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 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.
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 + 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.
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.
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.
In 2016, he spearheaded a complete rebuild of the GameCritics.com website, earning him the title of Chief Engineer.
His gaming interests are fairly eclectic, ranging from 2D platformers to old-school-style adventure games to RPGs to first-person shooters. So in other words, he’ll play pretty much anything.
Latest posts by Richard Naik (see all)
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- GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 155: Mankind United: An Intimate Evening with Richard and Corey - September 3, 2016