Why Scott Pilgrim Is The Movie Comic Book Movies Should Model Themselves After

I’ll admit it; I love Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I loved it so much the first time I saw it, in fact, that it took a second viewing to confirm to myself that I really wasn’t misremembering how good it was, how much I’d enjoyed it, and how well it worked as a film.

I’d had this thing in my head, before I saw it, that could pretty much have been reduced to a constant refrain of “Please don’t screw it up, please don’t screw it up” over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I love Edgar Wright’s previous work – Yes, even the Charlotte Hathaway videos – but there was something worrying about Michael Cera being named as the lead, something about the books themselves that seemed so suited to the comic medium that it was as if I’d started to talk my expectations down so as to avoid crushing, depressing disappointment when I saw the finished product. And then… it was better than I’d expected, and I was left – before that second viewing – thinking that clearly, I must’ve been blown over by the lack of failure that I was overenthusing about the whole thing. But, no: It really is as good as I thought the first time.

(It’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong: The opening, before Sex Bob-Omb launch into “We Are Sex Bob-Omb” is worryingly literal, and oddly nervous, for one thing, and I’ll admit to missing the depth of the original version of Envy Adams in the movie. The books, overall, in fact, have an emotional depth that the movie lacks, but I think that’s a fact of the respective lengths more than anything.)

There’s something about it, the more I think about it, that makes me hope that it changes the way comic book movies are made in future, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The key, I think, is that it’s a movie that somehow manages to exactly capture what makes Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics work, and yet it never feels like anything less than a celebration of filmmaking, and an example of the potential of the movie medium.

There’s something that feels so fresh about the way that the movie uses every trick up its sleeve in service of the entire experience, in a way that other comic book movies tend to shy away from; when was the last comic book movie that was as enjoyable from an audible perspective as it was visual, you know? I don’t just mean sound effects or soundtrack – although, come on: Tim Burton’s Batman soundtrack aside, comic book movie soundtracks are almost all embarrassingly bad, especially in comparison to how strong Scott Pilgrim‘s is, and how important it is to the movie – but dialogue and performances, as well.

Comic book movies, for better or worse – and, really, it’s worse, let’s be honest, are so overpoweringly visual that when there’s good dialogue or strong performances, it seems like a surprise if not a small miracle (Hello, Iron Man!). Somehow, we’ve allowed moviemakers to get carried away with the “pictures” part of comics’ words + pictures combo that story has fallen way, way into the background – Consider Watchmen, which gave lip service to Alan Moore’s writing but had no problems removing a lot of the complexity and the entire (ridiculous) ending. Comic book movies – and by that, I mostly mean superhero movies, because that’s the majority of the genre – end up leaning towards the stereotype of comic book writing, with epic themes expressed in fights and stilted dialogue. Maybe one of the reasons I liked Scott Pilgrim so much was that it had the fights – and what amazing, visually impressive fights they are – but they’re not so overpowering that everything else becomes filler, a generic “what happens in between”.

I’d love to think that Scott Pilgrim will be the kind of film that makes moviemakers look at what they’re doing with their own superhero projects, whether it’s X-Men: First Class, The Flash, Captain America or whatever, and think “Wait, does this make any sense as anything other than an adaptation? Should I be thinking of trying to do more than just add a Danny Elfman-inspired score and get my guy into costume as quickly as possible?” I mean, if I were being entirely honest, I’d love for it to make filmmakers think, “How can I make a movie that’s as exciting and funny and in love with movies and comics and wants to remind the audience to love them as well,” but I’m trying to rein in my hyperbole slightly here. But. But one of the reasons that I love Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World so much is that it transcends the notion of a comic book movie, and becomes a movie that just so happened to be a comic book first. If there’s anything that Marvel Studios, DC Entertainment and everyone else making comic book adaptations should be aiming for, it’s that.

I mean, I can dream, can’t I?

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/jleehenderson Jeremy Henderson

    “And then… it was better than I’d expected, and I was left – before that second viewing – thinking that clearly, I must’ve been blown over by the lack of failure that I was overenthusing about the whole thing. “

    Apparently they were saving the failure for the box office performance.

  • Perth D.

    Also, it's Charlotte Hatherly.

  • Ed

    *Hatherley

  • John

    Given the poor box office performance of the film, and its lackluster projections, it might not be a good idea for big studios to base future comic book-based movies on SPvsTW. Perhaps SP is too narrowly targeted to the existing fanbase to succeed in a more mainstream environment.

  • Dorodrak

    easily impressed, aren't you?

  • http://twitter.com/jaffalycosa Toni Goodman

    I doubt poor box office ratings have much to do with lack of how good the film is. There's plenty of films and televisions shows out there that are amazing but never lived up to a high box office or high rantings. It's all about marketing, and familiarity.

    If they used Scott Pilgrim as a model from the next Spider-Man film, people would still go see it. They know what Spider-Man is. Honestly, I know plenty about comics with a large pull every month, and frequent the comic book shop weekly to hang out and talk. I didn't know about Scott Pilgrim until this film started to be discussed, and only until the first trailer came out. And even then, I didn't know it was a comic until I saw the trailer and then saw “volume 6″ laying on the counter at the comic book shop days later.

    If everyone in the comic book community is not familiar with Scott Pilgrim, you think the world at large is going to be? To the mainstream viewer, it's not an adaptation of a sweet comic book series, but a weird looking action film with kids.

  • austin nerd herder

    it has been out for like 1 day people!! do not discount word of mouth and what can happen when a really kick ass movie finally hits theaters.

  • ryan

    Yes, because if there's one thing that Hollywood is lacking, it's movies that are made similar to other movies.

  • Jolewist

    For those saying it's box office performance was bad, remember the first Hellboy? It wasnt until it came out on dvd that it caught everbody's attention

  • Brisnark

    a comic book (geek?)… don't worry i used to say the same of myself)) it's nice to see anyone turn away from the superhero formula hollywood is used too and strike out on a new path… diversity is a good thing. can't wait to see the movie… or iron man 3, for that matter. let's face it, we are media-ho'sl….

  • Nate

    The people proclaiming SP a “failure” obviously don't live in toronto

  • http://twitter.com/Kardwell Kardwell

    “Should I be thinking of trying to do more than just add a Danny Elfman-inspired score and get my guy into costume as quickly as possible?” Great line.

  • Brisnark

    hear hear!! as much as i am am elfman fan, circa oingo boingo (gawd i'm showing my age), these stories really need to delve into the deeper subjects the authors intended.just because the media is “comics” does not mean these guys/gals are not trying to say something here beyond the “bash 'em up” comix of my youth. these authors are trying to tell a stroy via an old (new) art of illistration and storyline (most importantly dialogue and nuance, to catch the attention of the mainstream public) despite what “hollywood” does to it to make it profitable. all we can hope for is a balance…?

  • Brisnark

    p.s. i agree…. great f'ing line

  • Unclebambi

    I just clicked on this story from my google home page. I really hope this is the first writing this person has had published. This is sooooo bad, he must like to see his thoughts in print and be related to the editor or publisher. I can promise I will never come to this site again.

  • Eric

    As a comic geek, I was always aware of “Scott Pilgrim”, but also aware that maybe this wasn't a comic meant for me. However, I was looking forward to the movie as “The Next Edgar Wright” film. I love “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, I was going to see anything that he did next, even an adaptation of a manga-esque comic about indie rockers – two things I can never give a crap about.

    Holy balls, this is easily the best movie I've seen in a very long time. What I love about it is that it just defiantly throws out the need to explain any of the weirdness and quirkiness, never questioning it's own internal logic. It never comes out and makes you realize you're watching a movie by embracing every comic and video-game inspired hook and trick and never getting bogged down in the “hows” and “whys”. When it threatens to, the movie turns around and dismisses the potential exposition.

    This is mad, silver-age inspired storytelling modernized and blown up big for the world to see.

    If people don't like this movie, they don't like fun.

    In that vein, I agree with the article.

    By the by, I'll be checking out those Scott Pilgrim books soon…

  • Easantgd

    I think people should stop thinking of box office. I haven't seen it myself, but my son who is 19 saw a preview and the next day paid to see it again. And to me that says more then what someone who hasn't seen it yet has to say. So until you've seen it SHUT UP!

  • Axonrey

    Perhaps, I'm being dense, but Scott Pilgrim is not a Superhero comic. Certain paralells aren't lost on me, but at its core, its a love story, empowered by the parts that “bend the genre” because they are so seamlessly weaved into the story. While storytelling in super hero movies could certainly be better, the model of Scott Pilgrim doesn't really apply to the stucture of a super hero story, as the fantastical elements are inherently deliberate to the story. Scott Pilgrim could have been a good story without the elements of kung fu and video games, as to where no one would give a shit about Bruce Banner if he didn't turn into the Hulk.

  • Mastadge

    He's not saying every other comic book movie should be similar to Scott Pilgrim; he's saying that they should follow Scott Pilgrim's example in terms of daring to be different, of embracing the entire cinematic potential — aural as well as visual. His entire point is that so many superhero movies are the same, and they don't have to be.

  • http://twitter.com/jaffalycosa Toni Goodman

    What is this about comic book geek?

  • Zeppo

    This is the last picture that other comic book-based films should attempt to ape. Dumbing down your characters to a single dimension while pushing your entire sprawling supporting cast into a single faceless, personality-free mass is not the way to go. And the box office reflects this reality, unfortunately. There's a reason why you're the only reviewer familiar with the comics who was delighted by this movie, bud.

  • Sarah Jones

    McMillan's point is there (if not entirely direct) that comic book adaptations should be “different” and “unique” to each particular work. SP is good example of a film being breed for a specific type of comic. In the same vein, Burton's Batman was breed for a specific type of character. One could argue that a Batman film should never reflect a Superman film and vice versa. Unfortunately, though, super-hero films have become the next big action projects. How different are they from one another? Big explosions and bland soundtracks kill film projects like the Fantastic Four, the Punisher, and the Hulk, and they will likely continue to kill films in the near future. In the end, the reason to love a good adaptation (and any film for that matter) is the ability to make something that feels new, welcoming, and genuine to the original work, whether it be a beloved comic book, novel, or reboot.

  • chloe

    or in Canada, period. Pretty much every showing in Ottawa has sold out, and the ones I've been to always ended in applause.

  • Osuguy1

    This is a typical love fest for a title comics that appeals to a very small margin… and lost on everyone else.

    I yawned through the comics and the reviews and box office have made no impact on making me want to see the movie based and a “geek' comic

  • John

    Funny you should mention “Kick Ass,” another film with a ton of pre-release buzz and a disappointing box office. Personally, I really enjoyed it, but it obviously didn't catch on with the general public. The more these movies are made for those of us who are comic book insiders, the worse they're going to do, as we don't make up nearly a large enough audience to bring the kinds of returns these movies need to succeed. I haven't seen SPvsTW; for all I know, it may be the greatest movie ever made, but it seems that its uber-niche identity – a manga-ish comic about indie rockers – may be working against it. Regardless, Iron Man or Spider-Man might be a better model for future comic book movies.

  • Axonrey

    That's a fair point, but in that case, I think his review undersells other comic movies that don't suck. I've always been against inordinate property damage, but that aside, Iron Man and Batman Begins were unique unto themselves and good movies, without sacrificing depth of character. Where Scott Pilgrim can avoid cliche, a super hero movie cannot. There must be a factor that makes a superhero want to be a superhero, and that will lend itself to less variable than a story about a guy trying to get a girl.

  • ryan

    It doesn't matter what he's saying. The honest truth is this: this movie is an anomaly- it's not the norm and it will never be the norm. The majority of the movie-going audience wants exactly what Hollywood gives them and that is more of the same.
    Doing things differently means taking a risk. Studios do their best to avoid risking the loss of millions of dollars and movie-goers would rather not risk the loss of whatever they pay for tickets (plus refreshments).
    It would be great to say a ticket sale for Scott Pilgrim is a vote for doing things differently, but that's not how it works. To a movie studio, a ticket sale for Scott Pilgrim is a vote for more movies like Scott Pilgrim- more young casts, more romance, more video game references, more action, more of the same story, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/therantguy therantguy

    I am not even going to read the article…given SP's disastrous opening (looking like 4th at about 11 million)…the film is already a box office flop…don't get me wrong, I liked it…but nobody will be basing anything on how SP came about anytime soon.

  • Notdanielok

    Bye now! You won't be missed.

  • joe

    while i'm not disagreeing that iron man or spiderman are good models to base comic movies on, but you can't base the box office success of this movie to scott pilgrim, especially when kick ass was an R rated movie. So until the numbers are in, you can't really say SP was a box office disappointment since well.. it's only been out for 2 days

  • joe

    i meant “you can't compare the boxe office success of this movie to kick ass”

    sorry it's late

  • Andrew Paquette

    While I agree with YOUR argument, there are other things to think about before stating “other movies, look here!” Scott Pilgrim, the movie, takes on WAY too much material. Enough that I've been describing SPvtW as “a punchline without a joke,” to people who ask, a description mostly stemming from how the end of the vegan section OCCURS, but has no real logic or humor at all without the lead-up.

  • Sageshinigami

    Having seen the film, and those other reviews…those guys had no idea WTF they were talking about. I'm not sure what you wanted from the film without it being three movies long and stretched out unnecessarily, but Scott Pilgrim versus the World was an amazing movie. Loved every second, and the reviewers need to get with the program 'cause they're sounding more and more off-base from week to week.

    Other Scott Pilgrim fans I've spoken to have loved this film as well. You may be screaming into the ether, kid

  • Sageshinigami

    “I am not even going to read the article”

    Wish I'd done the same with your post, but unfortunately my ability to concentrate is better.

  • Rev

    I think the big problem with this movies box office performance is:
    That while it is a great form of comic movie, and a really good model…it has a rally young target audience. I'm a huge comic fan, and I loved the movie, but even in my late 20's the film was a little too “teen-age” in sections for me in the sense of cahracter. No real draw for people outside of the comic genere over the age of 30. Other comic films have a draw to older crowds due to older characters or known (Nic Cage) older actors, or better known characters.
    The target audience is a pretty limited reach sadly.

  • ClayG

    Hmm. I think you're wrong.

    I'm 39 years old, and while I am admittedly a comic geek (predominantly superhero comics), I've never yet read the Scott Pilgrim comics. But I can assure you I'm going to. I saw the movie for the first time the day before yesterday, and I'm going again in an hour. This is a magic film, and that doesn't come along even once, usually, in an entire year.

  • Kevin

    Hellboy opened at #1 in 2004 with $23 MIL.

    SPVTW is no Hellboy.

  • http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com Bill Reed

    I am the hugest elitist bastard on the internet, and I thought this was the best movie of the year. I can't understand how anyone wouldn't love this movie, but I am so within its target audience that I am blinded to those that wouldn't quite “get” it.

  • http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com Bill Reed

    I can't imagine how poorly stocked your comic shop or local bookstore must be if you've never heard of Scott Pilgrim. I mean, clearly you have the internet, you're on a CBR site. Mind, boggled.

  • http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com Bill Reed

    “has no real logic or humor at all without the lead-up”

    That is how jokes work.

  • http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com Bill Reed

    Or are you saying there *isn't* lead-up? Because clearly, there is.

  • Dave Dplatt72

    $10 million and a fifth place finish speaks louder than any applause.

  • DP

    I have seen it. Thought it was at best mediocre.

  • http://elblogiante.blogspot.com/ ElBlogiante

    Too bad its not performing well in theaters :(

  • Yosamania

    I fear the “comic book movie” era is coming to a close. As more and more obscure titles begin to be produced into movies, less and less of the general movie going public are going to show up and buy tickets. I say this because to me the only truly marketable names and titles in comics (superman, batman, spider-man, x-men, you know the BIG ones) have already been done. Your Kick-Ass, Wanted, and now Scott Pilgrims just aren't known enough and perhaps aren't OLD enough to be accepted by the general public, whom movies are made for. This leads to sometimes drastic changes to plot and story and an overall move to make them more mainstream, which sort of eliminates the reason anyone wanted to see them made into a movie in the first place.
    While Scott Pilgrim VS The World seems to have stayed very close to the source material this is most likely why its seen as overly geeky and well, lame. I dunno about the rest of you but when I saw the ads and trailers for this movie I got sort of a sinking feeling, like they were pushing nerdliness (not a word probably) onto the general public, who generally isn't a nerd. Not very enticing to the average joe who buys movie tickets on a weekend.
    In closing, I haven't seen Pilgrim, no familiarity with the source material, but Ill check it out, both the printed and movie versions, but I'm not surprised its not killing the box office and I doubt movies like this are going to be made much longer.

  • Johnny Blaze

    Lets just talk #'s

    Global Opening Weekend Gross: $11.5 million
    Budget (according to boxofficemojo.com): $60 million
    After marketing expenses, amount of money needed to break even: $120 million (general hollywood rule of thumb is 2 X budget)

    Estimated Entire Run for SPvsWorld @ theatre: $30 million (being generous)
    Estimated DVD/Blu-Ray/PPV/TV rights for SPvs World: $40 million (again generous)

    That means the movie will make about $70 million vs a cost of $120 million (not including costs of making Blu-Rays/DVD/marketting such etc).

    Thats a $50 million dollar loss. That is a certified Bomb-Omb stinker at the box office.

    All #'s aside I will still support this movie, as i like Edgar Right and am interested

  • Erik Larsen

    I enjoyed the hell out of it.

  • Rev

    Oh, I'm not saying that the film isn't great. I loved it and want to see it again. I'm just saying it's not going to perform well in theatres because of these reasons. I think right now the estimate for the weekend is like…10 million.

  • PJ

    Mike Carey doing a Captain Britain movie would probably be a great bridge from Scott Pilgrim into positive change in mainstream Super Hero films. Even his work in Dark X-men was very overtly musically aware. It would provide a fun alternative superhero blockbuster without being labeled as more of an “indie” superhero movie like Kick-Ass. Mike also already has screenplay writing experience.

  • Bryanss3

    Mike Carey…. really I think you mean Paul Cornell

  • Brad Rzanka

    As to the readership for SP being a “very small margin”, that's a “very small margin” of the mainstream superhero readership, which is probably dwarfed by the true mainstream audience (as in people who don't give a rip about the published adventures of flying men in tights) that have discovered the series through the bookstore market, creating the heat that led to this movie being made in the first place. Along with 'Sandman', 'Scott Pilgrim' is one of the only “comic books” that multiple female friends of mine, who adamantly declare that they're not “comic book people”, and have never set foot inside a comic shop, have embraced whole-heartedly.

    As for the movie's box-office failure, everyone is Monday morning quarterback here. My personal feeling is that the film's lackluster returns have nothing to to do with the visibility (or lack of) of the source material, and more with the studio's inability to figure out how to market the film, Michael Cera's overexposure, and a truly horrible late summer release date that pitted it against two highly anticipated superstar vehicles that both overlap with Pilgrim's potential target audiences.

    Anyway, I'll back up other comments that what most posters have missed entirely in what McMillian was saying is not that more superhero movies should BE JUST LIKE Scott Pilgrim, but that, like Edgar Wright did on SP, their makers should try harder to find cinematic stylistic analogues for what made their comic book incarnations unique. Other positive examples of the same could be '300', 'Persepolis', 'American Splendour' and Burton's 'Batman'. He's talking about bold and creative use of form, not directly aping the form or content of SP or anything else. I'd even argue that much of the success of 'The Matrix' a decade ago stemmed from its ability to find an incredibly exciting (at the time) way to translate stylistic devices from comics and animation (particularly anime) to live-action film in a way that few mainstream comics-to-film adaptations have even attempted since.

  • http://twitter.com/mikewhitecomics mikewhite

    I have faith this movie will do well. The dedication of the fans will help it to meet Hollywood expectations. It's still early to speculate, and it opened against some really mainstream heavyhitters. I think the Family Guy could be a good example of the kind of success SP could attain. FG was cancelled, but after the DVD sets came out, it was so successful it was (i think) the first show to ever get back after cancelation. I'd wager it's due to the fans – and with this franchise, they seem a lot more hardcore and loyal than a lot of the comic adaptations of late. In the end, SPvsTW will come out ahead and be a good example of how hollywood should approach production and its valuation of success :)

  • NaveenM

    I fear the “comic book movie” era is coming to a close.
    Maybe. And this is something I suspect as well, but it doesn't take much to be wrong. All it takes is another “300″, which came out of nowhere, to get Hollywood's attention back to comics.

    “Wanted”, BTW, made a ton of money, $340 million (foreign & domestic). And that's just the box office.

    Personally, I think most comics would be better off as TV shows anyway. Let's see how “The Waking Dead” does. If it's a hit, expect Hollywood to find a new avenue for their comic options.

  • NaveenM

    It had a dismal opening. But some movies (“Scream”, for example), often grow based on good word of mouth.

    It's possible this could happen with Scott Pilgrim, considering the good reviews, plus the lack of much of anything else targeting this demographic coming out for the next few weeks.

  • http://atocom.blogspot.com/2010/08/before-scott-pilgrim-wascutie-honey.html Atomic Kommie Comics

    If you liked Scott Pilgrim you should check out the manga-to live action adaptation Cutie Honey.
    Even more manic with lots of manga/comic visuals.

  • Daryll B.

    I will say this, I liked the movie…but I didn't love it. Don't get me wrong, this may be Michael Cera's 2nd best movie to date. However, for a story built on Scott's love for Ramona… I did not feel it on screen… Honestly, I felt more for Knives and some of the exes than I did for the “romantic” duo.

    Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, and the “Twins” knocked their roles out of the park… I still have reservations about using all 7 exes in the one movie… but I can't hate on the video game references and comic book movie allusions…. 3.5 out of 5 stars…

  • Ace CS

    Just count me among those not impressed by the film. I disagree with almost all the OP points (both the general thesis and the specific paragraphical bits).
    The main problem, I think, with the OP’s thesis is that it’s framed by poor inspiration/logic. (S)He assumes that because they liked the movie, it’s some transcendent wonder. No dice. “celebration of filmmaking”? “the potential of the movie medium” WTH? It’s a not the next Star Wars, dude.
    And what’s with the CBM hate? It’s like the OP is confusing CBMs with VGMs. All read this: Joel Schumacher beats Uwe Boll, any day of the week. (Just don’t tell Uwe that; he might actually challenge poor Joel to a fistfight.) Dialogue can be hit and miss, but I don’t think the genre, as a whole, is any worse than the average non-CBM (especially action/adventure romps or “guy movies”). Is it sad that the bar’s set low? Sure. Is it that setting the exclusive fault of CBMs? NO!
    PS. I hope you—the OP—can clarify something: I couldn’t tell whether you’re dissing Iron Man or giving it props.
    Secondly, regarding AXONREY’S POINT… I’m struggling to understand what you even mean by this line: “Scott Pilgrim could have been a good story without the elements of kung fu and video games”. Without those elements, what have you got? No, really. Titanic? A Nicholas Sparks novel/movie? Fight Club? How does Scott fight the exes? Are they killed—rather than turned to coins—or just badly injured? Couldn’t Scott, Ramona or someone else put a stop to all this by calling the cops? What would you have then? I’m totally stumped here. Really, the fantastical elements that are no less essential to this movie than they are to the average CBM (or VGM, for that matter). If not for them, it would literally be a whole different film. Arguing that such a film would be inevitably good is like saying that Superman could save the world without his powers. It’s basically a thoughtless argument informed by nothing but your own bias toward the material.
    Lastly, I feel like I could/should argue the faulty nature of the story itself and its crappy messages—(Girls are easy, and mostly just property/annoyances; lesbians are evil [unless it’s “just a phase”]; Jason Lee is/was a prick [okay, that one’s debatable]; don’t address your problems, just bury them; let your boyfriend fight your battles; killing people is the key to bettering one’s life; etc.—at length, but this probably isn’t the best venue.