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?