Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy has to defeat girl’s seven evil exes to continue dating her – that’s the quirky premise of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s wildly popular Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, the inspiration behind Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which turns 10 this month.
A box office bob-omb when it first hit theatres back in 2010, Edgar Wright’s action-comedy flick nevertheless received rave reviews, and it’s now regarded as one of the finest comic book movies ever made. That’s a big call to make, but at the very least, the film – which boasts a stellar cast (including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson and Jason Schwartzman), knock-out visuals and a killer soundtrack – is almost certainly the best cinematic reimagining of O’Malley’s story possible.
Which isn’t to say that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World captures every aspect of the graphic novels perfectly. How could it? The Scott Pilgrim series spans six chunky volumes, so events needed to be compressed, and characters and storylines had to be altered or even omitted, to fit within a snappy 112-minute runtime. But while most of these changes work just fine, there’s one subplot that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World really doesn’t do justice to: Scott’s showdown with his dark doppelgänger, NegaScott.
Who is NegaScott in the comics?
If it’s been a while since you thumbed through the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, NegaScott is slacker protagonist Scott Pilgrim’s evil opposite. In keeping with the series’ manga and video game influences, he’s a malevolent, palette-swapped antagonist who first appears in the fourth volume, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, and who represents the embodiment all of Scott’s worst traits – his thoughtlessness, his selfishness, and his insecurity – and his refusal to address them.
The NegaScott subplot comes to a head in series finale Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, where Scott and his villainous twin at last come to blows. At first, Scott tries to pummel his opponent into submission, believing that the only way to overcome his inner demons is to destroy them.
But as the brawl drags on, he’s forced to confront some harsh truths about himself – that he hasn’t always been the good guy, especially not when it comes to his love life – and that by continually forgetting his mistakes instead of owning up to them, he’s simply dooming himself to repeat them all over and over again.
Armed with this new insight, Scott stops fighting and he and NegaScott merge, restoring Scott’s unvarnished memories of his past poor behaviour and setting him on the path towards self-awareness and, ultimately, atonement.
What about in the Scott Pilgrim movie?
None of this appears in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, however; in fact, NegaScott barely rates a cameo! Introduced in the closing moments of the third act (and only very obliquely foreshadowed before that), NegaScott manifests after Scott has defeated the movie’s main baddie, Gideon, apparently setting the stage for one last, titanic battle that never comes.
Instead, both combatants form an unlikely friendship off-screen and part without throwing a single punch. As Scott explains to his current and former flames, Ramona and Knives, he and NegaScott “have a lot in common”. It’s a sly inversion of a well-worn trope – but it’s also undeniably underwhelming, especially for fans of the Scott Pilgrim comics. In short: it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated here.
Why Scott Pilgrim vs. the World needed more NegaScott
Now, don’t get me wrong: the last thing that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World needs is another action scene – especially not hot on the heels of the final, extended set piece, when Wright needs to focus on shifting gears to deliver the film’s emotional climax.
And it’s also fair to say that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gets the broad strokes of Scott’s character arc across without really needing NegaScott; by the time the credits roll, our hero has grown up, admitted his mistakes, made amends and earned a second chance with Ramona. That’s presumably why Wright depicts Scott being so chummy with his dark duplicate: he’s finally at peace with himself and his shortcomings, and prepared to address them in a rational, adult way.
So, yeah, the way Wright handles NegaScott in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is far from terrible. It is a lot less thematically and emotionally satisfying, though, so it’s a shame that Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall couldn’t find a way to incorporate more of this material.
Without it, we lose the concept of Scott as an unreliable narrator; someone who, like all of us, tends to frame himself in the best possible light, disregarding or even flat-out rewriting his own history so that he’s the hero. This makes for richer characterisation, and adds extra weight to Scott’s subsequent epiphany that his negative qualities are effectively transforming him into a clone of Gideon (another revelation dropped from the film), self-aware knowledge that makes him finally worthy of Ramona.
It’s a narrative shortcoming that’s reflective of the only real flaw with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World overall: by squeezing all six volumes into one movie, Wright isn’t always able to give the story’s ideas and emotional beats the room they need to breathe or fully develop.
No NegaScott, no problem
But is this any of this a dealbreaker? Not really.
I mean, could the inclusion of more NegaScott-related content in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World have made the movie any better? Probably. But does it capture the spirit and heart of O’Malley’s original tale without any of that stuff? Definitely.
For this reason more than any other, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World definitely deserves the extra life (and new audience) it’s enjoyed courtesy of 10th anniversary screenings – it just needed a bit more NegaScott to achieve a perfect score.