So. They got this ‘Scott Pilgrim’ in cinemas now, huh?
First, the pull-quote: Edgar Wright crafts a lavishly faithful adaptation and tribute to O’Malley’s seminal comics series, with a beautifully original graphic style. Okay. Stick that on your poster and smoke it.
The thing is, what I think Wright actually made was a tribute to his Scott Pilgrim. Which is not necessarily your Scott Pilgrim and, relevantly, isn’t my Scott Pilgrim.
What’s so great about Scott Pilgrim, the six-piece comic, is that it’s a multi-faceted work, with different hooks and points of entry for pretty much everyone. It’s a comedy, it’s a heartwrenching romance, it’s a study of the modern hipster-slacker lifestyle, it’s a formal experiment. It’s all about Scott & Ramona. It’s all about Young Neil. It’s all about Kim Pine. (Oh, it’s definitely all about Kim Pine.)
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim is certainly not all about Kim Pine. In the necessary shuffling around and condensation, she gets pushed aside and barely features. None of which hurts the story, and it’s just the entitled fanboy in me expecting a carbon copy of everything I love.
Except it changes the point.
By pushing out Kim and Envy, the reflection of Scott’s exes with Ramona’s (and the question of who exactly is the evil ex in a relationship) is lost. The story as a meditation on dealing with your past and with your partner’s doesn’t exist. Instead, the film draws a thematic line between the the Knives/Scott/Ramona/Gideon relationships. It focuses instead on the idea of power structures in relationships, and hierarchies of who gets to treat who like crap.
Maybe because it suits a single, under-two-hours version of the story better; maybe because that’s what the story is about about for Edgar Wright. Whatever. I’m honestly not sure if, ignore my own baggage of expectations and bias, if it stands alone better.
It’s a valid version of the story, definitely, but I’d argue it renders the other six evil exes more or less pointless, except as flashy misdirection. And the film kind of seems to agree, speeding through everything between the two relationships. That’s at the cost of the lethargic, organic pace of the comics, where their serialised nature allows for the weird stuff to just wash over you and happen.
Scenes chop into one another, mid-conversation
And suddenly you’re in a desert but that doesn’t really make much sense except because it has to happen
Because that’s what happens. There are chapter breaks which look lovely (as does pretty much the entire film – if nothing else, SPvTW is a stylistic triumph) but don’t really serve any purpose. Stuff gets thrown in as a tribute, or because it’s funny, but without explanation within the film itself.
I have to admit that I couldn’t help but watch this film as an adaptation, though, and thus fall into a trap. A pit filled with deadly spikes.
…And like any good boss fight, the second time round, you know what’s coming.
Seeing it again in almost identical conditions*, with all the expectations out of the way, it was easier to see the truth of the film. Around 80% of it is spot-on in every single detail; 10% is stuff with a weird relationship to the comic – dropping, altering or inexplicably including something – and 10% is, honestly, just a bit off.
The complaints stand: it’s still not funny enough, really, to pull off the extremities of style and dialogue it attempts. The jokes that worked last time, though, are still funny, which I hadn’t expected; the jokes from the comics, mostly, still don’t. The pacing is a bit jumpy, and wasn’t just me thinking oh, this bit’s missing. The smooth fades of comic vocabulary don’t translate into cinema. There’s not really enough time to buy into the relationships: I couldn’t help but warm more to Scott/Knives than Scott/Ramona.
The hits that it lands are truly triumphant, though. The thing that struck me most second time was the music. It’s brilliant, and brilliantly used, and Edgar Wright’s description of the film as a musical with punches rings really true.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that work bests – often, works perfectly – when it forgets it is a film about the Scott Pilgrim comics. With slightly reworked relationships, new ideas and a different message, it takes flight. There’s a whole new focus on what it means to be the ‘nice’ one in a relationship means, and whether wanting something ‘simple’ is actually healthy in the film which I’ve never seen anywhere else, which is a fascinating intepretation of both Scott Pilgrim and an original use of the rom-com form.
It’s like – to borrow the Scott Pilgrim worldview – one of Punch-Out!!‘s opponent boxers: a strong fighter, with an unmistakably exaggerated character. Unfortunately, it also comes with a large, flashing weakpoint. Attack for massive damage…
*Same cinema, similar time of day, rushing out of the cinema to catch a train South to the girlfriend, for those of you keeping count at home.