all along. That bit - which was tacked on when the filmmakers found out how the comics end (the film was started before the comics were finished, which is probably why they diverge sharply after Todd Ingram's fight) is the only real evidence of Knives's 'epiphany'. Just as Scott's self-respect should have had him walking away from Gideon, Knives realizing she didn't need Scott should have had her not attacking Ramona. Everything she does at the end, she does because she's still into Scott - except for the sudden, forced 180 when she tells him to go after Ramona because he's been fighting for her this whole time - flying in the face of the moral immediately before where Scott has to learn to fight for himself.
END SPOILERS!

While I can't really see what the film is like standalone, it does seem to me that it doesn't really stand up on its own. As someone who's read the comics, though, I liked it a lot. But that is not a viable strategy. Imagine if they'd crammed Lord of the Rings into a single film, trusting viewers to fill in the gaps from having read the books.

@Doctor Professor I didn't

@Doctor Professor

I didn't see Knives as having her epiphany about not needing Scott until after she fights Ramona, which makes sense since she still wants revenge for Ramona stealing Scott. After she learns the truth Knives realizes that the whole thing wasn't worth so much heartache, and lets go of it.

That alt ending makes a lot more sense. I'm curious as to why they chose to change it.

Great Work, Rich. You Earned The Power of +1 New Reader

Fantastic bit of criticism, here. I was referred by Twitter and have also decided to retweet myself. Never heard of this site before now, but I will add it to my RSS feed. Good work. :)

You know what?

You know what? I love this movie to death and truly admire its attempt to balance romantic concerns and flashy staging, but you actually convinced me that when it comes to providing a worthwhile "goal" to Pilgrim's "quest", it is quite lacking. I believe the idiosyncrasies more than make up for it and I don't think it ruins the story half as much as you do, but I won't even try to argue against it. I'm just glad we agree about Knives' charming growth as a person.

From a long-time reader.

Why this review is flawed

The thing about this review is that you're right about a lot of things. Scott is a douche and Ramona is a shallow character without enough characterization to make the audience feel like she's a goal with going after. HOWEVER, with that having been said, the movie is tremendously fun to watch, has a very very well written script, great acting from all the evil exes, great music, great special effects, and a great style that has never been seen on the big screen before. So your super condescending review about how mature and smart you are makes YOU sound like the douche more than Scott ever did. Because obviously anyone who looked past the shallow plot to have a great, nostalgic movie experience must have mentally been a teenager right? Or perhaps those people just know how to have fun and your "maturing" has really been a "souring."

Oh and all the depth and maturity you're looking for is in the comic if you're interested.

You lost me at the Jack

You lost me at the Jack Sparrow comment.

So, thats the point: you missed the point... i think.

I cannot say, you failed in the goal to point out the lag of character and relation in this movie, but i don't see why this is a bad thing. Scott Pilgrim isnt a "development novel" (is this the word? in german it is "Entwicklungsroman") and I suppose it dont wanna be a "Wilhelm Meisters lehrjahre". And anyway it isnt most the time enough of a argument, to say a movie is bad cause his characters are unlikable. A lot of good movies have very unlikable characters and a distinct lag in relationships - cause thats not the way they work.
I would argue the movie is very aware of this point when he shows the possibility of this kind of narration; how we se it with knives. But the movie chose to make this a marginal theme and connects this storyline with the secondary character.

So, thats the point: you missed the point... i think.
I know, its easy to say something like that and dont explain, what i think the point should be. Im not this far - saw the movie yesterday and never read the book (or comic book). But i would say, scott Pilgrim is more about the construction of a net of pop-culture-references and there it works very well. The story appears first as a frame to build all this crazy stuff around and in the end - i would argue - the implausible relationship of Scott & Ramona, the insecure jerkiness of scott and stoical sack of riceness of Ramona take a worthy place in the whole funny, wanton and cynical picture.

Or how do you guys think about that?
Uh, and sorry for the bad english.

Hrmm...

If I hadn't seen Scott Pilgrim beforehand, this review would have given me the impression that it's a very serious movie. I'm not saying comedies don't deserve in-depth analysis and criticism. It's just that the ideas you seem to have the most problem with aren't really the focus of the movie. I don't think a strong emotional investment is necessary to enjoy it, and I'm not convinced that one was ever intended. The only sort of investment needed is a vague desire to want Scott to win. You thought Scott's negative qualities far out-weighed his good ones, I guess. I thought he was certainly a bit of a jerk but he was ultimately just a tender-hearted, goofy, oblivious goofus who is self-aware in all the wrong ways (Bread makes you fat!?!?).

My main issue with the movie was that they didn't spend more time developing Scott and Ramona's relationship, but it was hardly an issue because the tone of the movie was consistently light enough for it not to matter all that much. Scott's feelings for Ramona really don't need to be explained. Obviously, he's attracted to her and thinks she's "cool." The fact that he's willing to get beaten up so much for her suggests that his feelings are very real to him, even if they're not entirely explained to us. We don't have to relate to Scott's specific feelings for Ramona. This isn't Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The romance takes a distant back seat to the comedy, little of which you even touched on.

@V. Melloy V.Melloy wrote:

@V. Melloy

V.Melloy wrote:

And anyway it isnt most the time enough of a argument, to say a movie is bad cause his characters are unlikable. A lot of good movies have very unlikable characters and a distinct lag in relationships - cause thats not the way they work.

You're right in that lots of good movies don't have likable characters. However, we're not talking about something like Clockwork Orange or American Psycho here. We're talking about a pretty basic "guy fights to save girl" story. So here I think it's critical to have likable people and a believable relationship to keep things afloat. In this kind of story characterization is the baseline that holds everything together. This movie doesn't have that.

Thats why i dislike your ‚unlikable charakter’ argument

Perhaps it would be critical to have likable people in a basic "guy fights to save girl" story – although im not sure; I could image a very interesting storys aside this and im pretty sure something like that exists.
But in the case of Scott Pilgrim I’m pretty positive to say, the movie dont wanna be a "guy fights to save girl" story. Sure, perhaps it appears at the suface like that, cause the plot cites this typical constellation between a male and female main-character, but actually it works on another level. And this is hard to miss, cause Scott Pilgim realy screams: „Look how Im made!“ (instead of „Listen, what I have to tell.“)
In the case of Scott Pilgrim comes first the discours above the common "guy fights to save girl" histoire and on this level you can find a multitude of signs how work very well with each other. The heterogeneous conglomeration from any number of cultural references appears to build a echo chamber for everything whats happened in the movie. Only there, i would argue, you can discuss the value of the storyline from Scott Pilgrim.
Thats why I dislike your ‚unlikable charakter’ argument, cause your argument ignores the evidently fact, that Scott Pilgrim works in a frame of clever constructions above the storyline he used.

Thinking more about this discussion...

I stumbled across this blog, which had a tremendous discussion on the Scott Pilgrim movie. The original post is well thought out and the comments contribute greatly. Checker out.

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2010/08/scott-pilgrim-vs-world.html

The original film script had

The original film script had Scott end up with Knives, which would have made more sense according to how the movie played out (Knives helping Scott fight and all...). But the comic had him end up with Ramona (where it was Ramona who helped Scott fight Gideon PLUS so much more that she did). I guess the film writers did not want to completely change the story and earn hatred from fan-boys. Annyway since the film initially wanted to have Knives win Scott but changed their mind at the last minute, you are left with such disappointment as to How the Heck Ramona gets him since story was leading towards Knives. I'm sure they wuda given better reasons in the script had Ramona been their initial intent. Despite this last min change, they cuda still had Knives say "I don't want u anymore cuz u had been a bad boyfriend to me" rather than just "I am too ggood for u."

Frustrating and patronizing

So this movie is no worse than other remake and/or mediocre movies? Actually, I agree with that, but that said, this movie is fan-service that doesn't even do that well. The characters are wooden as hell, the story tips its hand early and feels tedious, the love interest has next to no personality (she's just cool), and the main character really isn't likeable in any way. I appreciate the action sequences and the game references, but the whole film begs the question "Why?" that never seems to leave the forefront of my mind. Granted, maybe I wanted too much for this to be a surprising, interesting, and original film, but it ended up mainly frustrating and gimmicky. It's bad enough where I even doubt the comics, and that's a really unfairly cynical position for me to take,since it made it from obscurity to stardom. Surely there was merit in the source, but it doesn't show up on screen despite a few cute stylistic affects that feel patronizing to the nerd in me. Wholly disappointing.

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