Nov 23, 2023 | Shows

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Review: Netflix’s ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’ Is a Faithful Adaptation — Until It Isn’t

Netflix’s “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” nails its attempt at switching mediums: retaining everything that worked with the original film yet keeping things fresh with meta references. | Image: Netflix

Netflix’s take on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s video game reference-laden graphic novels is an homage to the original film — until it goes all meta and catches you off guard with time travel. The series is still infectiously fun to watch even if you’re familiar with the source material, and it takes advantage of the switched mediums to add even more gamer-geek elements throughout the story. Most of all, it becomes completely unpredictable about 10 minutes into the series and seems more like an extension of the original material than a simple animated adaptation.

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off

  • Where to watch: Netflix
  • Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Satya Bhabha, Keiran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mae Whitman, Mark Webber, Ellen Wong, Julian Cihi
  • Developed by: Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski
  • Episodes: 8

First thing to get out of the way: This is not a spoiler-free review of “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.”

For most of the first episode, things don’t seem much different from the live-action version of Scott Pilgrim. He’s still a 20-something bass guitarist idling down an unknown path (metaphorically) in Toronto. There are some quirky differences — Ramona now delivers DVDs for Netflix instead of packages for Amazon, understandably so since the show is on Netflix — and the aesthetic bears an uncanny resemblance to “Street Fighter.” Scott (Michael Cera) lays eyes upon the girl of his dreams, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), at a party, and the meeting progresses pretty quickly into a teen romance of sorts.

Things escalate as Ramona’s past reemerges in the form of her seven evil exes — looking to destroy Scott to win her over once again. The story proceeds predictable up to this point: Scott is challenged by Ramona’s evil ex, Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), and a video game-style battle ensues. This is the moment “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” literally.

Visuals from the Netflix show "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."
Visuals from the Netflix show "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."

Images: Netflix

When Netflix announced that it was making an animated version of “Scott Pilgrim” — with the original film’s actors voicing their respective characters — I had some reservations. Shifting mediums hasn’t been a strong suit for Netflix until recently, and what we’ve usually seen is an animated series receiving a live-action adaptation, not the other way around. An animated show does give the creatives some liberty over the scale of storytelling, but things can quickly go down the spiral if you cram too much into a classic and trample its preexisting charm.

It’s safe to say that “Takes Off” changes things enough to compel you to watch the series but doesn’t give up on the original’s whimsical romanticism.

“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” bears some resemblance to Marvel’s “What If,” particularly the episode where Ultron tops Earth’s mightiest heroes and becomes something akin to the multiversal Conqueror — but stronger. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and co-writer BenDavid Grabinski pose a curious question: What if Scott lost his introductory fight to the league against Matthew? This triggers a chained reaction, one that dismantles the league and makes Ramona the hero through much of the story.

It isn’t that Scott lost the fight. He was mysteriously pulled into a vegan portal and was framed to have died. This win makes Matthew the “frontrunner” in winning over Ramona — inflated with enough confidence to become the new leader of the League of Evil Exes by beating out its previous leader, Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). As his friends cope with the loss, Ramona alone takes on the role of a rollerblading detective, searching for Scott’s kidnapper as she tails every one of her evil exes.

This is probably the most significant differentiator from the original film. Scott is nowhere to be seen for nearly six of the eight episodes, and it’s Ramona who must now assume the role of the nucleus holding everything together. Dying her hair differently for every different tail, the series spends much of its time showcasing Ramona’s growth — who’s coming to terms with the shortcomings of her previous relationships. The villains are also given their separate arcs: Gideon gives up his assumed fearless identity to become Gordon Goose once again, even becoming a sympathetic figure of sorts. Strings come untangled towards the end of the sixth episode as Ramona theorizes that time travel might be at play — and Scott shows up to validate her theory, explaining how he set the whole thing up.

Visuals from the Netflix show "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."

Image: Netflix

The show continues to align itself to the structure of a video game, but it also twists the story into more than just a multi-leveled comedy. You come to realize how the ripples created by Scott’s apparent defeat lead the story in an entirely different direction — but eventually culminate into a similar endgame, reuniting Ramona and Scott at the end for a dramatic battle.

Of course, the animated series compels you to watch their original film to form a baseline. You need to know the quirks of the exes before living through it all once again. “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” is like living the series but through the eyes of Ramona Flowers, one that doesn’t just shift the camera but gives you an unpredictable twist — adding distinctive creativity to a seemingly faithful adaptation.

You can watch “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” on Netflix right now.