By Richie Angel
“This song is for the guy who keeps yelling from the balcony, and it’s called ‘We Hate You, Please Die.’”
In between Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver; at the crest of Michael Cera’s superstardom; and moments before the catapulting fame of co-stars Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, and more, Universal Pictures produced a frenetic yet meticulous flop that has since become a bona fide cult classic.
Based on the series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World follows an awkward, comically unimpressive narcissist who lives across the street from his parents, almost held hands once with his 17-year-old girlfriend, and believes his fan-less rock band is lucky to have such a stellar bass player as himself. Says Scott, “I knew I personally rocked, but I never suspected that we rocked as a unit.”
As Scott prepares for the battle of the bands, he meets Ramona, literally the girl of his dreams. But in order to date her, Scott will have to defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes, including a Hollywood tough guy, a super-powered vegan, and a dancer with the ability to summon “demon hipster chicks.”
There is simply no way to encapsulate all of the artful madness of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As an adaptation, it is equal parts live-action anime, video game, and romantic action comedy. As a film, it is a masterclass in match cuts and split edits. Tonally, it achieves impeccable balance between farce and thematic depth as it explores the toxicity of baggage and what happens when you are blind to your own. Its parts combine into arguably the most criminally underrated movie of the 2010s.
When it comes to the music, this movie is not as much about music as it is a masterful showcase of music as both a character and a concept. Whatever other movies like That Thing You Do! lack in bassist recognition, Edgar Wright makes up for by placing his bass-toting hero front and center. In fact, Scott clashes with one evil ex in a throwdown between dueling basses, and he faces two more in the battle of the bands. Music tracks certain character beats for Scott, from his simplistic self-satisfaction (“Check it out, I learned the bass line from Final Fantasy II”); to his mental absenteeism (“You only played one note for that entire song”); and his immaturely incomplete approach to love (“Can’t wait to hear when it’s finished.” “Finished?”). The songs themselves are often more like explosive soundscapes in their vibrant animation and minimal length, at times distilling an entire number into only a few bombastic seconds.
Within many films, music is a teacher or a tool for the characters. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, music is also the tool of the filmmaker—framing the plot, revealing the characters, and acting as an artistic catalyst for efficient audio/visual storytelling. And that’s why every musician should watch Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.