The Best Video Game Movie of the Century Remains a Perfect Millennial Time Capsule
Now that you can stream Scott Pilgrim on Netflix, you can “get a life” over and over again.
For a lot of millennials, it's strange to even concede that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is more or less nostalgia bait in 2023, down to its cascade of familiar actors who've wildly transformed over the years. But then again, one of the distinct pleasures of revisiting this funhouse arcade version of Toronto is getting a chance to see younger versions of Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin, Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick, and many more actors you probably forgot were in this thing, all crammed into a tightly edited, 112-minute high-concept fever dream whose only real sin is its restraint, if you can believe it.
The story itself follows Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a prickly, jobless 20-something guitarist who sees a girl at a party and immediately wants to get her attention. He quickly finds out she’s Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and though she reluctantly goes on a date with him, Scott has no idea what he’s really in for. It isn’t long before Ramona’s self-described “Seven Evil Exes” declare war on Scott, and he has to defeat each one over the course of the movie if he wants to truly win Ramona’s heart. There’s also his own spurned ex or two or three, his increasingly frustrated garage band, and this world’s uncanny tendency to default to video game logic, to the point where defeated characters literally turn into… coins.
But is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World really all that unhinged? Well, yes. Obviously. That’s the appeal.
Turns out that stuffing six volumes of a graphic novel into a single movie that's not even two hours long can lead to a lot of narrative and marketing confusion for the masses who might've otherwise loved this film if only they’d known it was absolutely for them. And you'd be hard-pressed to find another director who would've been up for the challenge in the first place, as this was Edgar Wright's follow-up to the one-two punch of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Wright showed a real knack for transforming bizzaro comic book worlds into big-budget movies with a surprisingly poignant emotional punch. But at least with Scott Pilgrim, he put as much of his heart, soul, and weirdness into its one-of-a-kind style, which has yet to be even remotely replicated. There's a reason so many people come back to this one year after year, praising its wildly imaginative special effects and how its zany energy often and unexpectedly contrasts with its wry, more understated comedy and one-liners. Watching Michael Cera use the toilet while an interface “pee bar” empties is just one of many strange, seemingly unnecessary details that make watching this movie with friends an bonafide experience.
Maybe that's an extra layer of a joke behind the new anime's title, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, a not-so-subtle reference to how this could be the moment when Bryan Lee O'Malley's original story and Wright's film version of it finally take off with the wider public, as it always deserved. Time will tell if the anime fully delivers in the way that its trailer and marketing hype machine have so far been promising. But even if it crashes and burns, the live-action interpretation will always be at the ready.
It's a time capsule for a highly specific moment for millennials who grew up during the era of early internet, full of wistful romance for the era of console games and before social media. It’s a love letter to the era of the flip-phone hipster with a band, who has to sign for Amazon packages and considers Dance Dance Revolution a romantic date idea (and maybe it still is). You’d think these somewhat cringey markers of the passage of time would rob the film of its otherwise timeless quality, but this is one of those unique cases where the specificity is exactly what makes the film easy to grab onto.
So even if the anime wasn’t coming out in just a week or so, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World continues to be the perennial movie-night option, like so much of Edgar Wright’s work. Few other directors are this good at making something that can appeal to first-time watchers and the forever obsessed almost equally.