Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a musical. It is a therefore somewhat of a pity that much of the music in it is pretty anonymous, there are no showstoppers here. It is exactly of a sort, though, the sort that you might imagine no mark Toronto indie bands making. This should therefore be successful within the movie, since the movie is partial about the travails of a no-mark Torontonian (Torontian? Torontoed? Torontinoed?) indie band. And thus, happily in the music within Scott Pilgrim vs The World (The Movie) we have a perfect metaphor for the problem with the film Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It is too faithful to its source, its internal world and its own sense of doing its on story justice to succeed. Edgar Wright has delivered a stupendously entertaining movie, but one which you know could have been better. Just as the music played by Sex Bob-Omb in the film is good, and correct and accurate could also, in a perfect world, also be catchy and fun and sing along on the way home.
Edgar Wright partially has a Watchman problem, that the original material probably does not need a film version. The original Scott Pilgrim books are, for their manga styled archness, pretty dense with character and incident. And it works in a comic, where relationship drama can coexist with non-diagetic metaphorical action sequences. The film works really well up to its first action sequence, at which point it steps up a gear becoming an elongated Spaced style diversion. Its only when you realise its a diversion you won’t get out of that the trouble kicks in. The last two thirds of the film lie in some sort of limbo between fantasy, extreme fantasy and oddly surreal comedy which makes the stakes f the action in the film difficult to assess.
If Wright had made one decision about this material to go off canon and piss off all the fans, the most obvious one would have been to shorten the number of fight sequences. Seven (six really) is too many, and the metaphorical load held by each is not always well explicated. Pilgrim goes from being a dick to being a different kind of dick to being the hero in ways which are not always clear to the audience. Indeed what Wright has done is cleverly make a film where the two romantic leads are not only somewhat dislikable, but we are ambivalent about their eventual fate. He also manages to people the film with supporting characters who we care about because we know they don’t need the life lessons Pilgrim and Flowers need (via hugely entertaining onscreen battles). Indeed the metaphorical load of these arcade style bouts is partly where the film really is a musical. Instead of song and dance sequences however we get punch and kick sequences – which to all but the ardent gamer may be less entertaining (especially when the song sequences leave something to be desired). So it lives in that strange limbo of films which are wonderfully entertaining whilst you watch them, and well made, whilst you know they could have been better.
So what next now Scott Pilgrim has been a flop? Well Wright comes out of this one smelling of roses, and one hopes that he still manages to plow his considerable talents into character driven special effect comedies. No-one can effotlessly deal with sight gags, verbal gags and play with the language of film with light comic effect like he can. But back to something original from his own head I think. Or, even better, a proper musical. That he would do with apl-omb.