Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World might be the single most fitting use of the term “cult classic” in that phrase’s history. Based on the indie darling graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film initially bombed at the box office, but gained a huge following on home media over the years thanks to its unique visual style, the wit and humor that define’s most of Wright’s films, and the surprisingly stacked cast of actors that bring the film’s colorful cast of characters to life.
The recent popularity of the film on Netflix in particular prompted the streaming giant to bring Wright and O’Malley back to create a new anime mini-series adaptation entitled Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, which features the original film’s entire cast reprising their roles and a soundtrack composed by electronic pop band Anamanaguchi, who did the music for the fan-favorite Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game.
So, after 13 years and with a new, potentially definitive adaptation on the horizon, does the original film still hold up? Does Scott still work as a likable protagonist after over a decade of evolution in the way we look at relationships? Are the film’s nerdy references still charming in a media landscape dominated by geek culture? Well, there’s only one way to find out.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Plot
The film opens as Scott Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera, is being understandably called out by his friends for dating 17-year-old Knives Chau despite being 22 himself. While they haven’t done so much as hold hands yet, his friends still think it’s weird while he’s just happy to have any sort of relationship after a bad break-up with Brie Larson’s Envy Adams the year prior. However, things take a turn when Scott meets the girl of his dreams: Ramona Flowers, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
She’s a roller-skating Amazon delivery girl with pastel hair and a cool, slick attitude that just moved from New York to Scott’s hometown of Toronto, Canada. The two hit it off and quickly start dating, but immediate roadblocks to the relationship come up on both their ends. Scott doesn’t tell Knives about Ramona right away and even briefly continues dating her while dating Ramona. Meanwhile, Scott is forced to fight Ramona’s seven evil exes in video game-style death matches if he wants to continue dating her.
From here, the film intersperses the relationship drama between Scott and Ramona with stylish action scenes of Scott battling each of the evil exes. But after defeating the Katayanagi Twins, Exes Five and Six, Ramona breaks up with Scott to get back with the seventh ex, Gideon Graves. Scott decides to fight Gideon anyway, realizes his own flaws as a person, and ultimately defeats both Gideon and his evil self Nega Scott before walking off with Ramona to give their relationship another try.
Why Scott Pilgrim (Mostly) Still Works
I went into this viewing expecting much of the film to have aged like milk, but Scott Pilgrim vs. The World remains by and large a fantastic romantic comedy to this day. The cast all do an excellent job, the music is great, and the visual storytelling is top-notch. As you’ve likely come to expect from an Edgar Wright film, each scene is packed with hidden details and is paced to a precise narrative rhythm that makes the proceedings feel like poetry in motion and gives you something new to appreciate on each subsequent viewing.
And like Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, the film is filled to the brim with memorable quotes and gags from Wallaces constant hook-ups to Young Neil lurking in the background to Julia’s in-universe self-censoring to something as simple as Michael Cera’s delivery of “Bread makes you fat?” It’s all genuinely hilarious and have helped make the film a reliable comfort watch for many. Plus, its action is incredibly fun, taking audio and visual cues from comic books and games like onomatopoeias and opponents exploding into coins to create wholly unique and stylish fight scenes,
Moreover, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does a great job at capturing the often confusing and contradictory cocktail of emotions and anxieties that come with being in your early twenties. Trying to find work, dealing with relationship struggles, feeling caught in that weird in-between of no longer being a teenager but still not feeling like an adult. There’s a surprising amount of nuance and emotional maturity present in the overall story and character arcs…….. with one major exception.
Why The Ending DOESN’T Work
Technically, there are two versions of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World‘s ending; but I don’t think either of them are particularly great. The original ending has Scott and Knives get back together after the final fight, but this was changed after the final volume of the comic had Scott and Ramona get together and due to objections from Bryan Lee O’Malley over the ending “diluting” Knives’ character, a criticism that I wholeheartedly agree with. Plus, Scott shouldn’t have been dating a high schooler in the first place. The story literally opens with him being rightfully called out on that.
The final ending has Knives encourage Scott to go be with Ramona, which he of course does. While this conclusion is mostly fine, it doesn’t really gel with me because I don’t think it’s fair to either Scott or Ramona. Ramona only got back with Gideon because of mind control that she was just freed from and she spends most of the movie trying to escape her past and start fresh. I don’t feel like getting into another relationship right then and there is something she’d want to do.
And Scott has spent the entire movie and especially the climax learning to stop being a jerk and just be honest with both others and himself. He’s an emotionally insecure person that is only able to self-actualize after admitting his mistakes and doing something for himself rather than to impress someone else; literally earning “The Power of Self-Respect” and confronting the physical manifestation of his negative traits as the final step on that path.
Scott going through all that and then being “rewarded” with his dream girl undercuts that arc. In my opinion, he shouldn’t have gotten together with either Knives or Ramona by the end. He should have broken things off with Knives and told Ramona he wanted to work on himself before getting into a relationship. You could have them still be friends, but immediately starting up a romance again just feels wrong.
What Scott Pilgrim Takes Off Can Learn From The Original Movie
Given that the goal of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is to be a more expanded and faithful adaptation of the comics and that the film’s final ending is comic-accurate, I highly doubt anything resembling my preferred take on the ending will be included. However, if Scott is going to end up with Ramona, I hope the new series lets that feel earned.
Show these two as characters outside of just their relationship, let us see them grow and change over the course of the show, explore who they are as people and not just romantic foils. Scott of course gets that in the original movie and Ramona does to an extent, but I think it could be fleshed out more and a series is the perfect opportunity to do just that. At the same time, I think there’s plenty of stuff from the movie that I would love to see carried over into the show.
The original cast coming back is obviously a great start, but I hope they also include the same level of detail in individual scenes and the same kind of rhythmic pacing and vibrant visual style that made the original movie so special. Based on the trailers, it seems like they’re doing that and then some, to the point where Takes Off might be the new definitive adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim story. But regardless of how the show turns out, the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World movie is still a great adaptation and a great film in its own right that, for the most part, still holds up.