Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best video game film made to date. It is also one of the best film adaptations of a comic book series. This, of course, makes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a very important piece of cinema.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that most people reading this aren’t familiar with Scott Pilgrim, so here’s the crash course: Bryan Lee O’Malley, 31-year-old Canadian cartoonist and unabashed lover of video games, created the comic book series in 2004. Its six volumes tell the tale of titular hero Scott Pilgrim, bassist for the rock trio “Sex Bob-omb,” who must defeat the seven evil exes of his latest crush, Ramona Flowers. Scott Pilgrim is equal parts action beat ‘em up and romantic comedy, peppered with pop culture and glazed in video game- and music-loving geekitude.
So how is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a film version of a comic book series, the best video game movie to date? For starters, watching the film feels like watching a well-paced, clever video game that you don’t have to play. There are stages, boss fights, copious amounts of random coins and a level of surrealism inherent to most video games. I can just as easily imagine playing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as watching it (in fact, Ubisoft released a video game, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, in August over PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, though it’s more of a video game adaptation of the comic series, to which it is more true to than the film).
Both the film and the comic book series are bursting at the seams with Bryan O’Malley’s love for and appreciation of video games, with a veritable laundry list of references and nods to the classics. There’s music and sound effects from The Legend of Zelda. An announcer shouts “K-O!” whenever Scott clobbers one of the evil exes as though it were Street Fighter. At one point Scott even collects a one-up(an extra life in the video game world). And that’s just the obvious stuff. O’Malley’s true gamer geek status reveals itself in the names of the film’s fictional bands, which are all pay tribute to video games in some way. Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, is named after the bipedal explosives from Super Mario Bros. Crash and the Boys and the Clash at Demonhead are named after obscure games released for the NES and Genesis, respectively.
What keeps this swirling maelstrom of surrealism in check, as well as strangely believable in the context of the film, is its heart. The characters are so relatable and likeable that it overpowers any absurdity (like Scott leaping up and “air-juggling” the first evil ex for a 64-hit combo) from ever taking viewers out of the experience. O’Malley’s references and nods never feel ham-fisted, like a Call of Duty namedrop in a big budget action blockbuster, or the entire Doom film. Suffice to say, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World stands in stark contrast to one of Uwe Boll’s travesties.
But being a good movie in and of itself doesn’t make Scott Pilgrim important. What makes it important is being the most relevant example of media convergence since 1989’s The Wizard. Here we see video games, comics, music and film all working in harmony. Never once do any of Scott Pilgrim’s components feel clumsily tacked on; there’s no sign of any Frankenstein stitching. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a mainstream celebration of video game culture and its newfound place in the everyday world—including dating, which more often than not feels just like a series of video game levels ending with boss fights.
How Scott Pilgrim manages to be so many things at once seems almost impossible. As stated earlier, vs. the World is equal parts action beat ‘em up and romantic comedy. Take out the parts where Scott gets his fight on with the evil exes and you are left with a really good, character-driven comedic romance.
Take Scott Pilgrim, the character, for example. On the one hand, as the hero, he is hardly reminiscent of the typical video game or comic book protagonist. Nine out of ten times video game and comic book heroes are hyper-idealized, muscular men who stand for all that is right and good in the world. Sure, sometimes you get an abrasive personality thrown in the mix, but it’s almost always comically so, and only ever skin-deep. Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, is a gangly geek who is “between jobs” and sleeps in the same bed as his “cool gay roommate,” Wallace Wells. Pilgrim is slacker personified, an unintentional asshole, but an asshole nonetheless. He is caught in the awkward transition from adolescence to adulthood, and when you peel away all the comedy, action and evil ex layers, that is what lies at the core of Scott Pilgrim—a story about growing up and gaining some self-respect.
But even if you were to remove all that (which would be soul-crushing), you would still be left with a string of action sequences worthy of $10.50 and popcorn munching.
Fortunately, audiences get it all. And it’s that unlikely chemistry, such as when opposites attract, that defines Scott Pilgrim. Whatever spark holds it all together is what makes Scott Pilgrim unique, one of a kind and very much an important film. But most important of all, Scott Pilgrim does just as good a job of celebrating video games and geek culture as Friday Night Lights celebrates football culture. In fact, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is pretty much the video game culture’s Rudy.