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Why It Works: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

While I'm sure we'd all like to see what an Edgar Wright-directed ANT-MAN would have looked like, the selfish part of me was a little relieved when he left the film. Edgar Wright is one of those directors I want to see buried in passion projects rather than working for a massive studio, even if it's for a project he's excited about. Since we sadly have to wait until next year to see Wright's upcoming BABY DRIVER, I thought it would be a good time to look at SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, the director's most ambitious film to date. Based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's acclaimed graphic novel series, SCOTT PILGRIM is a meditation on heartbreak, self-respect, and entering into adulthood... which also happens to be set in a video game world where extra lives are possible, subspace highways run through people's heads, and music is a weapon. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

"No so long ago, in the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada, Scott Pilgrim was dating a high schooler." In the opening scenes of the film, we learn that Scott Pilgrim's relationship with 17 year-old Knives Chau may be more self-serving than sincere. Scott had his heart broken over a year ago and is finding relief in dating someone uncomplicated. We quickly learn that Scott still feels lost and alone, only coming back to life upon meeting Ramona Flowers, with whom he also begins a relationship. Normally, movies take time to show us all the good guy qualities of a protagonist before letting us see his dark side, but SCOTT PILGRIM does things a little differently. For one, in introducing us to Scott warts and all, we never feel betrayed by the character, as his flaws never go far beyond the two-timing. Also, while the poor Knives is head over heels, we as an audience see the relationship is terribly innocent- this isn't a Woody Allen movie, people. Most importantly, we've all been where Scott is at the beginning of the film: heartbroken and unwilling to look life in the face, dreaming of that perfect thing that will change everything and letting ourselves skate by in the meantime.

"We needed an actor audiences will still follow even when the character is being a bit of an ass." - Edgar Wright

For Scott, that perfect thing is literally the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, who also has a past and is hesitant to start a relationship as a result. For a movie with pixel hammers, vegan powers, and a pee bar, SCOTT PILGRIM's leads are well-defined, empathetic, and interesting. The rest of the characters are less dimensional, but that's surely a good thing, as it keeps the revolving door of fantastic cameos fun and simple. The girlfriends and Sex Bob-Omb are constant throughout the movie, and Scott's cool, gay roommate Wallace, played brilliantly by Kieran Culkin, drops in regularly to offer sagely advice and one-liners. Beyond the mainstays, Anna Kendrick is Scott's motor-mouthed sister Stacey, Aubrey Plaza is her bleep-mouthed coworker Julie, Chris Evans is dudebro movie star Lucas Lee, Brie Larson is Scott's ex Envy Adams joined by her boyfriend/bass player Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman (her?) is Ramona's bi-furious ex Roxy, and Jason Schwartzman brings things to a close as supervillain/record producer Gideon "G-Man" Graves. The cast is stellar (with more cameos than are listed here), and the characters themselves are fun, unique, and make one hell of a good combo.

How do you not fall in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead after this movie?

WHY WE CARE:

"If we're gonna date, you may have to defeat my seven evil exes." First off, kudos to creator Bryan Lee O'Malley for such an incredible premise, which both harkens back to classic video games and serves as a metaphor for the relationship game. For some reason, whether it's Voldemort's seven horcruxes, the nine members of the Fellowship, or the ever-increasing incarnations of the Doctor, we love to count things. Once the idea of seven evil exes is laid out, it's hard not to immediately envision a list in your mind with Matthew Patel at the top and six question marks below it. It also serves as a countdown toward the end of the story, which is particularly helpful in a movie that can feel overwhelming the first time around. That said, if it were Ramona's choice to make Scott fight her exes, we might resent her for putting him up to such nonsense and tune out as a result. Instead, there's a mystery surrounding SCOTT PILGRIM, in which we're not sure exactly what's going on or who's behind it. As for Scott's story, given that we can get past his asinine behavior, we can easily identify with wanting to do whatever it takes to overcome feeling lost and lonely. Finally, the movie moves along at breakneck speed, with crazy fights, plot twists (Roxy vs. Ramona! Twins! G-Man is Gideon!), and even some real moments along the way.

Pop quiz: who knows what a bob-omb is without looking it up? No cheating!

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

With such a specific premise, the recipe for a satisfying ending is clear: Scott defeats Romana's evil exes and gets the girl. There's more going on here, though. For one, the initial ending had Scott ending up with Knives, which seems counter-intuitive but makes a lot of sense from another point of view. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is not about Ramona Flowers; it's about Scott Pilgrim. It's about a character coasting through life refusing to make his own choices. He doesn't continue dating Knives to be vindictive; he just simply doesn't want to deal with breaking up with her. During the climax, Scott fights Gideon for Ramona, earning the power of love, and loses. When he collects his extra life and returns to the Chaos Theater, though, he fights Gideon for himself, earning the power of self-respect. That said, while ending up with Knives shows that Scott has grown and is able to appreciate what was in front of him the whole time, it still undercuts what the film has been leading up to. If Knives represents Scott's apathy, Ramona represents his awakening, so a Scott/Romana ending more neatly ties up both the literal and figurative arcs of the film.

"You're pretentious. This club sucks. I've got beef. Let's do it."

WHY WE REMEMBER:

Even if you hated SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, it's not a movie you can easily forget; rather, it's one that requires multiple viewings just to appreciate everything that's going on. Edgar Wright's style takes the already ambitious source material to a new level, complete with classic video game sounds and visuals, comic book THWAP's and action lines littered throughout, and a colorful production design that makes eye candy out of even the simplest scenes. The soundtrack brings life and a sense of reality to the story, with Beck, Metric, Broken Social Scene, and Cornelius providing original music as Sex Bob-Omb, Metric, Broken Social Scene, and the Katayanagi Twins, respectively, and David Campbell and Nigel Godrich composing the score. Perhaps the most stunning accomplishment by creator Bryan Lee O'Malley and screenwriters Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall, though, is the marriage of such a zany premise with a poignant and moving story. Not everyone can latch on to the nostalgia and references in the film, but everyone can connect with the story and appreciate what's going on behind the boss battles, score counters, and coin explosions. Congratulations, Edgar Wright and company; this one is definitely a TKO.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com

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