Register Wednesday | June 26 | 2019

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Not Quite.

I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World last night and as my series of immediate-reaction tweets indicate, I did not enjoy it. Actually, I did enjoy it until the second half began, where I feel the film goes from being an amazing adaptation to a complete bastardization of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work.

Before I get into why I was so heartbroken by this movie, I want to make it clear that I know book to film adaptations are rarely ever “true” to the original work, that changes must be made to accommodate the very different medium of film, so on so forth. What is not acceptable, or even necessary, is the almost complete omission of important story lines and themes in any particular work.

I would also like to note that I love the books dearly and really identify with the characters and themes, so I am certainly more sensitive to their treatment than those who do not.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as Liam Lacey in the Globe and Mail wrote, is “exhilar-austing and super-duper-ficial.” Large portions of the film were rewritten to incorporate the comic/retro-gaming feel, which I enjoyed, and a ridiculous amount of what I consider unnecessary CGI (especially in the Katayanagi twins fight), which I did not enjoy so much. Of course, it’s wonderful to watch a film based on and filmed in this fair city, thus being able to shout “HEY THAT’S MY STREET!” But most importantly:

Wright and co-screenwriter Michael Bacall manage to keep this sprawling cast of characters and story coherent, and often startlingly funny, but the opportunities for identifying with these characters are limited.

I agree with Lacey’s entire review, but this quote right here, is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s biggest flaw. In the film, Scott Pilgrim is nothing more than hilariously aloof. He never attempts to get a job or sort through his muddled memories and history - both important aspects of his maturation throughout the comic series. Ramona and Scott never move in together or have a fully developed relationship; they have a fluffy connection (or more accurately, a series of sketchy dates) that can’t possibly amount to being in love. The film characterization of Ramona is predictably awful: she’s eye candy without any real depth or draw, so the audience (or at least me) wonder what Scott sees in her at all. Instead of disappearing to her father’s in an attempt to sort herself out, Ramona leaves Scott for Gideon (in the series, this is a product of Scott’s paranoia), is portrayed as Gideon’s slave, and is only truly aware of her “mistakes” and focuses on self-improvement after Scott defeats Gideon and she is “free.”

These are just a few reasons why I think the film completely misses the mark. Ian Daffern’s essay sums up the comic series beautifully:

Scott Pilgrim’s characters live free from responsibility. Anyone whose adolescence has stretched into their early 20s can relate: Scott and his friends play video games, form bands and fall in love. In the hands of lesser talent, it would have remained endlessly so. But Scott Pilgrim, ultimately, is about things ending: Relationships break down, bands break up, friends move away and nothing lasts forever…

In Vol. 4, he [Scott] “levelled up” by declaring his love for Ramona, earning a flaming sword (+2 Guts! +2 Heart!). However, at this point in Vol. 6, he has alienated himself from most of his friends and Ramona has disappeared from his life. And it’s only by understanding his past that Scott is able to survive.

It’s that mapping of the symbolic language of battles, levelling up and experience onto the genuine challenges of life that sets Scott Pilgrim apart. Through them, O’Malley takes on change itself: losses of friendship and the struggle to maintain your sense of self; coming to terms with your personal baggage. Growing old means merely accumulating more people you’ve hurt and let down along the way. And after all that desperation and longing, daring to find someone who will take that leap of love with you all the same. Which, in the end, might be the only thing worth fighting for.

At the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, there is no development or lesson learned. No endings to be dealt with. Scott only earns self respect when he decides to fight Gideon for himself and not Ramona. Later, he doesn’t fight Nega-Scott, he shoots the shit with him without addressing any of his past mistakes. Scott is shown reconnecting with Knives, considering her because she helped him fight Gideon and Ramona suggests that they make a good combo (which, by the way, never happens in the comics).

Without at least a glimpse into the much deeper Scott-Ramona relationship, the dissolving friendships, and Scott’s overall struggle with a changing world and “growing up,” what we are left with is a flashy movie for video game and Toronto lovers. That’s it. What is supposed to be Scott Pilgrim vs. The World becomes Scott Pilgrim vs. Ramona’s Evil Exes - not himself, and certainly not the world.

I’m not surprised that the film was produced this way - it is Wright after all - but I am incredibly disappointed that only a fraction of what I love about Scott Pilgrim is in the Scott Pilgrim movie. I hoped and hoped and hoped I’d see more. I guess I’m just naive.

(From she was disarming. Follow Emma Wolley on Twitter)