Let’s be honest, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” wasn’t ever going to age gracefully. As a film, it’s essentially the embodiment of late-2000’s internet culture, from its frequent references to retro video games to its slightly dated slang to its pink-haired “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” love-interest. So yeah, “Scott Pilgrim” is pretty unapologetic about what it is, and this can’t really come as a surprise. I mean, it’s a movie about a guy who has to fight a girl’s exes to be with her. It’s not exactly going to pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.
Most films don’t age well. I don’t think that’s a very controversial statement. So long as a movie is given time, it will likely find itself in violation of some now-unacceptable social norm that was once the status quo. “Scott Pilgrim” definitely falls victim to this phenomenon, flaunting incredibly dated messages about gender and sexuality. Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “All About Nina”) is written with little depth and exists more like an aloof and quirky accessory to Scott’s story (Michael Cera, “Arrested Development”) than a three-dimensional character with her own desires and motivations. At multiple points throughout the movie, I found myself thinking, “Why is she with him?” and found little in the way of a convincing answer. If this weren’t enough, the film’s LGBT characters –– like Scott’s roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin, “Infinity Baby”) and Ramona’s ex-girlfriend (AnnaClare Hicks, “Support the Girls”) –– are little more than hypersexualized punchlines.
As we’ve established, plenty of films age poorly and are still enjoyed today (looking at you, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), but something makes “Scott Pilgrim” especially graceless. Let me preface this by saying that I love video games and I had fun with the movie’s use of video game tropes and references. But here’s the thing about people who love video games: Some of them are the worst. My friends can attest that I would never be caught dead referring to myself as a “gamer,” and with good reason. A not-so-insignificant number of 2010’s nerdy, retro-loving white guys are 2018’s QAnon, 4chan-esque red-pillers espousing obscenely hateful, misogynistic rhetoric. Of course, “Scott Pilgrim” couldn’t have known this, but while watching it one can’t help but feel that they’re watching something that contributed to a toxic internet culture that normalized misogyny and ignorance.
Despite all of this, “Scott Pilgrim” director Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”) still managed to do what he set out to do: He kept me entertained. “Scott Pilgrim” is an undeniably impressive effort from a filmmaking perspective, one that crackles with energy and creativity. At this stage in his career, Wright had proven himself to be a master of creating visually compelling films, and “Scott Pilgrim” is legitimately a joy to watch. The fight scenes are impressively choreographed, the editing is smart and genre-relevant and the integration of visual effects is clever and fun. It would be very easy for me to write off “Scott Pilgrim” as yet another stylish film with little in the way of compelling characters and messages.
It would be easy, but it wouldn’t exactly be honest, either. Despite its flaws, “Scott Pilgrim” isn’t just some heartless slugfest. Scott is a surprisingly deeper character than Michael Cera’s typical man-boy persona; he’s an awkward jerk, yes, but Cera’s signature brand of passivity and low self-esteem makes him just endearing enough to root for. His character arc is both satisfying and believable, and Wright manages to do the unthinkable: He actually turns Michael Cera into kind of a badass. To stroll into spoiler territory for a moment, Scott realizes he must defeat Gideon (Jason Schwartzman, “Golden Exits”) –– Ramona’s final ex –– not with the power of love, but with the power of self-respect during the film’s climax. It’s a surprisingly touching moment, and one that sends an important message: The only kind of love that can fix your self-esteem is the kind you give yourself.
“Scott Pilgrim” falls victim to a trap that’s essentially unavoidable for filmmakers: Culture changes, and what was once relevant, funny or socially acceptable can now prove to be none of those things, and there are moments of the film that fail on all three fronts. Like hanging out with your grandpa who sometimes says some stuff he doesn’t mean, there remains enough at the core of the film –– mostly stemming from Edgar Wright’s inimitable style and heart –– for the experience to feel rewarding.