‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’ review: Ready for a remix of the movie and the graphic novels?

Don’t call it a remake. Sure, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels have been adapted before — into the cult-adored Edgar Wright–directed movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. But the new Netflix animated series Scott Pilgrim Takes Off isn’t pulling from the same old story of Toronto twentysomethings battling evil exes.

Instead, O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski, who relaunched Are You Afraid of the Dark?, have teamed up for a reimagining that plays like a remix, combining quirky characters and spectacular set pieces from the past with an emotional throughline that doesn’t feel vintage. 

Over the course of eight (nearly) 30-minute episodes, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off offers audiences a fresh spin on love, fear, and growing up with Scott, Ramona, Knives, and all the rest. 

What does Scott Pilgrim Takes Off have in common with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? 


Credit: Netflix

The first episode, titled “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” — like the first O’Malley graphic novel — is pretty similar to the comics and the movie, from the core couple’s meet-cute to Scott’s pathetic package ploy up to his first coin-splashing faceoff. Even some of the dialogue is the same. More specifically: 22-year-old bassist and general screw-up Scott Pilgrim meets rollerblading dream girl Ramona Flowers and falls so hard for her that he conveniently forgets his “sort-of” girlfriend, 17-year-old Knives Chau. But before Scott can properly grapple with breaking up, he’s confronted by the first of Ramona’s evil exes. Turns out there is a league of seven, united in their desire to take down whoever Ramona dates next. 

Also returning alongside this familiar setup are the graphic novels’ flourishes, like big text treatments of spelling out song effects (“DINGY DONG!” “KAPOW!”), pixelated video game graphics that recall versus-style fighting games, and a general ’00s aesthetic from Ramona’s iconic hair to angsty pop-rock to liberal use of slang like “dude” and “awesome.” However, O’Malley and Grabinski don’t get caught up in the same millennial emotional baggage of that era. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Another major — and awesome — similarity between the movie and this cartoon is the cast. All of the main cast is back, providing voices for the animated versions of the characters they played in the live-action film. This includes Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers, Anna Kendrick as Stacey Pilgrim, Brie Larson as Envy Adams, Mae Whitman as Roxie Richter, Jason Schwartzman as Gideon Graves, Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, Alison Pill as Kim Pine, and Ellen Wong as Knives Chau. (And many, many more.) 

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Considering how a lot of these performers’ careers have blown up since the 2010 movie, it’s heartwarming to see them all come back. Especially as none of these vocal performances feel phoned in. Blasé, maybe — we are talking about several characters who are devotedly too cool to confess they have feelings — but phoned in? Never. 

How is Scott Pilgrim Takes Off different from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers and Mae Whitman as Roxie Richter in "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."


Credit: Netflix

Just as you might be settling into the groove of this story like it’s a record played over and over, “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” pulls a critical punch: Scott doesn’t knock out Evil Ex #1 Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) like he did in the movie (and graphic novels). Instead, the angsty hipster with “mystical powers” wins the fight, and it appears Scott has been “punched to death” and turned into chump change. 

So what is a Scott Pilgrim show without Scott Pilgrim? At the end of episode 1, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off shifts focus to Ramona. In episode 2, “A League of Their Own,” she attends his funeral, where she meets his friends and his ex, rock star Envy Adams, who takes to the pulpit to steal the spotlight with an audacious cover song. Before long, Ramona begins to suspect Scott’s not dead but kidnapped. So her list of suspects naturally includes her conspiring evil exes.

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Her Colombo-like quest for answers will bring all seven back into the fold. However, with Scott out of the picture, their stories all take wild new turns. Each episode focuses on a new ex, forcing Ramona to confront her past. But this Ramona isn’t as stoic or dismissive as the movie version, who shrugged off her ex-girlfriend Roxie as “a phase” with the excuse, “I was a little bicurious.” In Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, such bi-erasure is itself erased as the cool skater girl acknowledges the past romance and how her bailing hurt her former flame. (Thankfully, the problematic racial humor around Knives being Chinese is also gone.)

Where the movie was a long, fight-studded journey of Scott acknowledging how he’d wronged Knives and Ramona, this show is about many of its characters facing their past fuck-ups and breakups and learning to move on. As such, we get to see characters who didn’t interact at all in the movie either become friends or face off or both. Fight scenes are still plentiful, and sometimes pull from comic or movie fights. But often, they have fresh spins and even contain meta-commentary, like skater boy/movie star Lucas Lee scoffing at the idea he’d fail a rail stunt so hard he’d die: “Whatever.”

How does Scott Pilgrim Takes Off connect to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?

Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Mae Whitman as Roxie Richter, Julian Cihi as Kyle Katayanagi and Ken Katayanagi in "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."


Credit: Netflix

On the meta-level, this animated adaptation feels like O’Malley looking back at his twentysomething terrors and whispering to them some sage advice: chill out and be kinder to yourself.

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off plays by the emotional growth demanded of TV aimed at Gen Z, who have been having open conversations about therapy, trauma, and bad romances freely over the internet throughout their formative years. While the web doesn’t have a place in this show, which is still vaguely set in the past as Ramona delivers Netflix DVDs, it’s emotionally centered in the now, challenging its characters — and thereby its audience — to get out of their comfort zone and grow. Those of us looking back on our twenties can enjoy the vicarious thrill of this revised fantasy, rich in catharsis and not just nostalgia.

On a literal level, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off does fit snugly into Scott Pilgrim vs. The World canon, thanks to late-in-the-season reveals about its eponymous goofball’s fate. To get more specific about this would be a major spoiler. So, let’s just say that Scott vs. Nega Scott is revived, but with a smart sci-fi twist that will likely hit elder millennials and Gen Xers like a giant mallet between the eyes. 

Scott Pilgrim finally does right by Knives and Ramona. 

Alison Pill as Kim Pine and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers in "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."


Credit: Netflix

What all this means for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is that its beloved characters are brought back with a refreshing freedom to be more than they were before — especially the female ones. More like the comics, the show shares space to tell stories outside of Scott’s sloppy search for love. This gives Sex Bob-Omb hanger-on Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) and Scott’s ruthlessly gossipy roommate Wallace (Keiran Culkin) side stories that delightfully skewer Hollywood hype.

Where in the movie, women were either fawning over or freaking out at Scott, this cartoon show allows audiences to see who they are beyond their ties to him. Knives finds new interests and isn’t chiefly defined by her crush on Scott or her jealousy of Ramona. As for Ramona, she gets to face her past in meaningful ways, dive into new battles, and have a literally radiant moment of self-acceptance. Epic scowler Kim Pine (Alison Pine) gets more to do than yell and snark. Even Julie Powers, who was mainly a cursing scold in the movie, gets more backstory and a new ambition, befitting her general attitude. 

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is resplendent with action.

Mark Webber as Stephen Stills, Alison Pill as Kim Pine, and Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim in "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."


Credit: Netflix

But hey, “emotional business” and psychological growth may not be why you’re tuning into an anime-looking show on Netflix. You may be here for the action. And dude, there’s plenty: Swordplay, hammer throws, power-ups, team-ups, doppelgangers, demon hipster chicks, and vegan mystique, all with flashy bursts of color and voice-acting leaning into the general high-drama mood befitting petty rivalries. The contrast of this bombastic violence with deeply nerdy debates about Sonic the Hedgehog defines the hyperactive humor of this show, which is as chaotic as it is charming.

All that to say, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is a total blast. 

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off hits Netflix Nov. 17.

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