Scott Pilgrim is having a hard time moving on and growing up. Ever since his first love dumped him and took off to front a rock ‘n’ roll band, the geeky 22-year-old has been sighing his way through life. Yeah, he’s got a garage band of his own called Sex Bob-omb. But it’s not really going anywhere. And, sure, he’s been dating this new girl. But she’s a 17-year-old high schooler and everybody thinks it’s pretty weird that he’s spending time with her. He probably figures it’s no weirder than having to share a dirty mattress on the floor with his gay roommate Wallace—especially when Wallace invites his “dates” home for the night.
Life. Sigh. Yuck.
Then, out of the blue, like sunlight breaking through the clouds, Scott spots … her. A magenta-haired beauty. A vision of deadpan punk perfection. The literal girl of his dreams. Ramona. And everything changes (to the tune of an angelic choir singing).
There are a few problems, though. Once Ramona agrees to start hanging with Scott, he suddenly finds himself under attack by seven of her superpowered, super-evil exes who won’t rest until either they or Scott are kaput. Talk about bringing baggage to a new relationship.
But Scott won’t back down. Sprouting super abilities of his own, he’s determined to biff, bam, kung fu kick, rocket through the air, smash walls and windows, and fight with guitar twangs and flaming swords to prove his love.
Now if he can just work up the nerve to break up with that high schooler girlfriend.
Underneath the stylized exterior and silly video game-like battles, Scott appears to learn that finding self-respect and fighting for what you believe in are worthy endeavors. He voices his love for Ramona and stands up to those from her past who would manipulate her.
Scott’s 17-year-old girlfriend, Knives Chau, ends up being a good friend to Scott. Even after he dumps her, she steps up to defend him in public.
The 1970s arcade game-like battles between Scott and the evil exes can appear almost magical at times. A battle of the bands fight, for example, creates two giant “sound creatures”—one a dragon and the other a gorilla—that fight each other over the heads of the crowd. In another scene an evil ex breaks out into a Bollywood dance routine backed up by a small group of “demon hipster chicks.”
Those demon hipster chicks wear formfitting and very low-cut outfits. Other girls throughout the movie do too, including Ramona.
Wearing nothing but a skimpy bra and panties, Ramona crawls into bed with a shirtless Scott. After the two kiss briefly, she says, “I changed my mind, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And the two then fall asleep cuddling.
Scott’s roommate Wallace repeatedly scopes out “cute guys.” And in one case he seduces Scott’s sister’s boyfriend and kisses him. Wallace beds down with several different guys. (Some of them are wearing only boxer shorts.) It’s implied that Wallace is having sex with them. And, as mentioned, Scott shares the bed with them. (One time there’s a total of four guys in the bed.)
One of Ramona’s exes turns out to be a girl named Roxy. Ramona admits to being “bi-curious” and “going through a phase.” When a battle eventually breaks out between Scott and Roxy, Ramona helps Scott win by showing him how to give the girl an orgasm (touching a spot behind her knee).
The movie is packed full of ’70s-style comic book/video game bashing and smashing. Each of the exes comes with his or her own brand of battle—including everything from high-speed hurtling punches, to complicated kung fu twists and turns, to psychic mind blasts, to backflipping swordplay.
Combatants crash through and against walls, nearby objects and each other with the end result of each skirmish being the fallen foe crumbling into a pile of scattered coins.
One of the exes reaches out a hand to help up a fallen Scott—and then viciously slams his fist into Scott’s face. Girl-against-girl and boy-against-girl violence is disturbingly frequent. A large man even punches the teenage Knives in the face at one point. It’s played for laughs as he knocks the color out of her hair, but the blow is nonetheless wince-worthy. Ramona is pummeled by a guy, too, and after the blows she rolls—unconscious—down a short flight of stairs.
During one confrontation a flaming sword sprouts from Scott’s chest. Gore shows up in a video game Scott is playing. His character has his head kicked off, and blood spurts freely.
One f-word and four s-words. A long string of bleeped f-words is used as a running gag. There are two dozen uses of “a‑‑” and a handful each of “h‑‑‑,” “d‑‑n” and “b‑‑ch.” God’s name is misused over a dozen times—once in combination with “d‑‑n.” A female drummer flips the bird.
In a variety of club scenes patrons drink beer and wine. Ramona and Scott have a bottle of wine with dinner and, later, Scott drinks a gin and tonic. Wallace comes in after a party, obviously inebriated.
Scott tells Ramona that when he’s with her he feels like he’s on drugs. Then he quickly explains that he doesn’t actually do drugs, “unless you do, and then I’m totally fine with it.”
A “pee meter” gradually empties as Scott uses the bathroom.
Of all the habits I’ve developed over my years of movie reviewing, one of my favorites is arriving early to screenings so I can observe the audience as it comes in. Now, some people might call that quirky, others a waste of time. But you’d be surprised what tidbits you can pick up from an excited moviegoing crowd.
My time was certainly not wasted at this screening. Because after grabbing the choicest seats, the first few arrivals immediately launched into a vigorous debate about the significance of various superheroes. By the time the Star Wars devotees, indie-rock fans and rainbow-haired cosplay girls showed up and joined in, it was quite a party. It was also clear that this should-have-been-at-Comic-Con crew was gearing up for a unique movie experience.
And to a certain extent, that’s what they got.
British director Edgar Wright has taken the Scott Pilgrim comic book source material—about a slacker guitarist-turned-ex-smacking-superguy—and worked cinematic magic. Split panel shots, graphic novel dialogue bubbles and whoooosh-splaaang! action illustrations joyfully pepper the crazy-quilt world onscreen.
In this dizzyingly creative setting, Wright’s indie-rock love story plays out as an ever-streaming YouTube video complete with layered pop culture references and a bevy of martial arts moves straight out of a 1970s arcade game. If that’s not unique, then Clark Kent’s not Superman.
But for all of the creative points the pic earns early on, it ends up taking its share of kryptonite bullets, too. Beneath all that glitzy comic book/video game sheen there’s a whole lot of— A whole lot of— Well, a whole lot of nothing much at all. Or at least, nothing much worth watching. There’s only a mere scrap of a story in the mix. And the characters are as thin as the paper their comic book versions were originally drawn on.
Yes, a colorful Mortal Kombat-like battle with a love interest’s ex can deliver an allegorical message that dating someone new can mean “battling” with the baggage and scars of their past relationships. But ker-powing your way through that slight lesson over and over and over can get headachingly tedious.
That’s especially true when you add in the headaches of not-so-subtly pushed modern youth culture mores that include gay lip-locks, male/female underwear romps, conversations about casual sex, free-flowing booze and a stream of bleeped f-words played as a joke.
So I’ll take a cue from my wanna-be-at-Comic-Con theater mates and say that superheroes are definitely not created equal. And Scott Pilgrim is nowhere near the top of the heap.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.