Scott Pilgrim Takes Off review: Netflix’s radical retelling of cult classic is an Eternal Sunshine-level event, and one of the best shows of 2023 | Web-series News


In the decade-and-change since Bryan Lee O’Malley’s landmark Scott Pilgrim comic book series ended its run, the notion of Manic Pixie Dream Girls skating into the lives of layabout young men and igniting a spark inside the depths of their disillusioned souls has become obsolete. Some would say correctly. A live-action film adaptation, directed by Edgar Wright and released in 2010, perfectly captured this millennial malaise, retaining the comic book’s irreverent humour and, in a great example of the Mandela Effect, giving the impression that it was painted in the most vivid colours imaginable — it was actually in black and white.

Over a decade after the film earned cult status after crumbling at the box office, Netflix has unveiled an eight-episode anime series with O’Malley at the helm alongside BenDavid Grabinski. Nothing — not the marketing material, the disarmingly familiar opening episode, even the much-publicised decision to get each cast member from the live-action movie to return — can prepare you for the sheer burst of originality that you’re in for, especially if you’ve been a fan of the series. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off isn’t a remake; it isn’t even a reboot or a re-quel. It takes the same premise — a slacker from Toronto somehow ‘pataos’ a girl who’s clearly out of his league — and branches off into a different realm altogether.

Understandably, nobody involved in the show revealed even the slightest detail about its plot. In fact, they appeared to encourage the assumption that it would be a remake of sorts. But now that a couple of days have passed since its release, we can unpack some of the show’s wildest ambitious swings here. And there’s no better place to start than with the title. The reason why it’s called Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is because… he actually does. He’s barely in it.

Voiced by Michael Cera — much of the humour in the movie came from the sight of the famously beta actor finding himself in ‘an epic of epic epicness’ — Scott is a homeless 20-something who spends his days playing video games, jamming with his band-mates, and leading a teenage girl on into thinking that they’re dating. Somehow, in both the comics and the film, he gets with a mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers, and goes on a video game-inspired quest to win her love by defeating her ‘seven evil exes’ in combat. How Kabir Singh of him. Scott, like the protagonists of so many Hindi movies that tell women’s stories from the perspective of the immature men they’ve been chained to, was always the least interesting character in the comics. Which is perhaps why his arc has been radically rewritten in the anime.

The series’ mature tone hinges on the belief that its core fans, who were presumably teenagers when the books and the film came out, have now become wiser themselves — perhaps filled with the same regret and self-reflection that the show embodies. It is also an excuse for O’Malley to revisit his original comics with more sensitivity, acknowledge the fundamental flaws of its premise, and embrace the second chance that he’s been given. Scott was, after all, a toxic little dweeb, unworthy of being the hero of his own story. In the show, after he’s effectively removed from the equation at the end of episode one, Ramona takes centre-stage as she goes on a mission to uncover the truth behind his disappearance. Compelled by a mysterious urge to find Scott — who’s reduced to ‘that one guy she went out with that one time’ — she is confronted by her own dating history, and the ‘seven evil exes’ she left in her wake.

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It’s a vibrant adventure populated by ninja paparazzi, kitchen appliance robots, and ‘vegan portals’ into other dimensions. Supporting characters that were mere furniture in the original are given full arcs; the evil exes, for instance, are no longer two-dimensional video game bosses designed to function as hurdles in Scott’s quest and nothing else. His absence gives them a chance to emerge as fleshed-out characters in their own right. Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman’s villains bond over their shared heartbreak in one memorable episode. Wallace Wells, voiced by Succession’s Kieran Culkin, is no longer the wise-cracking gay best friend; Julie Powers, voiced by Aubrey Plaza, gets to go on her own mission, even if is rather selfish. And Young Neil, who was comically ignored in the original, is given equally humorous importance this time around. He has no idea what to do with it.

Formally, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a lot like director Olivier Assayas’ recent HBO redux of his own film, Irma Vep — a meta exhumation of his own life, told through the prism of the art form he adores. But thematically, it’s a lot like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You never saw that coming, did you? Forget the superficial similarities of having a Manic Pixie Dream Girl heroine with fluctuating hair colours at the centre, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a heartbreaking look at love and loss, at sorrow and second chances, and ultimately, about forgiving yourself for past mistakes. It’s one of the best shows of the year.

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
Creators – Bryan Lee O’Malley, BenDavid Grabinski
Cast – Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin, Brandon Routh, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Satya Bhabha, Brie Larson
Rating – 4.5/5


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