I really wanted to like this film, really wanted to. It has a director (Edgar Wright) who seems to have struck a perfect line when creating characters that are likeable despite having some pretty major flaws and creating a pleasing bend of action with comedy. Throw in a dash of romance and it seemed to have the ingredients that would make this his best film yet. Technically it’s astounding and there’s clearly an abundance of imagination poured into every frame, but somewhere along the way everything that made Spaced, Shaun & Hot Fuzz such a joy seems to have been lost – heart.
Now, Scott Pilgrim isn’t a bad film per se (as commented it has more imagination than many other studio releases) but it is a deeply disappointing one. Small elements such as characterisation, motive and other elements that usually drive film seem to have been jettisoned in favour of style (although this too becomes repetitive) so much that nothing is about what the characters want or need, but how cool they are for wanting / needing that.
Now cool characters in films aren’t a bad thing, but they need a counter to balance against. If everyone is presented in the same fashion (readily viewable characteristics that do not grow / change from the first moment we encounter them) then there’s no one to root for. It could be argued that Scott does learn something come the end (that it is important to take responsibility for your actions), but immediately afterwards this has been lost in a bad joke that makes no sense even in context with the rest of the film. Wright has previously struck a balance between pop culture reference and story, but here things are too skewed towards the former at expense of the latter.
Some have said that it’s an accurate adaptation of the book, but this too may be part of the problem. Accurate adaptations have worked in the past (Watchmen) but more often than not it’s the ones that take the source material and adapt it to the new medium are more successful – LA Confidential ditches half of the book and focuses on one of the least important aspects, but in doing so Curtis Hanson created something different. Scott’s antics may well work as a comic where the roughly drawn style may focus attention more to the characters, but as a film everyone finds themselves competing against a screen full of captions – yes, I get that it’s supposed to be taking the aesthetic of video games on, but they work because you interact with them directly rather than passively view (it’s never fun to watch someone playing a computer game)
There are moments, but they are fleeting. Brandon Routh steals the film as a psychic vegan bass player, but it seems he’s pretty much alone in realising the joke of everything. From all accounts the original cut ran some forty minutes longer than this, but one assumes it was cut to increase sales in what was seen as it target demographic. One also assumes these contained things such as characterisation and allowed breathing space between sequences (it runs at one pace, but that pace seems neither fast nor slow). A viewing of this version could change my mind, but I’d take some convincing to actually watch it.
Scott Pilgrim isn’t a bad film, it’s just a disappointing one.