A decade is a long time in Hollywood. 10 years ago, Twilight mania was rampant, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy reigned supreme and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was very much in its infancy. Sombre and brooding were in. Quirky and comical? Not so much. However, one film dared to change the status quo. Directed by Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hit US and UK cinemas in August 2010. Based on Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels, the film centres on Scott Pilgrim’s battle to woo his dream girl by facing off against her seven evil exes.
Starring Michael Cera as the titular character, Scott is a layabout bassist for an amateur garage band in Toronto. His world is rocked when he meets Ramona Flowers – played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead – an Amazon delivery girl, who has a habit of regularly dying her hair and can rollerblade in and out of his fantasies. Through a series of Mortal Kombat-style duels, Scott Pilgrim must fight the League of Evil Exes to save Ramona from the clutches of her previous boyfriend: the controlling and manipulative Gideon, played by Jason Schwartzman.
Despite positive reviews from critics, the film unfortunately bombed at the box office, but has maintained a cult following over the years. Scott Pilgrim was widely lauded as an example of a trans-media narrative, as the movie used conventions associated with comic books and video games to forward the story. Critically acclaimed for his work on Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright’s signature crisp editing and quippy writing style lends itself perfectly to adapting a graphic novel on screen.
Similar to the ’60s Batman television series, Wright uses classic visual tropes to recreate the sensation of reading a comic, such as onomatopoeic text for sound effects and motion lines to denote swift movement. Wright also simulates comic book panels as a means of transitioning from scene to scene, evoking the ‘gutter’ – the empty space between panels – to separate and showcase multiple reactions in a single shot instead of cutting between each character. In Ramona’s retelling of how she met her dastardly exes, flashbacks are animated and depicted in the same art style as the graphic novel. Scott Pilgrim is a comic book adaptation and certainly isn’t afraid to show it.
In a recent interview with GamesRadar, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley spoke about his laissez-faire approach to adapting his work to live action. ‘‘For me, the point of doing adaptations has always been to work with people I admire, and collaborate across disciplines and mediums,’’ he said. ‘‘Personally, I prefer to stick to comics and let some genius do the adapting.’’
The film boasts a star-studded supporting cast, many of whom were in the early days of their careers. Succession’s Kieran Culkin and Anna Kendrick from the Pitch Perfect franchise play Pilgrim’s gay roommate and sister, respectively. Notable actors have starred in comic book adaptations before and after their roles in Scott Pilgrim, injecting a meta quality to the film’s already genre-busting style. Following his stint as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four but preceding his role as Captain America, Chris Evans plays Ramona’s movie star ex. Brandon Routh from Superman Returns also stars as an evil ex, while future Academy-Award winner and Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, plays Scott’s former flame who becomes jealous over his blossoming relationship with Ramona.
Never before has a film felt as much like a video game in aesthetic and story. Fight scenes are coordinated as classic arcade beat ‘em ups, with Scott being rewarded with extra lives and points to mark his progress. While Nolan’s Batman had one foot in reality, Wright immersed his action in comic book fantasy. From crazy ninja high-kicks to earth-shattering punches, Scott Pilgrim brought a new style of fighting to cinema.
The film’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ backdrop is perfect for this conflict. Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, goes up against eccentric villains in the indie rock arena. The soundtrack features contributions from Beck, Metric and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, which differentiates Scott Pilgrim from the melodramatic, Hans Zimmer-influenced scores of superhero projects.
Don’t expect Edgar Wright to adapt another comic book property anytime soon. The filmmaker, who was attached to direct Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man, left the superhero film due to creative differences. Appearing on Variety’s Playback Podcast in 2017, Wright explained his reasoning for leaving. ‘‘I think the most diplomatic answer is I wanted to make a Marvel movie, but I don’t think they wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie.’’
Therein lies the magic of Scott Pilgrim. It was a love letter to the graphic novel’s fans, comic book aficionados and video game enthusiasts – not the suits. A box office flop, sure, but its impact is evident years later. Now, directors with similar sensibilities to Wright, such as James Gunn and Taika Waititi, helm Hollywood’s biggest franchises without any trouble. With its respect for its source material and fanbase, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was the blueprint for this golden age of comic book movies.