The 2010 Edgar Wright film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is currently streaming on Netflix.
By Nathan Kamal | Published
Comic book movies have always been part of Hollywood, from the early days of Batman serials in the 1930s to the current cultural dominance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, one of the best comic book adaptations ever made has never quite gotten its due: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which is currently streaming on Netflix. Director Edgar Wright’s 2010 adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels flopped at the box office when it was first released, but it slowly gaining stronger support for one of the most ingenious examples of its genre as it gets a second life online.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World stars Michael Cera as the title character, an indecisive and socially awkward 22-year-old bassist in Toronto. The movie was released at the height of Cera’s appeal as a lead actor, following a series of romantic films like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Paper Hearts, and Youth in Revolt. Unlike those movies, however, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World twists Cera’s then-lovable, shy-boy image, revealing how much toxicity and narcissism can lie under it.
However, Scott Pilgrim is not the villain of the movie. That would be the seven evil exes of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the frequently hair-changing sardonic cool girl of Scott’s dreams. To complicate things, Scott Pilgrim is already dating a high-schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), despite the disapproval of nearly everyone in his life. To cap it all off, his band Sex Bob-Omb is not doing so great in the Toronto music scene.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was Edgar Wright’s fourth feature film, just coming off the breakout successes of his zombie movie Shaun of the Dead and his cop action film Hot Fuzz. Both films played with the conventions of their very specific genres, subverting and paying homage to them in equal measure; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does exactly the same with the tropes of both comic books and video games.
While Scott Pilgrim vs. the World grossed only $49 million off an $85 million budget, it was immediately praised for its innovative visuals and editing. The film makes much use of the visual elements of comic books (like a pow! appearing in the air as someone is punched) as well as video games, with enemies exploding into coins upon being defeated or a Mortal Kombat-style narrator describing the actions of the fighters.
But Scott Pilgrim vs. the World never drifts into the potentially fatal waters of meta-awareness; it does not call itself out ad nauseam, Rick and Morty-style, or make snide jokes about its source material, such as Joss Whedon might. Instead, it simply exists in a highly stylized world in which it is not unusual for a scrawny indie musician to wield a flaming sword or Amazon delivery agents to skate through your mind as a shortcut.
In short, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World fuses the mediums of film, comic books, and video games in a way that no one has even come close to since. It might have failed at the box office, but filmmakers (and audiences) could learn a lot from it.
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