Scott Pilgrim must defeat his new girlfriend’s seven Exes, so that he may continue dating her. Defeat as in literally beat them up, in proper video game style with dramatized kung-fu and glittery special effects. Why? Just shut up and play along.
You know a movie isn’t taking itself seriously when it lets people break walls with their bare hands, hurls characters through glass without a scratch and spawns digital swords from thin air. All this is achieved through the usual CGI trappings, albeit in an unconventional way. I don’t have a problem appreciating that, but it’s finally a gimmick which you need to back up with a solid storyline to keep it fresh.
In short, Scott is on his first date with Ramona, only to get ambushed by her first ex, an Indian origin flamboyant bollywood-man. After defeating him in combat, we’re told to anticipate six more of such random encounters, without any real explanation. Each of these Exes have their idiosyncracies which makes them unique, like being an action-movie star, a vegan-powered super-hero, a lesbian ninja and even a daft-punk knockoff duo. The final Ex is Gideon, a mob boss of sorts who is also revealed to be the one orchestrating all the battles. Scott fails to defeat him the first time, but has a 1-up which grants him a second chance. In his second attempt he’s also assisted by his ex Chau, and they finally succeed in defeating Gideon.
Clearly the story is about the linearly presented battles, à la video games. These are essentially set-pieces with no real story other than Scott defeating whichever Ex he’s currently facing. But there’s an additional subplot with Scott’s other potential girlfriend: Chau. She keeps reappearing throughout, presumably to win him back from Ramona. This is where the story begins to falter. The story then also wants to be about how Scott betrayed his own ex in order to pursue Ramona. This means we have a love triangle in the B plot! Love triangles are hard to get right when they’re the center of attention, even harder when they’re not. Yes they can be fun, and audiences (including me) just love to wonder who’s gonna get together and who’s not. But a satisfying conclusion to the triangle is also important. And the film fails to do so. Chau is conveniently appeased at the end where she simply accepts that Scott has moved on and stops pursuing him. This is completely out of character based on her past behaviour. Thus the subplot is a mess of direction, while the main one is obnoxiously repetitive, leading to a mediocre experience in toto.
There’s also some attempt at a thematic base where Scott must solve his issues with self-esteem in order to successfully defeat Gideon. This feels badly tacked on, as until this point in the movie we have seen little evidence of Scott suffering due to his lack of self-esteem. In fact, he’s a pretty good bass player and his band relies on his skills. Physically too, Scott seems capable of taking on most of Ramona’s exes except the last one. This lame attempt at a theme only compounds the issues with the script.
I think the film could’ve done better if Chau’s story was either divorced or further grained onto the main plot. We know that none of Ramona’s Exes have any real character to them. So the story could’ve been more about how Scott needs to apologize to Chau, get on good terms and seek her help in defeating the Exes. Another way to tackle this could’ve been to present Chau as Ramona’s final Ex, this being the “twist” at the end of the second act. Now it’s not just a matter of a fist-fight but also about apologizing to someone you’ve betrayed. There are many other ways to make this work, but you get the idea where the problem lies.
The other background characters do their jobs well. Scott’s band-mates and roommates all offer the requisite comic relief or timely quip to maintain the movie’s weird and awkward taste. The animation is intentionally cartoon-ish and over-the-top, which goes well with the intended tone of the film.
I don’t recommend watching Scott Pilgrim, unless your need for arcade-y amusement is not better satisfied elsewhere.