For many of us (that is, us children of the 80s), the much-anticipated release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World felt like the “Movie of Our Lives” had finally found distribution. However, Edgar Wright’s hyperkinetic, surprisingly dense retelling of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s video game-fueled comic series isn’t quite making it across the generation gap. From generalized accusations of shallowness and puerility, to the incredible assumptions of fusty old curmudgeons that the eponymous hero is named for a certain Vonnegut protagonist, the comic and the movie are each attracting unwarranted ire, even from O’Malley’s contemporaries. It seems that there is some confusion about what the film’s central struggle – and its assorted mini-melees – really means.
O’Malley’s comic about a young nobody literally fighting for the love of his dream girl seduces the viewer with kawaii cartooning and 8-bit evocations of Mega Man-like miniboss fights, but it’s always a bait-and-switch, as every face-off is invariably a metaphor for the far less exciting arena of one’s own insecurities, which often take on the appearance of subjects of our envy. As with any real world relationship, you go for the fun, and stay for the brooding, difficult self-evaluation. Some critics seem to feel that Edgar Wright’s screen version focuses far too much on a “two-fisted” version of coming of age, a fairer examination of the print and projected Scott Pilgrims shows that any similarities to cave-clearing alpha male antics end where you realize that Scott’s literal battles with Ramona’s evil exes are just an easy cipher for anybody’s fears about his own inadequacies. Each ex seems to have something over on Scott, whether it’s strength, looks, talent, cash, or – as we shall discuss shortly – deviation from heteronormative sexuality. If we’re to relate this story to real life experiences at all, then the inevitable conclusion is that every fight is Scott Pilgrim vs. himself.
When speaking of the comic and the movie together, it’s worth bringing up the 2008 San Diego Comic Con release “Scott Pilgrim: Full-Color Odds & Ends”. This vibrantly beautiful Oni Press floppy is the source of one of the film’s key scenes – Ramona Flowers’s puppet mastery of Scott Pilgrim, who is too shy about battering women to take down her evil ex-girlfriend Roxy Richter. The stand-alone story in the now-rare SDCC comic, in which Scott pummels a pack of preteen pop starlets with Ramona’s help, would be unfamiliar to the casual comics reader (as opposed to the savvy ComiXology reader), but contributes substantially to the movie’s problem solving, so it’s worth a word or two.
The aforementioned issue of male aggression only gets really creepy when applied to girl versus girl scenarios. In volume 4 of O’Malley’s opus, Scott’s ultimate battle with Roxy Richter is marked by a politeness lacking in the series’ other conflicts; the opponents enter a duel with long swords, prohibiting any sort direct bodily contact, and ending with a cut-slide so that the violence is stylized to the point of impossibility. Roxy splits (literally!), and Scott is finally free to use the L-word with Ramona (not “lesbians”). Wright’s film weds this print version of the fight to the SDCC girl fight described above and concludes it by making Scott a lover and not a fighter. The SDCC comic, while deftly side-stepping any real shades of domestic violence, does call attention to its own awkwardness.
When Scott is mysteriously assailed by a set of holographic Hannah Montana stand-ins, It’s Ramona to the rescue, as the film-goers know, controlling Scott like an 8-bit avatar and winning him the fight. It saves Scott from having to actually hit a girl – and saves the reader from being complicit in that spectacle as entertainment. At the close of the comic, O’Malley apologizes thusly for any possible Freudian slippage:
It’s a little clunky, for sure, and moreover it’s as weird and uncomfortable as anything else in the series. However, it’s necessary in a comic about the battle of the sexes, published in a cultural moment where masses of people laugh shamelessly at the sight of a diminutive female getting her lights punched out by an intoxicated tower of meat in a boardwalk bar. It’s little moments like this that, in all their too-close-to-the-truth clumsiness, remind the reader that Scott Pilgrim has, in its hip little heart, seeds of the real.
Tagged: Bryan Lee O'Malley · Edgar Wright · Scott Pilgrim
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