Updated: Aug 22
The Scott Pilgrim saga, in all its forms, is arguably one of the most culturally important pieces of media of the early 2000s. The original comic book series, with its signature deadpan humor, charmingly simple art style, and iconic video game-inspired rom-com plot, was something refreshingly new in the world of dark and brooding mainstream superhero comics that existed in 2004. It warranted not only a (much more popular) movie adaption, but a video game adaption, as well. This isn’t to say the world of Scott Pilgrim is perfect, though-- in fact, it’s far from it. With its incessant stereotyping, questionable-at-best politics, and the subtle but important tone shift from the graphic novel to the movie adaption, there’s a lot to think critically about in such a well-known and beloved franchise.
Volume 1, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, sets the stage for the following 6 volumes. Scott Pilgrim, 22-year old nobody and certified Bad Person, lives with his roommate in Toronto, Canada. Job-less and aspiration-less, he spends most of his time with his terrible band, Sex-Bob-omb, and his high school-age girlfriend, Knives Chao. Along the way, he meets and becomes obsessed with American manic pixie dream girl Ramona Flowers. Ramona tells Scott that in order to date her, he needs to defeat her Seven Evil Exes (whom he’ll meet and battle video-game-style throughout the course of the series).
There’s a lot to get into just from this. I’ll start with the introduction of Ramona as one of the first and most well-known Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotypes that took over common media in the 2000s.
Ramona Flowers, with her mystical superpowers, bright dyed hair, performative bisexuality, and unexplainable interest in Scott, was the dream girl for “normal” teenage boys in the era of commercialized girl power and Britney Spears. As men began to feel that power was being taken from them (by women) and they couldn’t get it back, they attempted to twist the narrative into their own terms: introducing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Ramona Flowers, in the first volumes, is a blank slate. She’s a free spirit, off doing her own thing and not caring about Scott-- that’s what interests him in the first place. But at the same time, her character revolves around him. She agrees to go out with him after he’s made a fool of himself multiple times, supports him in anything and everything he wants to do, and sticks around for no reason other than to be there for him. She’s incredibly powerful and powerless at the same time; a “rebel girl” built for the male gaze as a firm believer against it. Only in volumes two and three do we actually learn enough about her to bump her down to Scott’s level.
Another big issue is Wallace Wells. Wallace, being one of the first examples of explicit gay representation in the media, is an extremely important character. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make him a good one. Not only is he (stereotypically) attracted to practically every man he sees, his character exists to help Scott through his hetero romance, and nothing else. He’s a charming sidekick, the “funny best friend,” and his gayness is used to over-pronounce how little he matters to the overarching plot. This is scarily similar to the introduction of Ramona’s fourth evil ex-- and the only ex-girlfriend-- Roxy Ritcher, who’s nothing if not a stereotype. She exists to be loudly female, and introduce Ramona’s, as Scott puts it, “sexy phase” (ew).
Against popular belief, I believe that Michael Cera is miscast at Scott Pilgrim. Besides the other, unavoidable factors that led to the clear tone shift from the comic to the movie, (which I’ll get into pretty soon) I think that by casting a traditionally unattractive actor to play Scott, the character was severely misrepresented. Scott is supposed to be a decently attractive guy-- in fact, it’s a plot-hole if he isn’t, considering the ease with which he can say that he’s (spoiler alert) dated a now-superstar. He’s not a nice person, he dated and cheated on a 17 yr old girl to boost his own ego, but at least there’s some reasoning behind why supermodels would choose to be with him. By casting someone such as Michael Cera, whose signature role doesn’t line up with comic-book-Scott’s personality, we lose any reason for someone like Ramona to want to date Scott. This forces us to see the good in his personality-- the defining trait of which is how bad it is, at least in the first act of the film.
It’s inevitable that a tone change will be made when jumping from illustration to live action, but I think that in the context of Scott Pilgrim, it’s especially important. For me at least, a huge selling point of the original comic books is the art style. Despite the characters' identical faces and haircuts, the design of everyone in the universe is so carefully thought out that it seems almost ridiculous to try to translate it into a film. These characters are fun-sized, a little scrappy, and the opposite of fragile. They can get tossed around like rag dolls, and still bounce back to their video-game poses, cinematic perspective, and boxy lines. And especially considering how old these books are, the refusal to oversexualize female characters, while the bare minimum, is pretty impressive. But when it comes time to find real-life actors, real-life costumes, and all manner of other things that you wouldn’t find in a comic book, it’s impossible to make Scott and his world feel as miniature and bouncy as it does in the comic.
While I’m still partial to the graphic novels, (as I assume is apparent), I really did enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Like the books, it’s far from perfect, but it’s famous for a reason, and I think it’s both conceptually and technically commendable.
Scott’s world is easy. It’s got emotional, physical, and social pitfalls around every corner, but it still convinces the reader (or viewer) that Scott, through some power unbeknownst to him and us, will be okay. It’s important to have easy, simple, comfortable media. I love Scott Pilgrim. But it’s equally important to find how times have changed, and things that seemed okay in 2004 might not be as okay anymore.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is available on Netflix, and Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (and the following volumes) can be bought for $12 through Amazon, or at your local bookstore.