Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.
The Big Picture
- In Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, a majority of the cast of the 2010 film returns, offering an exciting opportunity for fresh takes on beloved characters.
- Michael Cera’s performance as Scott Pilgrim in the live-action film lacked the boundless energy and reckless irresponsibility of the character in the graphic novel.
- However, in the animated adaptation, Cera delivers a better, more comic-accurate performance, showcasing his evolution as a performer and ability to embody the hyperactive and childish nature of Scott Pilgrim.
In Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, the new animated adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s series of graphic novels, the first thing that appeared was the casting announcement. This makes sense, as series co-developers Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski went with a rather unusual idea that immediately set the fandom alight: They brought back almost the entire cast of the 2010 Edgar Wright-directed film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to reprise their roles over a decade later. Even Marvel alumni such as Chris Evans and Brie Larson came back for this anime.
This allowed for an exciting opportunity for all the actors, especially with the significant story divergence that occurs, to give them a fresh take on beloved characters — a second chance, if you will. For the most part, this is unnecessary, as the cult-classic movie is lauded for its pitch-perfect casting, with a wide majority of the actors being able to seamlessly encapsulate their comic counterparts down to the most minor characters. Highlights of the cast both then and now are Aubrey Plaza as “bitch-and-a-half, Julie Powers, Ellen Wong as “fake high school girlfriend” Knives Chau, and every evil ex in the league gets an opportunity for entirely new spins on their performance. If this anime had never been released, we would still have a definitive cast with definitive performances for this beloved graphic novel series — with one exception, that is.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
- Release Date
- November 17, 2023
- Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Mae Whitman, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza
- Main Genre
- Streaming Service(s)
Michael Cera Wasn’t the Right Fit for the ‘Scott Pilgrim’ Movie
Some readers may entirely disagree, for art is subjective, but this writer always had issues with Michael Cera‘s performance as the title character of Scott Pilgrim in the live-action film. He wasn’t awful or ill-prepared by any means; quite the opposite, in fact. Not only did he physically prepare himself to do his own stunts, but he also had the prior music expertise to play the bassist of Sex Bomb-Omb — not to mention he was suitably Canadian. Cera’s skilled mainly in comedy, seen especially in his performances as George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, Paulie Bleaker in Juno, and Evan in Superbad — characters who are timid, socially awkward, geeky, and at times the straight-man to the louder voices around him. Cera is one of those actors who often seems to be playing the same character over and over again, and that accusation wasn’t helped by his performance in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Despite going toe-to-toe with seven evil exes, at most points his Scott is still subdued, awkward, and off-beat.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of playing the roles you’re most comfortable in. Cera, for a time, did the same thing well enough for no one to really complain about it. In saying that, some characters just aren’t suited to that vibe or performance, and Scott Pilgrim is one of them. In the graphic novel, Scott is still a socially inept man-child, mooching off his roommate with not a lot of prospects in life. Cera does encapsulate that laziness and lack of ambition, but Scott also plays in a band, gets in almost a dozen fights in the span of six books, and finds himself in a long-term relationship with the enigmatic and stylish Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The reason why he runs into several personal trials and tribulations is not because he’s an awkward geek, but because Scott Pilgrim is kind of an idiot. He’s the best fighter in the province, which means he has a lot of fight in him, for good or for ill. He’s impulsive with his decisions, doesn’t think before he acts, and usually forgets events in his own life, making them seem cooler than they were. Cera never quite captured the boundless energy seen in O’Malley’s drawings, the over-the-top expressions and movements, and the reckless irresponsibility that still has fans arguing about whether he’s a monster.
Michael Cera Gets a Second Chance in ‘Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’
It’s a shame we don’t see Scott Pilgrim as often as we thought in an anime with his name in the title, because you can throw away everything that was just said about Michael Cera’s performance. We get a better Scott Pilgrim out of Cera in one episode of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off than we did in an entire movie. In Episode 1’s light playthrough of the first graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, the difference is stark, with Cera’s Scott sounding more hyperactive, more childish, and somehow, given the 13-year gap, younger than in the original film. This performance is extended as, for the most part, Scott is separated from the rest of the ensemble cast of the show to face himself and the future, but it never wavers in how comic-accurate the performance is, despite the plot being far from that.
The reason why this vast improvement happened could be attributed to two things. One is that animation allows and demands different things from the actors behind the microphone; voice acting isn’t constrained by the limitations of the human body, so you can be as expressive as you like to throw yourself into the animated character. However, I’d argue the main reason isn’t animation as a medium, but Cera’s own evolution as a performer. His cocaine-fueled parody of himself in 2013’s This Is The End was only the beginning, as Michael Cera has taken on more emphatically unhinged roles in his current career. The two that spring to mind the fastest as the ones that would prepare him for playing Scott Pilgrim again would be his role as Robin in 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, where he plays an energetic child constantly sucking up to his badass counterpart, and most recently Allan in 2023’s Barbie, which at first seemed like a regular, awkward performance before exploding into some unhinged violence.
As fascinating as the alternate universe storytelling is in Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, it’s almost sad to see Scott go in the beginning. It gives us a taste of what the best take on this character could’ve been, and moreover, shows us that Michael Cera is done with just playing Michael Cera.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.
Watch on Netflix
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