I'd suggest reading the books first but you don't have to have read the books to enjoy the movie. You do, however, need to accept that not everything is going to be explained and be a geek-of-all-trades who is well versed in the tropes of 8-Bit Gaming and Anime.
My friend Keith asked me how I could easily sum up Scott Pilgrim in 30 seconds. And then, when I hesitated, he said I could have a minute.
I managed it, but it was still a trick. This isn't like the other two big movies that opened this week - The Expendables (A Bunch of Action Stars, old and new, team up in a Bayian orgy of violence and explosions) or Eat, Pray, Love (Julia Roberts travels around the world and explores her feelings.) There's no really clear-cut way to explain the whole Scott Pilgrim series simply - it's six whole books, for crying out loud!
And that, at its' heart, is the biggest problem with the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's just too much to cram into two hours, without cutting out a lot of the heart. The soul is still there but a LOT of the story - particularly regarding the supporting cast - has been jettisoned in favor of making a more traditional romantic comedy. Thankfully, the soul of the story is one that does lend itself well toward the romantic comedy genre.
For those of you who haven't seen the movie yet or read the books (FYI: You should! They are awesome!), let me sum the whole thing up, as simply as possible, in one sentence. "Scott Pilgrim, a slacker man-child, grows up after meeting the girl of his dreams and helps her to overcome her own troubled past."
Yes, the whole thing is set in an alternate version of Toronto, where the laws and physics of video games apply. Yes, there are a lot of in-jokes to various 8-Bit Video Games, the tropes of Anime and geek culture in general. And the whole thing is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about how utterly awesome it would be if, in real life, True Love gave you a magic sword and it was actually possible to beat up the bastard/bitch who made your ex miserable.
That's just window dressing, though. At it's heart, the movie - like the books - is all about that potentially awkward time of adjustment a lot of young adults go through. Where you're technically an adult but still feel like a kid and you're still struggling to find your feet and figure out life. When you're just out of the house for the first time and you are reveling in the freedom even as it just hit you how much your parents did for you and how much responsibility you have now.
Those of us who go through this phase cope with it in different ways. In Scott's case, he deals by making his life as simple and uncomplicated as possible. He has his band. He has his low-maintenance girlfriend, Knives. No fuss. No muss. No worries.
That all changes when Scott meets Ramona and not just because of Ramona's Seven Evil Exes (aka The Quirky Miniboss Squad) trying to kill him. In a lot of ways, Ramona is wiser than Scott and she makes him more aware of just how much better he can be than the no-account slacker everyone sees him as. By the same token, Scott manages to help Ramona free herself from the baggage brought on by her past actions ("I've dabbled i being a bitch", she says at one point regarding her exes) and inspires her to quit letting other people define her as a prize to be won.
The movie changes up some of the fine details - including the final battle - from the books, but ultimately the same core message is there: it's okay to not know what you're doing, so long as you're true to yourself and try to do the right thing.
Not bad for a movie where Vegans are Super Saiyans, Battle of the Bands contests are literal battles using The Power of Rock and The Power of Love can cause a magic flaming sword to grow out of your heart.