What makes this film unusual and interesting is not its story-line about a young man trying to win a young woman’s affections. Nor is its trendy invocations of contemporary high school and early 20s culture unusual. Many films try to do this, some relatively well (as best as I can tell, from my aging perspective). What makes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010; dir. Edgar Wright) an interesting film is its stylistic freshness, its wham-pow use of comic book motifs (it’s based on a comic book series), its use of video games (the story is essentially a video game narrative, a series of battles or challenges in which Scott Pilgrim must defeat a former boyfriend of the woman he loves), its post-postmodern use of fantasy and non-sequitur, its relentlessly frenetic pace and movement.
Wrapped inside this shiny chimerical package is the story of a boy who has to gain trust of self and respect for others, especially women. There’s also a love story here (several, in fact), and the story of a girl who has her own challenges to overcome, lessons to learn. This aspect is almost formulaic, hackneyed. Scott Pilgrim learns an important lesson about himself. This fact was a bit of a letdown, given the stylistic flair of the film as a whole.
The film begins with a bang and rarely slows down, until the end, when it drags a bit. But it’s always entertaining. Humorous, and witty. Full of action, funny characters, odd situations.
As innovative as the stylistic aspect of the film might seem, the use of on-screen labels to punctuate the action, or exaggerated sound-effects, links back to the Batman television series of the 1960s. In fact, when characters in the film posture and verbally spar before a fight, I am reminded of how Batman and the Riddler or the Joker would talk with one another before setting to. I was also reminded, in a way, of Stardust (2007), the film adaptation of a Neil Gaiman graphic novel. There’s something of the same whimsy and romance here, aimed at a different age set.
Comic books, graphic fiction in some cases, are providing the basis for all sorts of filmic adaptations, in many cases very successful ones, and this film is in that category..