Folks, love is a strange, strange, thing. Strange enough to make people do things that they normally either wouldn’t or couldn’t do. In Bryan Lee O’Malley’s hit graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim, the titular character must fight off the seven evil exes of his girlfriend, Ramona Flowers, in order to keep dating her, and in 2010, Edgar Wright adapted the six-part series for the big screen. Now , you might be saying to yourself, “Marcus, that movie came out seven years ago. Why are you writing about it?” And the answer to that is simple. I like this movie, I like the source material, and I like writing for you people. Moving on, the film stars Michael Cera of Superbad fame as the protagonist, something that posed a bit of a problem for it. Cera’s track record of playing the same “wimp” character in every venture seems to turn people off from anything he does; so despite the fact that Scott is a bit of a departure from previous characters he’s played, and this film is much more of an action flick than his previous outings, in such movies as Juno and Year One, Cera’s mere involvement in the film caused a lot of people to avoid it. That, coupled with the general lack of star power in the film, the biggest star apart from Cera likely being Chris Evans, the former Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films and the titular character in Captain America: The First Avenger the next year, caused it to do less than stellar at the box office, despite it picking up a cult following both from people who liked the film, and fans of the original graphic novel series.
As far as adaptations go, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an interesting case. On the one hand, it tries and succeeds at being true to its source material, the first half being nearly a beat for beat recreation of the first graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, and the casting is so spot-on that Wright might as well have just pulled the actual characters from the page for this film. On the other, it deals with the unique problem of having to condense six hundred-plus page graphic novels into one movie without making it too long. As a result, a lot is lost in terms of characterization and character development, causing the majority of the characters that aren’t Scott, Ramona, or an Evil Ex feel a lot less like people and a lot more like set pieces so that the environment doesn’t feel empty. There are some characters who have set roles to play in both versions and thus don’t need much development. Wallace’s entire purpose through the first four books and in the film is to be Scott’s best friend and roommate, and his role is played. Julie’s primary functions are being rude to Scott and company and to suck up to Envy, and she does what she’s there to do.
But then there are characters like Kim and Envy, who solely by virtue of being Scott’s ex-girlfriends are important figures in his past and are important to his character, who are somewhat shortchanged in terms of their development and because of this, our protagonist is affected in terms of characterization. For example, in the last act of the film, when Scott has his big rematch against Evil Ex #7, Gideon, Scott apologizes to Kim, saying “I’m sorry about everything. I’m sorry about me.”, causing Kim to smile for only the second time in this movie. This is left for a viewer who hasn’t read the source material to interpret as they will. They have no way of knowing what Scott is actually apologizing for or why this apology makes Kim, who to this point has been presented as an eternal sourpuss, happy; all they know is that they used to date in high school, which was at least four years prior to the events of the film, and there is little information provided as to why Kim still shows obvious resentment towards Scott all this time later. Through this, the viewer can’t really get too much of a glimpse of the person Scott is, or rather, was, and Kim’s resentment of him seems like the bitterness of a broken heart.
On the part of Envy, the time constraints served her better than Kim in a way, making her more of a pure antagonist than her novel counterpart. In the latter version, Envy is presented as somewhat of a sympathetic character, despite leaving Scott for Todd, the man who would turn out to be Evil Ex #3. By the time Todd is defeated, she’s found that he not only cheated on her with Ramona, but with the drummer of their band, Lynette. She appears to be somewhat friendly with Scott, the two are seen hanging out a couple of times in the sixth book, and having a bit of closure after Scott defeats Gideon. In the film, however, we hear nothing of Todd’s multiple trysts and all we know of Envy is what we learn through Scott — she dumped Scott and “it was brutal”. This creates an extra antagonist for Scott that is a problem for him and only him, as opposed to the Evil Exes, which are a problem for both him and Ramona. Although I wouldn’t have minded seeing Ramona and Envy square off in the film like they did in the book:
Scott himself deals with some characterization issues because of the cramming of the source material into one movie. A lot of his more negative traits are removed, save for his inadvertent cheating on both Knives and Ramona, and his slackerish nature. Unlike his counterpart, Scott seems to actually be some kind of paragon, or something close to it. In the book, Scott has a selective memory, is a bit rude, and doesn’t see his own faults or flaws, especially when it came to his splits from Envy and Kim.
This comes to a head when he faces off with NegaScott, a representation of his darkness, so to speak, which he bonds with and regains his memories and realizes how bad he was to people — to Kim, to Knives, and even to Envy. Again, because of the trouble with adapting these, NegaScott’s influence in the film is limited to what initially appears to be a bonus enemy for Scott to face without any sort of aid, but is played for comedy, as Scott and his negative side depart from the Chaos Theatre together and apparently are going to hang out at a later date. Film Scott and Book Scott, despite being the same character, differ greatly in who they become by the end. Book Scott actually grows; by the end, he’s aware of his flaws and how he treats his friends, and appears to be working on being better.
Film Scott, by all indications, has very few flaws, and appears to be aware of them, or they’re made justifiable — like his blowing up at Ramona after the tandem defeats Roxy, Evil Ex #4, for example. This takes place immediately after he catches a lucky break and defeats Todd, and he’s reasonably upset. He just got thrown around by a man with psychic powers and no less than an hour later, has to fight an angry apparent ninja; of course he’d be angry. Taking note of this, the film’s version of Scott is largely static, whereas the version from O’Malley’s series is much more dynamic. Sure, at the end, he’s realized that he doesn’t want to fight Gideon to get Ramona back, but for the personal satisfaction of defeating him, but apart from that he remains largely the same throughout. He’s still mostly the same slacker he was at the beginning — although there doesn’t appear to be much time for him to really grow from start to finish.
You see, there isn’t really a clear cut amount of time that passes in the film. The only thing we can use to gauge how much time really goes by is Ramona’s ever-changing hair colors. She tells Scott that she changes her hair “about every week and a half”; her hair changes color twice from the time they meet, from pink to blue and then from blue to green, meaning that if she’s being exact with that week and a half comment, puts the time frame of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at about a month, give or take about a week. Scott and company really only have so long to grow as people in Wright’s film, as compared to in O’Malley’s books, where they have a little over a year from start to finish. In that year, we see Scott go from absolute highs to absolute rock bottom, and climb back up again. To fit the film into the 112 minutes that it ran, Scott’s hitting rock bottom and regain of resolve to defeat Gideon had to take place in what seems to only be about an hour.
In both versions, Scott ends up wielding two swords; the first being called “The Power of Love” in both, and the second being called “The Power of Self-Respect” in the film, and “The Power of Understanding” in the books. Those names in and of themselves are indicative of who Scott is by the end of each telling of this slacker’s tale. In the original material, Scott gains The Power of Love after telling Ramona he loves her, and uses it to defeat Roxy; later, Gideon steals it, and uses it to kill Scott in a bit of irony, as this happens after Gideon its revealed that Gideon never actually stole Ramona herself away from him. Thanks to an “extra life”, the two face off again, and Scott realizes exactly how similar he and Gideon really are, and that’s exactly why he has to beat him. In realizing this he gains a new sword, The Power of Understanding. After everything, after a full calendar year of hating Gideon blindly, for no other reason but him being an obstacle in the way of him getting to be with Ramona peacefully, Scott understands Gideon as a person — because he’s finally started to understand himself, or at least the person he was at the beginning of things and that he’s now trying to not be anymore, and realizes that beating Gideon is the first step he has to take in not being that person anymore. In the film, Scott gains and loses The Power of Love similarly. He professes to Gideon that he wants to fight him because he’s in love with Ramona and gains it, but Gideon shatters it easily, as he had done with the two’s relationship. He kills Scott, who just as in the book comes back thanks to an extra life, but this time, resets to when he left his apartment to face him. This time, he tells Gideon that he wants to fight him for himself, earning The Power of Self-Respect. This version of Scott actually doesn’t really appear to have much of that at the start. He’s dating a 17-year old high school student and is completely okay with the idea that it’s a fake relationship, as his friends and sister call it. The extent of the self-respect we see out of him is when he refuses to join the rest of Sex Bob-omb in signing with Gideon. He, similar to his counterpart, had no reason to fight Gideon or any of the other exes outside of a primal need to survive when they would ambush him, or his desire to be with Ramona.
Gideon himself is an intriguing case, in the sense that he, in both incarnations, is similar to Scott whilst also being worlds apart from him. His entire motivation is getting Ramona back, and despite not really knowing Scott, he wants to and attempts to destroy him en route to doing so. Conversely, he’s radically different from him on the grounds that he has zero redeeming qualities. Sure, Scott is a slacker, somewhat narcissistic and mistreats his friends, but by the end of both tellings of his story, he’s become aware of his downsides and tries to get over them. Gideon, on the other hand, is aware of how bad of a guy he is from the time he’s introduced to his defeat, and makes no bones about it, no strides to be a in any way better, as a matter of fact, Gideon in the film goes out of his way to taunt Scott and chide him into fighting him after he’s got Ramona back, and in the books, O’Malley makes it a point to consistently remind everyone of how bad Gideon is as a person, showing him to be an evil, manipulative human being, who, by the way, we find has been storing his ex-girlfriends in cryostasis for his own sick purposes, going as far to outright tell us that he’s a bad dude:
O’Malley even created an alternate cover for the Japanese release of the final volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, inspired by art from the popular Street Fighter game series, swapping Gideon out for the series’ big bad, Akuma. While a lot of the other characters suffer from the time constraints of the film, Gideon is left the same across both ventures, and might be more hateable in Wright’s film, likely because he originally isn’t introduced fully until Finest Hour. Similarly, he doesn’t appear in the film until a crowd shot while Scott faces off with the Katayanagi Twins, Exes #5 and #6, and the first time we hear him speak, he’s offering Scott and his friends a record deal immediately after Ramona breaks up with him. By the time Scott fights him, the viewer wants to see him get demolished, not just so Scott can try to get Ramona back, but because within the three scenes he’s been in thus far, he’s proven to be obnoxious and downright rotten.
Ramona herself is, thanks to the constraints of the film, a bit more cold and deadpan than her counterpart. There are very few times in the context of the movie where it really feels like she wants to be with Scott as badly as he wants to be with her, and that can likely be chalked up to the fact that the times in the series where it is clearly shown how much she cares for Scott are mundane, domestic scenes, like them watching movies, or walking to Sneaky Dee’s or hanging out at parties, that would have served no real purpose in the film and would have needlessly extended an already almost two hour long movie. The times that she does show her desire to be in a relationship with Scott though, are notable and fit the narrative that Wright is laying out. She helps him fight one of her exes, she immediately goes to check on him when he fights Todd, and tells him that she doesn’t want to go to the afterparty if he doesn’t want to, and it helped humanize her a bit, as well as making her relationship with him feel as real as they could in the time that they had and in the context that they were in.
The fact that Edgar Wright took six moderately lengthy graphic novels and turned them into one full-length feature was a bold move that wowed both fans and critics alike but also left a bit to be desired in terms of character development. Characters like Gideon were largely unaffected, and potentially made better, depending on your perspective of things, and characters like Scott and Ramona are left mostly the same but still suffer slightly because of the confines of the medium, Envy’s character is spun into an antagonist and stays there, and characters like Kim are shortchanged largely. I’ve come up with two theories on what could have been done to this:
1. Go the route of films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and split into two. As cliché and worn down of a trend as it is, I think Scott Pilgrim could have worked in this situation. After Scott’s defeat of Roxy in the fourth volume, he moves in with Ramona, which is a nice image to leave the first film on. Put a Stinger in the credits showing something featuring Gideon and the two remaining exes, the Katayanagi Twins in there, and bam.
2. Instead of adapting it into a film, adapt it into a series. A six episode animated series would likely go over well for fans of the books, and attract new appeal. We’ve already seen how well the series translates to animation, in the form of Scott Pilgrim vs. The Animation.
And this format works well in lending itself to the characterization presented in the source material. Either way there’s a good chance that this missing development for Kim and Stephen and Neil and the other background players in Scott’s life would have made the cut, and this film would have been all the more better.
Scott and his friends are a fun cast of characters and Cera and company make them feel like any band of friends you’d see in reality. Gideon and his band of merry madmen are intimidating enough, but not particularly compelling or interesting, save for the G-Man himself, and maybe the incorrigible Todd Ingram. The only problem is that the lack of time they’re given to do so equates to them not filling the full potential of these characters as presented by O’Malley and brought to life on the screen by Wright. At the end of the day, this story about the crazy game of love and its strange ways just needed a little bit more time to give the players a little bit more love of their own.