First, note on this review’s lateness…. Short story long, the movie came out five weeks later in the United States, and I have a day-job in addition to the Herculean task that is bringing you all timely reviews and commentary. So, as a bonus feature, I’m going to work in a retrospective on the entirety of Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream Cornetto Trilogy AND Scott Pilgrim VS. The World. But first, my thoughts on The World’s End…
The World’s End was fine. Pretty good. Great in moments and a little slow in others, never teetering into “bad.” I feel much the same talking about it as I do when I discuss Hot Fuzz, Wright’s sophomore film. It’s a movie that I want to like more than I do, but that I nonetheless like quite a bit, but that should, by all rights, not have to force me to do so many mental gymnastics to like it.
Full disclosure: I am a massive fan of Edgar Wright’s, so any creative critique that I make of his work should be taken with a massive grain of salt. I hold this guy to the same lofty standards that I hold the Tarantinos and Scorseses of the world, so I’m apt to be especially brutal in applying my stress tests. You see, Shaun of the Dead (Wright’s first film) was sort of a formative experience for me, one of the first movies I rented covertly and watched in the relative secrecy of my parent’s basement. I shared it with some friends and before long we began to mix the quotable lines (“He chased me around with a bit of wood.”) in with the Borat and Anchorman stew that we used to communicate at the time. Before we knew it we had a new cultural touchstone, a film even more iconic than the zombie flicks on which it riffed. (To us at least.)
It was in this state of unbridled, naive, sixteen year old glee that I first saw Hot Fuzz, Wright’s second film to star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as variations on the archetypal straight-man and goofball team-up. I remember reading a quote from Edgar Wright essentially saying that the idea was to take the a cop movie from a small scale Agatha Christie mystery to Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II and make it all feel organic. Hot Fuzz succeeds in this, and does it in a lot of clever, memorable ways. But for me the movie suffered so severely just for the fact that it wasn’t half as funny as Shaun of the Dead. Although I intellectually recognize Hot Fuzz’s status as a really good or maybe even great movie, and though I’ve since grown to find many of its more outlandish, drawn out gags funny, it just doesn’t have the warm, gooey spot in my heart that Shaun does.
After Fuzz, Wright amiably agreed to a trial separation with his cohorts Pegg and Frost. Shaun was aways in the rearview, the boys had a road comedy to do and Edgar Wright had his eyes on another project, an adaptation of a comic book series.
If you haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim VS. The World, something essential is missing from your life. The premise, a down on his luck 20 something fighting off his girlfriend’s seven deadly exes who have united to murder him and take control of his girl’s love life admittedly sounds ridiculous, even before tossing in the part about everyone having super powers lifted from video games. But It’s amazing. I could talk all day about this movie. It’s one of my all time favorites and it’s a groundbreaking moment in pop culture history that amounted to a legendary box office bomb.
This is the act The World’s End had to follow, so you’ll have to forgive me for not lavishing it in gushing praise.
World’s End finds four buddies reunited by their stunted high school friend, the alcoholic man-child whom they once called their fearless leader. In the name of closure (thinly disguised as nostalgia) the quintet heads back to their hometown of Newton Haven to complete an unfinished, twelve bar pub crawl. The quaint little English town has changed though, and not for the better. Globalization has settled in since their younger days, and the local bars have undergone a ‘”Starbuckization.” Everything is depressingly corporate, grown up and dull.
Until it’s revealed that the town’s homogenization is the result not of the passage of time, but of robotic automatons bent on replacing the town’s inhabitants one by one. The creature design here is great. The automatons (called “blanks” by the quintet after much debate) emit an eerie glow and move under the influence of a hive-mind. Like the zeds from Shawn of the Dead, they’re an enemy with real menace who inject a jolt of horror into an already decent action comedy.
The quintet, although disturbed, opt to finish the pub crawl anyway for a series of contrived, ridiculous reasons, drunkenly brawling with blanks and each other along the way. Pegg is wonderfully pathetic as the tragic burnout, seeing Frost play the straight man is refreshing, and everyone else carries their weight just fine. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. It’s clever, it’s fun, and it’s got a lot going on that I can’t talk much about without spoiling the whole damn thing. It’s just that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the good Edgar Wright films, not one of the great ones.
I’m cautiously optimistic for Wright’s next movie. (Ant Man.) It’s exciting to think of Wright entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe and bringing some fun and humor to the increasingly dark Avengers world. (I’ll also be the first to say that Wright would be a great pick to handle phase three if Joss Whedon decides to walk away.) Still, I have to confront the anxieties that I mentioned in my Tusk piece. It’s a little disturbing to see yet another of my favorite directors being sucked into the franchise film vortex. The thought of Wright signing on to some eight movie deal to do Star Trek sequels makes me want to cling to the World’s End a little harder and find a thing or two more to like about it. The good news is, I think that with a few more viewings I’ll be able to do so.