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All the Reasons We Love ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’

On the film’s 10th anniversary, we look at the cult classic’s legacy and the little things that made it special

Universal Pictures/Ringer illustration

There are some indisputable facts in this world, like bread makes you fat, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has aged into a classic. On the film’s 10th anniversary, we’re looking back at all the reasons we love the movie. Once you’re done with that, check out Sean Fennessey’s Big Picture interview with director Edgar Wright from earlier this summer and read Rob Harvilla’s piece on the power of the Knives Chau character.

It’s a Great Villain-Redemption Film

Scott Pilgrim—ringer-tee wastrel, emotionally stunted cradle robber, email skimmer—is a villain. Sure, he’s under attack throughout the movie—hunted by Ramona Flowers’s seven evil exes—but an observant viewer can see that our shaggy-haired protagonist is, in fact, the bad guy (just ask Kim, or the sibyl Julie Powers). Whether he’s making you pay at the arcade, zoning out at band practice, or stalking you at a party, our guy is, as Ramona puts it plainly toward the end of the second act, “just another evil ex waiting to happen.”

Our villain’s redemption arrives, though. In the final battle scene, Knives comes at Ramona, whom she sees as her enemy, even though Scott is really to blame. Just as he couldn’t break up with Knives when he should have, Scott once again waffles when faced with accountability—and is swiftly smote by Gideon. It’s only when he owns up to his shitty behavior (starting with an apology to Kim) that he is able to defeat the odious G-Man with the power of self-respect.

That’s part of what makes Scott Pilgrim so special—it illustrates the careless ways we treat people but in the funnest way possible, gamifying infatuation and heartache to a soundtrack of garage rock and Nintendo. It takes the whole movie for Scott’s selfish obliviousness to finally dissipate like a retro Mega Man boss, but on the way it captures the magic of loud music in toilet venues, crowded parties on winter nights, and the way your baggage from past loves pops up when you don’t expect it. And it’s never too late to learn the parting lesson—when it comes down to it, you are your own final boss. Kjerstin Johnson

The Stellar Cast

There are many reasons to love Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, from the comic-book design, to the video-game feel, to Ramona Flowers’s ever-changing hair color. But one of my favorite things about the film is the amazing cast. When the movie came out in 2010, we all sort of knew Michael Cera as that mopey-ass boyfriend character he had been playing since Juno in 2007. But the supporting cast is packed with star power—as evidenced by the bigger roles they would go on to pull post–Scott Pilgrim. You have Aubrey Plaza, who appeared as April in the popular NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who would go on to star in the TV series Fargo and Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. Kieran Culkin, who plays my beloved Roman in HBO’s Succession. Anna Kendrick who went on to the Pitch Perfect series. Brie Larson, who would later win an Oscar for her performance in The Room. The internet’s boyfriend, Chris Evans, is even in this movie as an evil ex. Yes, Captain fucking America is in this! I haven’t even mentioned Alison Pill (Devs) or Jason Schwartzman (every Wes Anderson film ever, and then some). So when you’re turning on the ole Netflix and rewatching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, you’ll get not only an enjoyable, hilarious comic-book action movie, but also a mini time capsule of great actors and actresses who were, for the most part, in the early part of their career. —David Lara

The Lucas Lee Movies

Though his battle with Scott isn’t my favorite (shout-out Todd and the Vegan Police), Lucas Lee is my favorite of Ramona’s evil exes. He’s like your favorite comedian in that every single thing he says is funny—even the stuff in between the actual jokes. Chris Evans gives the performance so many great flourishes that I could rank Lee’s one-liners if I wanted to.

Instead, I’ll rank Lucas Lee’s five movies based on title, poster, and tagline. Now … [extreme Lucas Lee voice] somebody get me my keyboard.

5. Action Doctor—“The good news is you are going to live. The bad news is he’s going to kill you.”

I love Lucas Lee—you could even call me a Lee head—but he was clearly just hunting some extra cash on this one.

4. The Game Is Over 2—“One good cop … is finished … fooling around … again.”

I can’t stop laughing at the idea of skipping to The Game Is Over 2 without making the original The Game Is Over.

3. Thrilled to Be Here—“Spencer Jay is awesome. You’re welcome.”

I could take or leave the title, but four pictures of Lucas Lee making nearly identical faces plus a tagline that feels straight out of MacGruber has me preordering my ticket.

2. Let’s Hope There’s a Heaven—“Kiss me, I’m dying.”

Edgar Wright and Co. obviously wanted to make it as absurd as possible, but the idea that there would be a sad, romantic movie like this where only Lucas Lee’s, and not the lead actress’s, name is on the poster is so bizarre it’s funny.

1. You Just Don’t Exist—“Cole Hazard just got a call saying he has 89 minutes to live … from himself.”

This is what happens when the three elements of a movie poster are so disparate that they come together in harmony. The title seems to have no connection to the plot, there’s four pictures of Lucas Lee despite the tagline suggesting there’s only two of him in the movie. It’s … perfect. —Jackson Safon

The Way Knives Steals Every Scene

In case you managed to gloss over every character in this movie telling Scott to grow the hell up, Ramona really lays it out for us in the second act. “You’re just another evil ex waiting to happen,” she tells him, after Scott, yet again, tries to hold her own emotional baggage against her. Ramona is right, of course, just in the wrong tense. The backdoor brilliance of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the story of Knives Chau, an ultra-relatable teenager who has the misfortune of falling for the wrong guy. When Scott dumps Knives—a dignity he couldn’t even be bothered with until his roommate plies him with bacon and guilt—he sends her on her own parallel journey of self-discovery. He becomes her Envy.

The frame follows Scott because he insists upon it, but Knives steals every scene she finds her way into. Give it up for Ellen Wong, who blows the doors off this thing with an energy perfectly calibrated to a high schooler surrounded by garage-band 20-somethings. This entire movie is a tonal miracle, and Wong’s performance is the proof. If Knives is too devastated by the breakup, the audience could turn on Scott completely. If the acting is too broad, Knives would be brushed aside, sapping all the satisfaction from her arc. We don’t have to worry about any of that because Wong is note-freaking-perfect the whole way. Knives’s fixation on Scott plays for laughs and sympathy all at once, each somehow inspiring the other.

It’s such a specific performance that it cuts through everything else on the screen: desperate, sweet, and more than a little familiar. By the end, Knives is over all of it—including Scott and her role in the background of his story. She’ll be fine. She’s too cool for this movie, anyway. —Rob Mahoney

It Indirectly Birthed Many Great Superheroes

Scott Pilgrim is known for a lot of things, including its awesome visuals, fun story line, and great characters, but we don’t talk about how many cast members have gone on to star in superhero films and TV shows. Edgar Wright’s superhero tree can be rivaled only by Bill Parcells’s coaching tree. It’s legitimately impressive. Let’s look at the list: Chris Evans as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four and Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in Captain Marvel, Mary Elizabeth Winstead was Huntress in Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, Michael Cera as Robin in The LEGO Batman Movie, and Aubrey Plaza as Lenny in Legion. Now, the market may be oversaturated with superheroes to begin with, but there’s another way to think about it. Being in a superhero film or TV show means playing a serious role in a world that isn’t, and no cast does it better than Scott Pilgrim’s. In a world of evil exes, super vegans, and wild bass battles, everyone acts like this is something they do. They take themselves super seriously in a world of fun and it lends itself well to the superhero genre. Unless of course, you think Scott Pilgrim is a superhero movie … but that’s another discussion. —Jomi Adeniran

It’s Actually the Best Comic Book Movie and the Best Video Game Movie

You might like Mortal Kombat, and The Dark Knight is undeniably great, but there isn’t another movie out there that replicates the style, sensation, and experience of reading a comic or playing a game. On top of just being a top-to-bottom blast, Scott Pilgrim wears its inspirations on its sleeve, in ways deeper than just the graphics, sound effects, and chiptune score (which rips).

When it comes to video games, Scott Pilgrim owes its story structure to a classic fighting-game format. Defeat X amount of bosses in hand-to-hand combat (the seven evil exes) to win the game (girl). More than that, the movie emulates the experience of playing a game with a friend, and the deep connection that forms between good co-op partners. This serves the story near the end. Scott and Knives “play” the DDR knockoff game three times throughout the movie. First, at the beginning of their doomed relationship (she’s 17, Scott). Second, after he’s met Ramona and totally checked out and sucking. And third, during the final fight against Gideon, when Scott apologizes to Knives and tells her the truth, and they overcome their differences and punch-dance Gideon to the grave. This could’ve been just an ordinary(ish) fight, but Wright and Co. make the deliberate link to the DDR game within the fight itself, and tie up Knives and Scott’s story in a really nice, neat way because of it.

Scott Pilgrim also adopts the visual language of reading a comic or graphic novel seamlessly. That includes simple things like quippy character-intro graphics, visualizing different impact words and sounds, and relying heavily on split screens. But it goes deeper than that. The performances play in the same way you might read them, lines delivered quickly and succinctly, jittering with quirky Canadian charm. Also, most of the characters just play one note throughout (very well!)—think of how much they get out of the Wallace Wells stealing boys bit. There isn’t a lot of subtext in this movie, and the way the characters are played and how the camera is placed, almost leaving room for speech bubbles, is very, very indebted to comic books. —Mose Bergmann