Among the vast spread of pop culture to consume and discuss, there are few I hold in higher esteem and importance to me personally than Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. As I periodically do I recently went through the comics and the movie for like the millionth time, and this time some things began to stand out to me. Things that made me think that despite its faults, the movie adaptation actually improved on some aspects of the Scott Pilgrim world.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that as much as I love it and can practically quote it verbatim, it’s an incredibly flawed movie. Edgar Wright did a great job of trying to squeeze a six book story into one movie and retain its charm, but he can only do so much. I still wish the movie could have properly built up Scott and Ramona’s relationship, or given proper time to important side characters like Kim Pine (as well as the many subplots they couldn’t fit in). But among the flaws are seven things that the movie did better than the comic. And I think it is important to acknowledge these aspects because while it is easy to say ‘oh but the comic is better’ it doesn’t mean it did everything better. Why seven? Because of Ramona’s seven evil exes!
On top of that, there’s also a movie specific discussion to be found at the end of this, because once I get started talking about Scott Pilgrim, it takes a while for me to stop…
Oh, and just in case it needs to be said: Full spoiler warning for both the comics and movie.
1. Young Neil
Young Neil is just a side character in both the movie and the comics. If you consider the length of the two pieces he actually gets more focus in the movie than he does the comic series, and I also think Edgar Wright treats him better than O’Malley did. When you look back at him in the comics, he goes from inconsequential friend to an abrasive whiner and a bit of a dick (as described in the comics). There’s maybe some slight teasing that he and Stacey Pilgrim might end up being a couple at the end, but ultimately his moment in the comics is when Scott dubs him ‘Young Neil’ no longer, instead calling him ‘Neil’ (his response perfectly captured in the above picture). It’s a victory but that’s basically it for him.
He also achieves this honour in the movie, albeit with less build-up to the change so its significance is lost a little there. But what he sacrifices in that areas he makes up for with one big win, namely becoming the new bassist for Sex Bob-Omb after Scott refuses to sign with G-Man. Now at first this is a rather dickish thing to do in context. Gideon has stolen Ramona from Scott, and then proceeds to dangle the contract in front of the band to placate Scott. When he refuses, the band seemingly betrays him in an instant. BUT, Scott is kind of bad for Sex Bob-Omb. He clearly doesn’t care that much about the band in the movie, dropping practice in an instant and without warning (while in a competition for a record deal) to hang with his new girlfriend, and even states that “Neil knows my parts” like he can just fill in for the boring stuff. He can do Scott’s part, and seems to care more for the band than Scott. In the movie there’s a tangible victory for the kid, and less of the off-putting personality that made me apathetic towards him in the comics.
Also, he’s far funnier in the movie. Edgar Wright gives him some great stuff to work with, from the subtle screw-up as he’s singing along during their show against Crash and the Boys to when he responds to Knives’ question at band practice of “What do you play” with “Wow…ummm…Zelda, Tetris….that’s kind of a big question”. Then of course there’s his funniest moment after Todd punches his then girlfriend Knives. In both the movie and the comics his responds with “He punched the highlights out of her hair” but the way actor Johnny Simmons says the line, and more importantly repeats it, is absolutely hilarious. His impact in the comics is diluted over the six books, but the movie puts him in the mix with more regularity, and comes out looking better as a result.
2. Knives and the First Evil Ex Battle
By the time Matthew Patel literally bursts onto the scene and challenges Scott Pilgrim to a fight, Scott’s in the middle of juggling relationships with both Ramona and Knives. Who are both at the show incidentally. It’s here that the comics make a baffling move. After it’s revealed that Patel is Ramona’s first evil ex and they start fighting for Scott’s ‘right’ to date Ramona, his friends come to his aid at one point while Patel is throwing fireballs. They sing and dance with him as he eventually overcomes Patel. The thing is, Knives Chau is right there dancing alongside Kim, Wallace and Stephen Stills. She’s literally fighting for Scott’s right to date Ramona while he’s still dating Knives. You could say maybe she doesn’t fully comprehend the situation, but it makes very little sense, especially when she reacts to the eventual break-off in shock and only learns of the dating overlap later in the series.
The movie handles this a little differently. As Sex Bob-Omb take the stage (and before Patel appears) she faints out of sheer excitement, not recovering until the action is over and done with. She doesn’t see or hear any of the stuff about Ramona and Scott, so it makes sense that she’s oblivious to the eventual breakup and news of Scott’s cheating ways. The comic could have gone this route with Crash and the Boys’ song ‘Last Track Kills the Audience’, which put most of the crowd into a temporary coma, but loses that advantage when it shows her fighting alongside his friends. I’ve heard it argued that this is partly Scott’s imagination that all his friends have his back. It’s a fair point, especially considering that Gideon is shown to mess with Scott’s memories, but the moment is never addressed again where as other similar points in the comic – ike Scott saving Knives from her boyfriend in high school – are mentioned again.
Now, the one flaw to this is the fact that her friend Tamara is also there and conscious throughout it all – and you would think she would have talked to Knives about it (or if she was too afraid to while they were together, then at least when they were broken up) – but you could maybe handwave it so that she was just too distracted by her friend’s fainting to notice the superpowered fight mere metres away. It’s kind of sketchy sure, but it makes more sense than what we see in the comics.
3. Lucas Lee/The Second Evil Ex battle
First off, Chris Evans kills it as Lucas Lee. It’s an absolutely perfect casting and I would totally pay to see a spin off movie/series surrounding the many B-grade Lucas Lee action movies from the Pilgrimverse. Lucas Lee is arguably the most forgettable of the Evil Exes in the comic series, getting minimal page time and going down pretty easily all things considered (to quote Scott after he wins by default “That was the worst fight ever!”). But Chris Evans’ portrayal of him in the movie, and that in a two hour movie he gets a better ratio of the screen time than he did in the comics, makes Lucas Lee equal to Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram as most memorable from the movie.
On top of that, everything about the Scott/Lee fight is executed better in the movie. The setup of Scott striking out with Ramona and running to Wallace is funnier in the movie, and the introduction of his character goes from mundane in the comics to brilliant in the movie. Then the stunt team arrives. The stunt team isn’t in the comics, but it’s such a genius use of his Hollywood persona that it’s proof that sometimes changing things up from the source material isn’t a bad thing. The reveal, the beatdown, it all works perfectly. To top it off, the movie then reconstructs Lee’s death as he attempts a suicidal grind panel for panel in the movie. Overall the whole fight is the perfect example of treating the source material with respect while still building upon it.
4. The Vegan Police
While Lucas Lee was a mediocre ex made great in the movie, Todd Ingram has always been a favourite of the Evil Exes. Purely looking at his power set he’s the strongest of the seven, and also enjoys a healthy amount of characterisation as the jerk and talented bassist of The Clash at Demonhead, boyfriend to Scott’s big ex Envy Adams, and the guy who’d punch a hole in the moon to show his love to you…but do it again for another girl.
His fight with Scott jumps in and out of comic accuracy when it comes to the movie. The changes make sense since in book three the fight takes place on and off over the course of an entire weekend and includes a surreal war inside of Honest Ed’s variety store. The movie condenses this to just a night, pulling material from the start and the end of their fight within the comics. But this point is less to do with the fight itself, and more with the actual ending.
There are plenty of great ‘bit’ characters in the movie, but my favourites may be the Vegan Police. They arrive, spout some great lines, lay down the (vegan) law, change the course of the fight and then have a great slow motion high five. What’s not to love? But there’s a key difference. In the comic, they literally appear as a deus ex machina after all else has failed. They call Todd out on earlier offences and strip him of their powers, but the joke is in the handwaved deus ex machina (it’s literally called upon by one of the characters). It’s definitely funny, but from a storytelling standpoint, the movie handles it a little better.
In the movie, after Todd beats him in a bass guitar battle, Scott pours two cups of coffee so they can drink to Todd’s success. One is a soy latte, and the other has half-and-half. After showing off some more of his psychic vegan powers by reading his thoughts, Todd then calls Scott out on his half-and-half ploy. He takes the drink Scott isn’t offering him, which turns out to be a fake-out, and as such drinks the half-and-half.
It is then that the Vegan Police immediately jump onto the scene, calling Todd out on his veganity violations. We still get the great lines of “It’s milk and eggs, bitch” to Todd’s shock that chicken isn’t vegan, but more importantly the arrival of the Vegan Police feels less of a deus ex machina and instead becoming something Scott Pilgrim actively affects by outsmarting Todd Ingram. Giving Scott an active hand in the unfolding events makes the victory a little more rewarding than just lucking his way past the third fight, especially considering he got past Lucas Lee through similar means.
5. The Roxy/Ramona fight
I know I know, this is the fourth straight Evil Ex fight here, but don’t worry I’m not going through all seven. Roxy and Scott’s battle is another which is stretched out far more in the comics, and I really like the samurai showdown the two have at the end of book four. It’s as much a character moment for Scott – a culmination of a challenging period in his relationship and growth as a person – as it is a great way to end a fight in a comic that draws a lot of inspiration from Japanese manga. This is less about the comic’s use of her against Scott, and more with her lead-in fight with Ramona.
While Ramona and Roxy have a small clash in the comics, her big fight in the series belongs in book three against Envy. Much of the material in that Ramona/Envy fight is transplanted to Ramona/Roxy for the movie. This change means we lose out on some classic Wallace Wells, but we still gain a lot here. First of all, the choreography in the fight between Ramona and Roxy is fantastic, and we get some great lines from Roxy that we don’t get in the comics such as the “well honey I’m a little bi-furious”.
The relationship between the two of them change a fair bit between the comics and the movie too. In the comic they were still on fairly decent terms; they have coffee together to reminisce, Ramona considers going to Roxy’s art show and they even end up making out after Roxy stays at Ramona’s. It’s one of those moments that makes Ramona hard to support, because she becomes very hypocritical shrugging off what her and Roxy do while chastising Scott for turning to Lisa but ultimately rejecting her after Ramona kicks him out of the house. It’s a part of her character arc in the comics, but given the short time frame of the movie dropping all of that was a good move, especially since Ramona’s hard enough to root for in the film as it is.
Without those complications, Ramona standing up for Scott here shows a bit of potential strength in their trainwreck of a relationship. The fight also includes a great shout-out to the one off Scott Pilgrim Free Comic Book Day issue, where Scott is attacked by a bunch of Winnifred Haley clones (the girl co-starring in the Lucas Lee film). Scott refuses to hit a girl, so Ramona grabs him from behind and controls him, helping him fight. We see this mimicked here as Scott has to fight Roxy, so Ramona helps him survive for a while. The changes here ultimately help streamline the film, and although we do lose some good content as a result the end result works and works well.
6. The ‘Lesbians’ Payoff
Weird title I know. This a small moment, but I think it’s incredibly effective, and even if the comics had done it, it probably wouldn’t have worked as well as it did in the film. Both utilise the joke where Wallace tells Scott to bust out the ‘L’ word in his relationship with Ramona, to which Scott misinterprets as ‘lesbians’. It’s a funny moment that works on its own, but the movie takes it a step further. When Scott professes his feelings for her after fighting the Katayanagi twins (which is nearly word for word the speech he gives her at the end of book four) he makes one crucial error. When he goes to tell Ramona he’s in love with her, he accidentally says that he’s “in lesbians with you”. It’s small sure, but it’s a great line that’s both really funny but also rather poignant, pointing to Scott losing his grip on the relationship. Michael Cera’s delivery and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s reaction also does a huge favour in making this such a great moment. Small? Yes. Worth mentioning? Also yes. It takes a funny throwaway line from the comics and gives it a measure of importance, and definitely helped catapult the line into a fandom favourite.
7. The Music
Ok this is a little unfair, but given this is a movie about bands and music, it is noticeable. The music and sound effects used in the movie are top notch, from the choice of indie artists to fill the background to the myriad of video game references like the Legend of Zelda death notes, they’re small parts that add to the whole and further immerse you into the hybrid movie/game world of Scott Pilgrim. But on top of that, you get the music used for the bands. Sex Bob-Omb sound as you’d imagine, and the humour surrounding the first Crash and the Boys gig works far better on screen than it could on the page. We also get to see Brie Larson display her vocal range covering Metric’s ‘Black Sheep’ and Michael Cera show off his legitimate bass skills. Again, that’s not the fault of Bryan Lee O’Malley and the comic series, it’s just a restriction of the medium. And Edgar Wright makes sure to capitalise on the film medium’s inherit advantage in this area.
Bonus Discussion: Should Scott have ended up with Knives?
Ok so it’s fairly common knowledge that the ending to the movie we got wasn’t the one originally planned. In the film adaptation Edgar Wright had intended for Scott and Knives to end up back together, with Ramona leaving on her own (If you haven’t seen it before, you can here). This was shot and included in the first cut, but didn’t test well and so they ended up going for the ending we got, where Ramona and Scott give it another shot instead. There’s a bit of debate on the internet over which ending should have been canon for the movie, especially considering the final fight with Gideon ends up with Knives and Scott defeating Gideon rather than Scott and Ramona. The Scott/Knives crowd is a little more vocal but it’s hard to say if they’re the minority or if it’s split. I get the reasons why the shippers prefer the original ending, but I don’t think Knives and Scott should end up back together.
Here’s the thing, throughout the movie Knives Chau is the most sympathetic and likeable character. Everybody else sits somewhere on the jerk scale, but Knives is a young girl blinded by and fighting for her first love. She gets mistreated and it’s easy to want her to ‘win’ at the end of it all. But honestly? Scott is not a win for her. In the Scott/Ramona ending she says that “I’m too cool for you anyway”, which is not only a nice callback to an earlier comment from Wallace but is also completely right.
With a bit more time to devote to it, we see Knives’ recovery in more detail when it comes to the comic. Many of the basic beats featured in the movie are drawn from here (the hair dye, dating Neil, a moping period) but we also see her get closer to both Kim and Stephen as she tries to make sense of all these new feels now that she’s experienced love for the first time. We see her take each small step towards getting over Scott. So when she rejects him as he comes crawling back looking for casual sex now that she’s eighteen (it sounds creepy, and O’Malley makes a point of showing that yes, it is very creepy), that rejection makes sense and it marks where her story arc succeeds.
Contrast this to the movie, where after the breakup she never really stops pining over him until the very end. She looks downright pathetic (in the most sympathetic way possible) at the Amp v Amp battle when she runs into him, and it’s only when she’s fighting with Ramona at the Chaos Theatre that she finds out Scott actually cheated on her.
I think it’s that moment where it clicks for her that Scott isn’t worth all of the effort she’s putting in. There might be chemistry (we see that in the arcade scene and then the team battle with Gideon) but that doesn’t mean it’s meant to be. Let’s face it, Scott treats Knives like crap through the whole movie. He never really puts that much stock in the relationship, cheats on her as soon as someone more interesting comes along and then dumps her rather remorselessly. It makes sense given Knives’ age and personality that she’d keep trying to get him back, but at the end of the day, despite her efforts, Scott simply isn’t healthy for Knives, and he’s not willing to fight for her like he is for Ramona.
It’s kind of clear that the movie was originally shot with a Scott/Knives ending in mind – the whole fight with Gideon was built around the two of them then getting back together and stands out as odd against the revised ending. This helps the Scott/Knives shippers who feels she gets hard done by the ending we got. But if you consider them as characters beyond just the story we get on screen, Knives is better off without Scott. In fact, it’s arguable everybody else succeeds without him. It was after Envy left Scott that she went out and struck it big with The Clash at Demonhead, and Sex Bob-Omb were technically signed to a big independent label until Scott went and punted G-Man Gideon’s head off (it’s actually semi-canon that the movie was made so that it could be interpreted as Stephen Stills’ quest to make it big but is being held back by the band’s selfish bassist) – and it would seem Knives is set to do better without him too, as she certainly seems more sure of herself.
As I said, she’s the most likable and sympathetic character in the story. And I think a lot of people can probably relate to what Knives goes through in this movie. It also helps that she is brilliantly played by Ellen Wong. So people want her to end up with the protagonist. That’s the typical ‘victory’ in a situation like this in movies. But if you truly want the best for the fictional character Knives Chau (and who doesn’t?) I think you should support the Scott/Ramona ending. It not only shows the most growth for Knives, but it also means she’ll invariably end up with someone good enough to be with her.