MOVIE REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (No Spoilers)

This past week at San Diego Comic-Con we had the pleasure of attending the third of three special screenings of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s epic six part Scott Pilgrim series from Oni Press. The film is directed by Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Spaced), who worked closely with O’Malley and Oni Press during filmmaking.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World doesn’t hit movies theaters in the United States until August 13, 2010 so I am going to keep this as spoiler free as I can. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t read the book, or even for those who have (there are many differences between the two), but I might discuss plot points or developments in vague terms and if you are at all worried about being spoiled, stop reading now. Come back after August 13.

(We’ll get into a full-on spoiler filled review in a Special Edition Podcast when the movie comes out.)

I don’t think I need to tell anyone just how much I adore the Scott Pilgrim series. Despite being ever so slightly let down by the final chapter, I still think it’s the most important comic book series of the last ten years and taken as a whole it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Keeping that in mind, when they first announced this film I was both excited and terrified. Scott Pilgrim has a tone and sensibility that really isn’t for everyone. For every person who loves it there is another who doesn’t get it or is completely turned off by it. It’s very quirky. It’s also very deeply rooted in a specific, and a somewhat zanily whimsical aesthetic that could be very easy to screw up when translated to live action.

The first piece of good news is that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is directed by Edgar Wright who was, hands down, the perfect choice for this film. If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz or his television show Spaced — which is probably his previous work that is closest in tone to Scott Pilgrim — then you know that Wright is the man for this film. Wright did a fantastic job of brining O’Malley’s fantastical world to life, visually. From the visual sound effects to the on-screen video game graphics and to the breathtaking fight scenes, Edgar Wright has come as close as one can to bringing Scott Pilgrim to life on screen.

The best way I can describe this film is: relentless. You know how The Dark Knight was two and a half hours of relentless tension? Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just under two hours of relentless humor. It’s a fast paced movie (the editing is exquisite) that never lets up. I often found myself barely finished laughing from one joke before the next one hit and I was laughing all over again. I definitely missed pieces of dialogue here and there because the audience was roaring with laughter. The brisk pace and the unrelenting humor was one of the best things about the movie.

The most important bit of casting was, of course, Scott Pilgrim himself, and when it was announced that Michael Cera was chosen to play my favorite hyperactive Canadian slacker my first reaction was disappointment. I love Michael Cera, I think he’s really funny, but for the most part he has gotten by on playing “Michael Cera”, a slightly awkward and halting character that is nothing like Scott Pilgrim. I didn’t think the film would work if Cera played that version of himself that he always plays, and I didn’t see him pulling off the Scott from the books. As it turns out, neither thing happened. Michael Cera didn’t play that character he always played and he didn’t play the Scott in the books. He played a Scott firmly rooted in the middle of the two; a character that featured elements of both. And you know what? It worked. His Scott is just as endearingly dim as he is in the books, if not quite as hyperactive (though he is a little). He's funny. He's an action star. This movie rises and falls on the portrayal of Scott, and Cera pulled it off wonderfully.

Other than the directing, the best thing about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was the casting which, as the late John Frankenheimer said is 60% of directing. Everyone was fantastic in their roles. I could wax lyrically about Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers or Alison Pill as Kim Pine or Mark Webber as Stephen Stills or Ellen Wong as Knives Chau or Johnny Simmons as Young Neal or Brandan Routh as Evil Ex Todd Ingram or Chris Evans (possibly my new favorite actor) as Evil Ex Lucas Lee, but instead I want to mention Kieron Culkin as Scott’s roommate Wallace Wells. Completely out of nowhere Kieron Culkin steals the first half of this movie. (His character appears much less in the second half, so he doesn’t steal the entire movie, but Culkin owns the first half.) Every line he delivers is gold and the crowd loved him. I was not at all ready for that going in, and it was a wonderful surprise to latch on so strongly to an unexpected character, especially one played by an actor with such baggage attached to his last name.

Right now you may be thinking to yourself, “Hey, buddy! How did they fit six volumes into one movie that lasts a little less than two hours?” Well, my friend, through a lot of compression and paring down of plot lines. The story in the books takes place over the course of about a year. The film takes place over a much shorter time frame, possibly only a matter of months with Scott and Ramona only dating for (maybe) a matter of weeks. As a result, much of the longer, more drawn out plot lines are cut from the story and what we’re left with is a movie plot that boils down to: Scott and Ramona meet, Scott and Ramona start to date, Scott fights Ramona’s evil exes. The basic elements of the overall book are in place (with most of the specific plot points occurring from the first three volumes), they’re just condensed into a much shorter time frame. Another key difference is the ending of the movie. The screenplay was written before Bryan Lee O’Malley finished work on the books, so the last bit of the movie diverges from the events in the books, although not as much as they almost did. Someone we went to the screening with saw an early cut of the movie that had an entirely different ending that would have really changed the movie and, honestly, would have caused a bit of an uproar among the book's fans. Apparently, at some point (I imagine it was when Edgar Wright learned how O’Malley ended his story and/or after some early audience testing) re-shoots were ordered and we ended up with the ending everyone saw in San Diego, an ending more in-line with what happened in the book.

I had a lot of fun at Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I laughed the whole way through and ended up talking about it for most of the night with a wide variety of people at all of the parties we went to afterwards. If you’re a fan of the books I think you’re going to be really pleased with what Edgar Wright did. That having been said, I have no idea how this movie is going to play with people who aren’t already fans of the book or of this style of quirky comic book whimsy. Usually I have a good sense of how these movies will play to a wider “civilian” audience (I hate that term but it’s the best I’ve got at the moment), and I’m going to be really curious to see how it handles itself in wide release. The audience we saw it with were, of course, hardcore Scott Pilgrim fans, so they loved it. Me? I loved it too. I can’t wait to see it again.


(This review is spoiler-free and keep the comments that way too. Any comments with spoilers will be deleted.)


  1. I saw it yesterday and it was as amazing as I’d hoped.  There were several non-geeks in the group I went with and they all enjoyed it (although not as much as I did). 

    One guy I went with who has never really read any comics but is a big video game fan loved it as much as me though.

  2. Good to know.. Oh, good grief..

  3. Can’t wait til August!!!!

  4. I’ve seen Culkin in other movies and he is a peice of work. Hopefully we’ll see more of him in other movies, mainstream and indie. Chris Evans…. sure has a lot eyes on him don’t he? We know he can act but, has he gotten lucky or is just that capable that makes it look easy? Hmmmm. I like the guy, I’m sure he’ll do very well (me hopes). I’ll be in line to see this when it comes out. Fo sho!

  5. I’m psyched, but getting my fiancee to come with me to see it is gonna be a hard sell. I might have to let her pick a movie that I don’t wanna see before that.

  6. I don’t read the books and wasn’t terribly interested in the movie, but the trailer made me laugh quite a bit. May have to reconsider.

  7. Because Igby Goes Down is one of my favorite movies, I knew Kiernan Culkin would be awesome.  I’m glad to see that he is, and for those who haven’t seen Igby, definitely check it out.  It’s some great witty dialogue and character work in that movie. 

  8. This movie can’t come soon enough.  So looking forward to it.

  9. Going to a preview screening tomorrow night! Psyched beyond all reason!



  10. Wallace was my fav character in the books. So great to hear he is portrayed by someone capable. 

    I have been very anxious about Micheal Cera as Scott for the same reason you described in your review, but from what you wrote he pulled it off..*whew* Also, the decision to pair down the energy of Scott for the movie seems for the best. In a live action movie it would probably be a little hard to handle all the !!! moments.

    Aug 13 can’t come soon enough. After the painful Last Airbender adaptation, it will be nice to see something I love adapted correctly for film. 

  11. Saw this movie Friday and Saturday at the Con and will be there at midnight to see it again!

  12. Even with a warning, it says no spoilers posted here, please.

  13. Completely jealous of everyone who has seen this already. Can’t wait for August. The only problem is that the release date and my wife’s due date are two days apart. I’m excited for both, but if this kid comes first I’ll never get to the theater to see this. I’m already a horrible dad.

  14. You are. I would know.

    Nah, but if he’s born before the movie, you’d be too tired to go anyway.  On the other hand, you’ll want to get away, just a bit, if you can.

  15. Cannot wait for this movie! Easily one of my most anticipated of the summer.

  16. seeing it tommorrow! I got some Thor tonight, I’m getting some Pilgrim tommorrow! Good days. good days.



  17. It comes out in Nov. 4 in our country, and I may be one of the few that will see it.

  18. Saw it yesterday and loved it! I felt the movie was even more video game centric than the comic. I was pleasantly surprised the Cera didn’t annoy me and Kieron Culkin definitely stole the show as Wallace Wells. Only one thing disappointed me and I’ll get it into when we get a proper spoiler-filled thread, but it wasn’t a big deal. If you loved the comic this is about as perfect an adaptation as you could ask for, it IS Scott Pilgrim.


  19. one other thing though, i am slightly weary as to how this movie will be received by mainstream audiences. everyone loved it in my screening but they were all fans of the comics. I don’t hear much mainstream buzz about this and i don’t think many people outside comic fans are interested. I really hope im wrong because it definitely deserves attention

  20. Went to a sneak peek last night.  This movie is simply amazing.  Cant wait until August 13th to go again.  Epic

  21. I’m with Conor on the "how does this play to the civilian?"  The trailers actually make me not want to see it.  They seem so over the top and hokey. 

    When I told my wife about all the good reviews the movie was receiving, she didn’t look thrilled, because she knew that meant that my hopes were revived.

  22. Comedy is Comedy. 

    If you look at the other films that Edgar Wright has made they all appear to be for one corner of the market, Action fans or Zombie Fans, but the humor wins them an audience outside there genres. For example I hate zombie movies, for the most part, but Shaun of Dead is easily in my top 10.

    I can see it now! Youngsters who have never read the comic, but love the movie, walking around in their hot topic purchased Kim Pine inspired "If your life had a face…." Shirts.

    Half the chicks I hangout with(2) dye their hair like Ramona already..

    Depending on the Music, this movie (like the comic), could rally a generation of scenesters to the theaters for a new "cult" hit.  

    The game jokes are easy to get even if you have never played games..i can’t see them being a problem. 

  23. I don’t get it. What do people want?  Do they want the movie to be good, or do they want the movie to make a lot of money. If they do want it to make a lot of money, why? What does that get you?  The other Edgar Wright movies are instant cult movies, but didn’t burn up the box office. As long as Wright gets to keep making movies, I’m good.  O’Malley is already going to make whatever comics he wants for the rest of his life, so what’s the deal?

    The movie was real good.

  24. Just got back from watching an advance screening in the village, and it was great. i want to see it again. it was such a tasty bit of cinema. candy comes to mind. pop-rocking, relentless candy. the ending of it felt strange to me, but so did the book. i can not wait to see this alternate ending i keep hearing about.  Four out of five stars.

  25. @josh: Both.

  26. The movie was very entertaining and sincerely hope it does well. Easily 3.5 to four stars.

    I am only now just starting to read the books. I think I’ve got another V for Vendetta situation going here, though.