NOT SO LONG AGO IN THE MYSTERIOUS LAND OF NEW YORK, FELIX VASQUEZ JR. WROTE A SCOTT PILGRIM ARTICLE…
At this time I’m still trying to decide if I love or hate “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” for what it is. I am convinced years from now young kids will be declaring that Edgar Wright’s film is something of a cheer for their culture, a love letter to the nostalgia obsessed Canadian hipster society, but many will fail to realize or even admit that in reality this movie is a practical joke. Deep down while it looks like a celebration of our nostalgia obsessed technology based generation, Edgar Wright actually makes fun of people he purportedly appeals to with his 2010 action romance movie. While many have described it as a bright and colorful movie, it is actually the most cynical statement about our culture in years. Many won’t accept that or be willing to even admit it’s a possibility since Edgar Wright is a pop culture fanatic and has always hung around pop culture fanatics in his early years.
His friends and partners in crime Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Jessica Hynes are all folks who have an unabashed love for pop culture. “Spaced” the UK sitcom that is a beloved treasure among cult fans is without a doubt a pop culture orgy. Every single minute and line behind every episode has some kind of reference to a movie or video game. “Shaun of the Dead” was a horror comedy founded on the premise of famous zombie and demon films, and “Hot Fuzz” was a celebration of the action genre referencing cult action films like “Bad Boys 2,” and “Point Break,” so audiences will be quick to imagine that Edgar Wright is paying tribute to American pop culture.
But I can still remember sitting down to watch “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and after an hour watching it with my attention undivided I leaned back with a furrowed brow and thought “Wait a minute, he’s actually mocking the culture he’s spotlighting.” And while a lot of movie buffs have insisted the film is a testament to the power of love, I insist this film is a clear cut mockery of the modern culture of apathetic hipster video gaming pop culture obsessed nostalgia orgy youths whose every sense of individualism is just a pastiche of eighties culture that they pretend is their own personal stamp until called on it. “Scott Pilgrim” by Edgar Wright makes it pretty clear in its own subtle ways that this movie is actually one big “fuck you, loser” to the viewing audience.
The entire film is set up to feel like a romance comedy about the underdog winning the hot girl, but really Edgar Wright uses this entire platform as a way of pointing at the audience and laughing at them and questioning their ultimate goals in life.
And whether or not people will love or hate it for that depends on the final reaction from movie goers now that the movie is available for purchasing. Every aspect of the film is a flip of the bird to the movie watching audience, and Wright even manages to slip in some middle fingers to us who will laugh unaware he’s giving us the bird.
The movie mocks literally everything from Gamers, hipsters, anime, anime fans, vegans, rockers, rich kids, movie buffs, rock stars, apathy, celebrities, fan boys, fan girls, skaters, the internet, censorship (character Julie Powers drops the F bomb repeatedly, being bleeped, and the characters call attention to that), Bollywood, smug fan boys (character Comeau is heard in the background complaining how something wasn’t as good as the comic book and or movie, and or chucks a dumb one-line joke) and even homosexuality to a certain degree.
His statement on the latter is not homophobic but is more an explanation on how we’re so out of touch with our own identity something as very life changing as sleeping with the same sex is just a minor little quibble to us. What is a fate changing revelation that could make or break some people’s relationships with their family and friends is turned in to a minor impulse by Ramona Flowers who scoffs off the very notion of sleeping with Roxy Richter. In the same tangent of Wright’s evident mockery, I’m still trying to decide if there is at least one single sympathetic character in the entire show that is “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” Ramona Flowers can probably be the only true to herself character in the group of Canadian youths she hangs around but this is a character so disingenuous that she just loathes herself to a point where she runs away from home, and changes her hair color in every scene she re-appears in.
One could offer the possibility that Knives Chau is really the only genuine character due to her inability to bend to conformity until Scott Pilgrim gets entangled with Ramona and is not shy about her feelings concerning music and video games, but even then this is a character who has to literally conform to realize that being herself is much better, in the end. And you definitely can not tell me Scott Pilgrim is sympathetic. The man is so unlikable even his own sister completely avoids him, dismisses him when it’s clear he’s quite in love with Ramona, and there is no actual parental presence in the story. And by the end of the film even Knives Chau, who obsesses over Scott throughout the story, completely declares that she’s too good for him. Pilgrim is a man filled with insecurities and quirks and psychosis that turns him in to someone a normal person would completely hate.
He freaks out over every suspicion of revealing flaw, lies to himself and others about past relationships, and is quick to cover his head whenever anyone notices his shaggy hair. Most of his dialogue at the beginning of the movie consists of this series of Scott manipulating and undermining Knives as she endures it and sticks to her dreamy view of Scott during conversations that are comprised of:
Knives: Here’s my opinion.
Scott: That’s dumb.
Knives: I think this.
Scott: That’s dumb, think this.
Knives: I like this.
Scott: Like this instead.
Stephen Stills is a very underrated character if only because while he is one of the many characters who lacks any real sympathetic qualities, he is very honest about his insecurities and seems to embrace his nervousness and anxiety which in a sense helps him on stage when performing with Sex Bob-omb. Stills holds the group together and is a great singer and guitarist, he’s just too inept to be taken at all seriously. And as for Kim Pines, she doesn’t even want to be there half of the time. The entire time Wright holds these characters under a microscope and every so gently asks the audience “Do these people have actual problems?” I mean wouldn’t anyone kill to have these “problems” where your troubles boil down to “Oh my god, my hair is getting long!” or “Bread makes you fat?!” Sadly enough there are people out there whose entire day revolves around these “problems” while the rest of the world is relatively non-existent. The only really interesting character you can say is truly human is Ramona Flowers.
Many of the critiques I read online was that she was barely interesting to be a dream girl, but that’s basically the point. This is a woman who has led a life filled with exes, and has admitted to being about as cruel as a human being can be. But when Scott Pilgrim meets eyes with her he is in love for the simple fact that she’s not impressed by him, and she actually has to learn to like him and see through his inanity. He can’t woo her with video game knowledge, all of his jokes fail to make her laugh, and she can barely stand to be around him when she delivers his mystery package to him the fateful Monday morning, but she is the best thing to happen to him because she is able to cut through his flaws and turn Scott in to something resembling a human being, while she is able to confront the misdeeds of her past that she ran away from and own up to them, while also presenting something of a backbone by atoning for her sins.
On the flipside, Ramona is Scott. She’s had exes aplenty, all of which were horrible break-ups but unlike Scott she’s hot and has some sense of remorse for her cruelty. We learn in the climax that she was also a jilted ex who hurt a lot of people almost as a way of getting back at G-Man, and she is given some extenuating circumstances for hurting her exes where as Scott really doesn’t even try to atone for his break ups until Ramona insists Scott should. This gives him the power of self-respect and the 1-Up. And his ultimate confrontation with Nega-Scott is the big finisher that could decide if Scott has the potential to grow as a person or become yet another evil ex.
Throughout the story confronting Ramona’s evil exes, Scott is also always on the brink of becoming an evil ex, and by the time the climax rolls around where in Scott confronts G-Man at the Chaos Theater, Scott has already become an evil ex fighting another evil ex for Ramona’s heart. The only difference is his ultimate transformation from a man fighting for love (like the evil exes), and a man fighting to fulfill himself whether he gets the girl or not. Scott goes through exes like we go through 8-bit video games with one boss after another and the coin count growing larger and larger. The next to last boss are the Katayanagi Twins (The Katayanagi Twins are one big ode to Double Dragon, by the way) who prove to be the most impossible exes alive because of their combined power, and it takes Sex Bob-omb to defeat a foe Scott could never have.
Without them he could never have succeeded with his journey to romance Ramona, and he never actually thanks them or appreciates their efforts. When the chips are down and it’s time to split allegiances, Scott has a bit of a wake up call when he refuses to sign the record contract and learns that not only are his two only friends Stephen and Kim willing to abandon him to seek their fortune, but Young Neil really isn’t as dumb as Scott always thought he was revealing to be someone who was waiting in the wings learning how to play bass infinitely better than Scott, and signs the contract without even flinching. This when Scott manages to learn that he really alone and hasn’t earned the love or respect of anyone around him. Even Knives only fights for him based around the idea of love and not out of true love, and then in the finale expresses her honesty to Scott that she’s really too cool for him. And she’s right.
There really is no point in showing his big battle with Nega-Scott since Scott has already conquered his inner demons and insecurities not to mention has done something selfless for once and given all of his friends a leave of duty. Scott has learned to embrace his flaws and he befriends Nega-Scott rather than trying to defeat what will remain with him for the years to come. No matter where Scott ventures, he will always be an insecure lump, but his power of Ramona’s love and individuality may just save him. Or maybe she won’t. While there is a fulfilling message to be had with “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” it’s not as sugary sweet as you’d think. It’s not a story about the power of love, in all actuality it’s a spoof and open mockery of the modern youth’s perception of love and how little it matters in the scheme of the world outside their own mission to just indulge themselves in superficial needs and pointless luxuries that don’t make them better.
It only really turns them in to cold unfeeling individuals incapable of relating to actual society and no one in the film no matter how deep down and emotional they get, are never actually connected to our world. They’re instead just their own island who will never grow in to complex people. Their morals and ideals are based around video games, their affections are measured in 8-bit on the nose diagrams, and their entire personality and moral compass is centered on their knowledge of pop culture and what they slip out in the middle of a conversation without every being caught or called on their shit. It takes Ramona to make Scott realize how much of a moron he really is and how lecherous a human being he’s been to everyone around him and for better or for worse, she and Knives manage to change him and open his eyes up to a world that’s much more complex and third dimensional, hence the door in the finale.
By the end of the movie, “Scott Pilgrim” has a complete redo of a climax where our one truly spineless character finally works outside the realm of his own selfishness and pulls a Donnie Darko. He has had enough and has seen his world for the shallow mud puddle that it is making a sacrifice and telling every single person in his life that they’d really be better off without him in their lives. And no one really bothers to resist his wishes, because deep down they know Scott really doesn’t contribute anything to them. Now many have asked that though I am convinced the movie is one of the most cynical statements about our tech obsessed youth, did I actually like the movie?
And the short answer is yes.
The long answer is I actually loved it and it’s without a doubt one of the best movies of 2010 for the simple fact that I expected Wright to completely bow to the culture we’re embroiled in when in reality he thumbs his nose at them and defies any expectations in a traditional video game oriented romance comedy. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is further proof that Wright is always one step ahead of his audience, and is completely ahead of his time. I think Universal asked Wright to just create a high octane version of the original graphic novels and somewhere down the road Wright completely undermined them by creating a movie that is just a satire of this culture that we celebrate every single day.
Believe “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a pat on the back for your world by Wright, youth of America (or Canada), but I am convinced that pat in the back by Mr. Wright has a “Kick Me” sign attached to it. And for that I’ll be an eternal fan of that mad Brit.