Scott Pilgrim vs the World is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen

Here’s what I had to say, in brief, about Scott Pilgrim vs the World: 

This was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was like watching someone play a video game, only more boring. It was sometimes slightly clever. If only it had a story, or a single interesting character, or anything meaningful to say.

I don’t remember feeling that detached from a movie in a very long time; possibly ever.  It was totally unengaging.  There’s a feeling that I really enjoy, when a movie makes me feel as if I am outside myself, if only for an hour or two, during which it is an engrossing, immersive experience.  Even very bad films can make me feel this way if there is an engaging character, or even a really funny scene.  Anything.

I might have connected to Scott Pilgrim’s character, if there was any character there to connect to. But he’s kind of a confused-looking place-holder who trudges his way through what passes for a plot.

If there was something genuinely attractive about Ramona Flowers, that might have worked.  But there was hardly a flicker of life in her, but alas.  She was the MacGuffin, and an empty one at that. All I knew about her was that 1. her hair changes color frequently, 2. Scott Pilgrim likes her and 3. she has evil exes.  Nothing about her that wasn’t on every promotional poster for the movie.

Where I really checked out, though, was the first battle with the first evil ex.  That was a scene that was so awful that I literally squirmed in my seat with embarrassment for the filmmakers.  I think the fight scene was supposed to resemble a Bollywood musical number.  I’ve watched a few Bollywood musical numbers, and this piece of tripe was a far cry from them.

There were occasional sight-gags, and I’ve never seen a movie that was presented in the same way, as an old-school style video-game with level-ups and coins bursting out of downed foes.  That was…slightly clever, I suppose.

But there was no world for Scott Pilgrim to inhabit.  One method would have been literalism – these supernatural music-fueled fights break out.  Another method would have been for the musical fights to be going on in Scott Pilgrim’s imagination, with the humorous return to reality after the fact.  The filmmakers went for neither; God knows why.  Rather it was what I experienced as a miasma of imagery – and I mean that in the sense.

Part of my disappointment was that the movie could have clearly been so much more.  It could have said something.  

It just didn’t.

Or, more likely, it did, and I’m the only person I know who didn’t get it.

Maybe the graphic novel is good.

12 thoughts on “Scott Pilgrim vs the World is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen

  1. No, the story is just plain shallow, the characters pathetic, and the pop references were annoying even if they were not out of date.

    In a sad way, the only thing I can compare it to in my mind is the TV Anime Shuffle! Although honestly, Shuffle isn't really a direct comparison, and I like Shuffle better because the neglected love figure actually goes ballistic and into a near murderous rage in the end.


  2. Interesting to hear this perspective. I loved Scott Pilgrim! It was a flashy action flick that didn't take itself seriously, a modern 20-something coming of age story that wasn't dragged down by the typical existential ennui, and managed to be a romantic comedy without being a chick flick.

    It was easily the most fun I've had at the theater in a long time!


  3. @DeadGod: Well, your experience is like that of almost all of my friends and acquaintances. I get that I'm in the minority here. There was just no point at which I connected with anything going on. It could have been a coming of age story, but it wasn't even allegorically so. It was this guy, and this girl with colorful hair. Then there are some fights and sight-gags and making fun of vegans. Then it was over. For me at least, no arc, no impact.


  4. Finally saw this. I don't think it deserves “worst movie” status. I see what you are getting at about the characters being shallow, and there being little point to the whole affair, but I was entertained, which is all that I really expected.

    And I think you are wrong about there being no character arc. Scott Pilgrim realizes he has been creating his own string of evil exes, because of his self-esteem issues. Respecting himself, at the end, he has the ability to mend bridges with all of the girls in his past and maybe have a different ending with Ramona Flowers. Is it very deep? No. But it's there.

    In fact, I think the lightness or superficiality is part of the point. Most romantic comedies take young love very seriously. Romeo and Juliet seriously. Every mistake and break up is the end of the world – run through the rain to get the girl or life is over!! Scott Pilgrim makes fun of all of that and says – really alot of these relationships are not very significant, just learning moments along the road.


  5. I was not thrilled with the movie. The comics are good, though still a bit overhyped. Then again, within my aesthetic, anything that is praised as one of the greatest works of art in a medium while not offering staggeringly complex intellectual commentary on a raft of interconnected ideas is overhyped.

    Still, I think you're far too harsh on it. So, a couple of concrete observations of things about the movie that I think worked well.

    1) I think the movie challenged normal assumptions about immersion, depth, and superficiality. Scott Pilgrim, I think, is assuming a superficial world characterized by image-miasmas. I think one of the central artistic questions of Scott Pilgrim is whether or not it is possible to recapture the emotion of the traditional more or less naive love story within a radically superficial aesthetic.

    2) I think that the idea that you were supposed to get immersed in the world of Scott Pilgrim is a fundamental misreading of the text. In my view, tthe model of immersive experiences in art, which was always a dodgy one, has had some serious challenges in an era where mainstream artists and writers have grown up reading Borges and responding to postmodernism. What used to be the domain of extremely highbrow literary fiction – genre-bending allegories that actively comment on their own structural tropes – is now something that is so normal as to not even be clever anymore. Scott Pilgrim is a prime example of the consequences of this – a world that simply does not make a serious effort to fit together in a coherent way, and whose rules are based on nothing save for narrative expedience.

    3) The story isn't about Ramona. She is the MacGuffin. The only thing that matters about Ramona, ultimately, is the realization on Scott's part that she is imperfect, and, more specifically, that she has a past and history that Scott does not get to own or define for her.

    4) In the same way that the movie is taking place in an aesthetic world where postmodernism is not innovative but assumed, it's also taking place in a world where pop-art, mashups, and odd juxtapositions are assumed. I don't think the first fight scene was supposed to be an homage to Bollywood. I think it was supposed to simultaneously be an homage to a video game boss fight (complete with the boss, once he is nearly defeated, breaking out a more powerful attack that spawns secondary enemies – an extremely common trope in video games) juxtaposed with Scott's internal realization of his own abilities juxtaposed with the fact that the evil ex himself is a bit of a ridiculous prat unworthy of being taken seriously. It wasn't supposed to be a clean, thrilling action sequence – it was supposed to be weird and difficult to quite pin down and pigeonhole.

    Again, I think the movie had a number of flaws. Most of them, to my mind, came from trying to streamline material beyond what it supported – there's just too much comic to adapt to one movie without causing some real damage to the material. The comics, although better, are still flawed – I'm in the end unconvinced they succeed in their goal of rescuing a traditional love story from a superficial postmodernism. But I think most of this is down to a slight failure of emphasis – acceptance of internal flaws is ultimately privileged ahead of anything that would actually serve to generate an emotional connection, leaving a slight sterileness to the whole thing that doesn't easily reduce out. Still, that's, to my mind, the sort of criticism that you have to do a lot of things right before it can become the biggest problem with your story.


  6. Yeah, it sounds like we have diametrically opposed aesthetics here. I think immersion and world-building are illusory, reject their possibility, and am both aesthetically and ethically skeptical of attempts to accomplish them. 🙂


  7. Ultimately, the ethical issue comes fairly close to Plato's – that I am wary of the idea of treating the unreal as real in a straightforward manner.

    I mean, I think my aesthetic philosophy, generally speaking, lets me still enjoy all the things you enjoy in yours, plus a larger set of things like, for instance, Scott Pilgrim. (But also, for instance, something like Borges, or even Lovecraft, where it seems to me that the text is written in such a way as to alienate the reader slightly from immersion, and make them treat the text as a set of ideas.) I still believe strongly in sympathizing with characters, emotional investment, and the enjoyability of a complex or gripping plot. I just ultimately see fiction as a play of ideas that are dressed up to resemble people, not as the interactions among people who just happen not to be real.

    Ultimately, I think that immersion begs for uncritical readings. I think that it's too easy for “getting swept up in a story” and “declining to think critically and ask hard questions of a story” to become synonyms. Which is not to say that I think you do this. There are plenty of very savvy, intelligent pro-immersion people. I just think pro-immersion interpretations tend to involve a lot of bending over backwards and constructing oddly baroque structures to explain things that seem to me much easier to explain in other ways. It feels like I imagine phlogiston theory or alchemy must have felt to chemists who were moving past them – 99% of the time not wrong so much as a very bizarre way of going about a problem, 1% of the time wrong in a very frustrating way.


  8. An interesting parallel. I think part of the difference is that which exists between approaching stories as a critic (analysis) and approaching them as a…mythopoet (constructing meaning)? Two entirely different purposes, as we've already said. For me, asking hard questions is not the most important way that I approach a story. For me, ideally, stories exist to answer hard questions, whether they are movies, novels or myths.

    Though I do agree that stories should stand up to hard questioning – they should be well-made and meaningful.

    I wouldn't say that a story is an interaction of people who happen not to be real, but I also think they are more than ideas dressed up as people. I haven't done the sophisticated work in this area that you have, but perhaps I would say that characters in a story are symbols. Ideally, I would try to make the case that a story is a story, in the way that a person is a person, or a mind is a mind – dissect-able, but with some reality as a whole, taken on it's own terms, that it does not have once vivisected. Taking it apart is important to understand it better, but it isn't there primarily to be taken apart.


  9. Given that, immersion can lend itself to uncritical readings. For me, this is not a weakness, any more than it would be a weakness for one person to approach the mind through neurophysiology (the literary critic), another through introspection (the immersionist), and so on. It's true you enjoyed Scott Pilgrim while I did not, but our experiences of enjoyment of stories are also possibly quite distinct from each other.

    An analogy that Vince Baker (a game designer) uses for differing player agendas:

    We all love pigs – yay pigs! But I love raising pigs on my farm, and you love cooking barbecue pork, and the other guy over there trains pigs for films, etc.


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