BY JOHN CARTER JR
When examining various films and the world in which their characters live, we come to
understand some common trends across many different entries in a particular genre. When
describing a character in a film often we refer to these collected common threads as a trope or archetype. Whether that be the tragic yet murderous villain from classic slasher films like Psycho or Halloween in the horror genre or our typical damsel in distress in many westerns like Gunsmoke for example. Many films across all of cinema tend to have similar themes or tropes when developing characters. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film that demonstrates the range of traditional archetypal characters while taking a modern spin.
Heroes, Villains, and Femme Fatales are represented but with updated twists. These types of archetypes are not limited to any particular genre either as you could find a damsel in distress character in more films than just in the aforementioned western genre. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film filled to the brim with cultural references and archetypes of many different natures. While tropes can be named with many different interchangeable phrases, there are some commonly used ones to reference them, this will remain particularly true when referencing most of the characters in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Firstly to define what an archetype is, an archetype is a character that represents a particular set of traits that is either found in nature or found to be a common trend amongst characters in the media.
In order to examine the particular peculiarities of an individual archetype along with what it means to be a cultural homage, in this film in specific, there must be an understanding of what these characters are composed of and what common threads they share with other characters in similar mediums. Let’s examine Scott Pilgrim, played by Micheal Cera.
Scott Pilgrim is in the position of the hero archetype while also being the protagonist of the film. There is a very important and particular distinction to be made here. Notice the particular phrasing, he is the hero archetype while also being the protagonist – this is particularly important when understanding that there are many films and other creative works that have a character of the villain archetype or evil in nature be the protagonist of the work.
For example, Light Yagami from the Death Note franchise is the protagonist while also the villain of the work, killing thousands of people when in his vain attempts to be a god. Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, is an example of the traditional hero fighting against villainous characters in order to achieve his goal and reach a different kind of self-enlightenment, with a few caveats. What makes Scott Pilgrim a hero is his desire to fight for what he thinks he loves and what he loves. Furthering the point that what makes him a hero is not only his willingness to fight but what he is up against. What makes a character a hero is to make positive changes and potentially bring salvation.
To particularly find cases of Scott trying to make positive change and bring salvation comes at the end of the film. This is where he intends to save his friends and finish off the evil exes, not for the purpose of winning a girl’s affection but to understand himself and to literally save the lives of those close to him. The whole premise of the film is Scott’s battle with Ramona Flowers’ (Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes, a group of melodramatic characters exhibiting many different wild character tropes while all holding the title of the villain archetype. Each member of the league of evil exes is representative of so many different cultural references from all forms of media including video games, previously established films, comic books, and so on.
Even the League Of Evil Exes itself and their introduction in the film act as a Boss Rush type of free for all against Scott Pilgrim, potentially in homage to progression-based video game bosses. The cultural references, especially in reference to video games as the quick pacing and transitions of the film, also exemplify this essence. Even the “Great Fairy Fountain theme” from The Legend of Zelda series is used in this film. To understand a more direct link these video game references have to character archetypes conveyed in this movie an analysis of the common traits in the villains must be made. Every time a villain is defeated in this film, from the first evil ex to the last, a few references to video games are made. In particular, a sound effect will play, and upon the character vanishing, coins will appear. This adds to the ambiance of melodrama and comedy upon concluding each fight with an evil ex, with traditional villains the melodrama of the big bad would often be capitalized on.
In the final battle (this scenario has also developed into an archetypal one of its own) more typical hero and villain archetypal traits are seen. Gideon (Played by Jason Schwartzman), who represents the main villain and final boss archetypes or troupes are oozing with traditional traits. The villain archetype, being in staunch opposition to the existence of the hero archetype, can be seen as inherently selfish, immoral, or chaotic. Examining Gideon’s character, this could be done for the other evil exes, we can see these three particular traits being expressed. First, when examining whether or not the selfish nature of the villain archetype was founded, Gideon looked specifically at his relationship with the other characters in the work. Gideon once Ramona to himself and only to himself and it could even be argued that battle with the other evil exes was a way for Gideon to get directly what he wanted.
Having Ramona, subservient and all, to himself. This way Gideon could eliminate his other potential romantic rivals. The next traits to examine when diving into the villain archetype are immorality and shadiness. One of the minor sub-themes of the entire film is selling out, this is particularly shown when Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb being another Nintendo video game reference, sells out to Gideon and losses their creative drive. This is an example of how the immoral actions of a shady businessman divide the cast and further his evil agenda, it is even further supported by the simple association of the evil businessman troupe becoming one of the regular villain archetype characters. The third trait listed when describing a villain is chaotic, To describe the seven evil exes and particularly Gideon as chaotic would be an understatement. This shows that the actions of every ex are most certainly out of the realm of normal chaos and into the realm of melodramatic chaos.
Many shows convey strong romantic rivalries but this takes things to an even higher extent, this allows for the villainess chaos to manifest. Take for example the whole concept of the league of evil exes in the first place which is something that is very on par with the comic-like or anime-like melodrama that the film seems to take inspiration from. This again conveys, like the hero archetype, that traditional archetypes throughout history grow and develop and take more inspiration and reference from other pieces of media. Lastly, in order to understand why this film is truly important in its examination of traditional film archetypes is the way it handles these with women. Traditionally women wouldn’t be written into roles of the hero and would mostly be written into roles more synonymous with traditional gender roles. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, we can see distinct examples of how the aforementioned Hero and Villain archetypes are turned on their heads.
Starting off with Knives Chau portrayed by Ellen Wong. Knives Chau is Scott’s girlfriend when the film begins and is quickly broken up with when Scott takes an interest in Ramona Flowers. She becomes vengeful but by the end of the story transforms into one of the most effective Heroes out of the entire cast. She, like Scott, comes to the conclusion that they shouldn’t be fighting against these evil forces for the purpose of just winning somebody’s heart but for themselves. She fights for the Salvation of her independence and is able to align with her friends after giving her forgiveness. Her willingness to be forgiving and her internal desire to fight back against the evildoers is heroic. She, like many women in history, could be seen as more of a hero in this story than even Scott if we’re going by archetypal standards. Roxy Richter portrayed by Mae Whitman, on the other hand, is an example of how the archetype deviates from the traditional straight male role to both one of LGBTQ+ and women.
While this character didn’t receive as much screen time as many other characters she definitely deviated from their traditional female gender roles, however, she also represented gay people who again overall have been traditionally written in the strange villain archetype. Gay people are often allocated to stereotypical roles that were much different from the important archetypal characters, even being made into the jester archetype or joke character. While the character was certainly comedic, it could be said that she wasn’t made to exemplify this troupe, however.
In conclusion, Scott Pilgrim versus the world is a film that has many different examples of traditional archetypes. In particular, its main focus is on the hero and villain roles. However, the film makes a deliberate effort to express genuine creativity and its ability to create nuanced versions of these age-old archetypal categories, and furthermore, put women ( LGBTQ+) in roles that were traditionally not written for them. The way it improves the expressed archetypes and characters is through its use of cultural referencing, comedy, and through the scenarios the heroes must go through. It redefines the fluidity of character design and allows the dynamic evolution of archetypal categories to continue to grow.