Scott Pilgrim vs. the critics

In spite of lacklustre box office results, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) successfully managed to translate Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World into an exciting and entertaining spectacle.

Following the trials and tribulations of professional slacker Scott Pilgrim’s love life, the film focuses on the blossoming relationship between Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Pilgrim is a 22-year-old Toronto native who plays bass for his band Sex Bob-Omb and lives in a one room, one bed apartment with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), while Flowers is the new chick in town with a snarky attitude and ever-changing hair colour.

The twist? Seven of Ramona’s former lovers have joined forces in the aptly named League of Evil Exes and Pilgrim must fight and defeat them before his relationship with Ramona can go any further.

Wright amalgamates the perfect combination of witty writing and comic book geekdom, interspersing video game fight scenes with everything from kickass indie rock shows to awkward party scenarios.

The fantastic videogame-esque fight sequences provide distractions from the streets of Toronto, where the movie is set and was filmed.

Pilgrim’s friend Julie (Aubrey Plaza) works at one of the city’s best known record stores in town, Sonic Boom, while the battle between Pilgrim and the first evil ex takes place at another Bathurst & Bloor landmark, Lee’s Palace.

But the action scenes and location shooting aren’t the only aspects of the movie that shine.

Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) delivers a hilarious performance as Pilgrim’s roommate, while Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Up in the Air) fills the much-needed role of Pilgrim’s grounded, sensible sister Stacey.

And there’s no way Jason Schwartzman playing a slimy record label bigwig named Gideon could be a bad thing.

Arguably the highlight of the movie however, is the awesome soundtrack.

Pilgrim’s band Sex Bob-Omb performs music written by Beck, while rival musicians Crash and the Boys rock out to songs penned by Broken Social Scene.

To add to the star-studded list of soundtrack contributors, Pilgrim’s ex-girlfriend’s band The Clash at Demonhead appear on stage to perform a song called ‘Black Sheep’ written by Metric.

Produced by Wright alongside Nigel Godrich – best known as Radiohead’s producer – the soundtrack also features tunes by Frank Black, the Black Lips and T. Rex, adding a whole other dimension of fun to the film.

Certain segments of the film are so over-the-top that it borders on being ridiculously cheesy, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an undeniably creative project that promises to elicit laughter from its viewers and allow them to leave the theatre satisfied.

– Sarah Murphy

As far as I’m concerned, director Edgar Wright’s new film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is just about the best thing to happen to mainstream Hollywood movies in ages (and yes, I’m including Inception).

I’m not alone either as, between the glowing reviews the film has received from critics and the universally positive word of mouth circulating, it’s hard to find a bad word to be said about the film.

So, if the film is so well loved, why is it tanking at the box office?

The primary goal with a blockbuster film is to make money and a whole stinking lot of it.

Additionally, a lot of stock is taken from the opening weekend totals, with the assumption that how the film does in its first three days is a good indicator of how much money it’s going to make overall and how well that ‘kind of film’ does, given the conditions it was released under (time of year, how well it was marketed, etc.).

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was filmed with a $60 million budget – a relatively modest sum for a summer action smash.

With this in mind, the producers from Universal Studios would want the film to take in at least a decent fraction of its $60 million budget on the first weekend, thereby suggesting such a film is bankable.

Naturally, the crushing reality is that Scott Pilgrim took in less than $11 million on its opening weekend (it has made only $23 million now, a week and a half later).

There are a number of excuses that instantly come to mind for Scott Pilgrim’s underperformance: going head to head at theatres with another action film (The Expendables), being better suited for a release at a different time of year and so on.

But it’s my belief that the film’s underwhelming moneymaking goes beyond such factors and is really more indicative of the attitudes of both audiences that should be going to see it and those in charge of making it accessible to audiences.

Noticeably, Galaxy Cinemas never even picked up Scott Pilgrim – those interested in seeing it during its first week in Waterloo were forced to drive all the way down to Cambridge’s Empire Cinemas, or to wait another week to catch it at the Princess Twin.

Why would Galaxy not carry the movie?

Did they make an educated guess that it would not take in enough audiences to make it worth their while, or, paradoxically, did such a decision prevent more prospective viewers from seeing the film?

So the convenience factor prevented at least some Waterloo viewers from seeing it right off the bat. But I still maintain that there is bound to be more than that.

I get the sense that a lot of people are feeling very put off by the film primarily for its heavy reliance on classic video game culture as an influence.

Many may quickly dismiss it as “too nerdy” or “just made for geeks”, both of which it resoundingly isn’t.

Similarly, there is the possibility that the film’s overt Canadian references (set in Toronto, close-ups of Canadian currency, CBC t-shirts) might actually be throwing people off, whether they prefer the escapism of films set farther from home or naturally associate Canadian films with being bad (though I really couldn’t agree less).  

Then there’s the concern of ‘style over substance’, with viewers possibly staying away under the preconception that Wright’s video game influenced larger-than-life style (visual sound effects during fights, electric bars dancing across the screen when Scott’s band plays and even a video game style “pee bar” when Pilgrim uses the facilities) would be all the film has to offer in terms of content.

But nobody ever seems to find aggressive style too objectionable for the films of Tarantino, Wes Anderson or Tony Scott, nor, does it exclusively prevent them from raking in lots of box office money.

Similarly, the style never overwhelms the story but rather accentuates it, as any good visual aesthetic should. 

So here’s my point: the film was a gamble.

Universal Studios took a big chance in investing in a film that could have been mistakenly targeted only for a niche audience of video game and comic book fans.

But they also really took a chance in terms of telling what could have been hacked into a traditional Hollywood tale of violence and romance in a genuinely fresh, interesting and very emotionally truthful way. 

The visual effects are breathtaking, even for those who care nothing for video games, and the jokey references to Zelda, Mario and others are never to the point where average audience members are left in the dark.

The key is the story, which stands up on its own, and none of the spectacular actors have ever been better.

The long-term problem is, if the film doesn’t make money, production companies will be all the less willing to throw money towards filmmakers with visions that go against the grain and do something genuinely different and interesting.

And different and interesting don’t need to mean unenjoyable, as proven by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which easily manages both.

Instead, they’ll just be all the more justified in taking the ‘safe route’ and funding familiar packages that are bound to take in familiar amounts of money.

So, at the risk of overstatement, think of seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as not just enjoying a stellar movie, but as helping the future of movies be a bright one.

On a final note: my mother, who knows nothing of video games, manga and so on, wants to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

I think if she – who demographically, should be the least likely person wanting to see it – can develop an interest, there’s hope for anybody.             

– Kevin Hatch