So yeah, has anyone noticed how utterly disappointing almost every movie released so far this summer has been? Not just content to flaunt expectations, most movies have taken a dump on hope of being one of those life affirming revelatory moments for a fan of that franchise. This is not to say some of the highly anticipated summer blockbusters like Man of Steel, Monsters University, World War Z and Star Trek Into Darkness have ended up being awful, but they have all failed to meet expectations and left you with a bitter taste in your mouth. Were our expectations impossible to meet? Possibly. But a six year return to a franchise yielding results like this takes the fucking cake for disappointments of the summer.
The World’s End – the third outing for the comedy team of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright – has somehow managed to sum up the failure of summer 2013 to live up to expectations while not actually being very good in itself. Its an intelligent and articulate point they’ve made about the party being over and the quality of the movie reflects it…but its not a fun movie to watch which negates anything artistic about it. Its really, really not a good film, but its at least interesting, its a talking point.
A little history. I am a massive fan of the two films that preceeded this. Shaun of the Dead was a British romantic comedy movie set during a zombie apocalypse and the comedy mostly played off the fact the implied importance of romantic relationships is dwarfed by gory zombie violence. The people that made it followed up with Hot Fuzz, which took action cop movie cliches and set it in a small rural village and the comedy played mostly off rural villages being weird and unsettling and cop movie cliches being out of place in the setting. These movies were both incredibly funny and both included a joke about a cornetto, and when the same team approached a third idea for what they deemed the “three flavours cornetto trilogy”. It took quite a while for a follow up because the extreme success of Hot Fuzz sent its stars to Hollywood and their careers have taken off since then and now returning for a third film in the general style of the previous two feels…odd. So they sort of did and sort of didn’t.
The big criticism of Hot Fuzz was that although it was fun, it was kind of a similar deal to Shaun of the Dead. I’ve never really got this criticism, they created their own style, you know you’re watching a Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright film, crafting your own voice is hard to do, especially so in the waning British film industry. And while changing the formula and experimenting is something to be encouraged, The World’s End really didn’t feel like it was part of the cornetto trilogy and while different doesn’t always equal bad, it felt uninspired and like it was trying too hard to recapture past glories…which is what happens to be the central theme of the film. This is a difficult thing to wrap your brain around, so is the film turning out to be a disappointing attempt to recreate the past successes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz a play on the film being about a character trying desperately hard to recreate the past and doing it badly?
When approaching the movie from the frame of mind that its been ten years since Shaun of the Dead and Pegg, Wright and Frost are all ostensibly different people now, the idea was to have a group of friends who enjoyed a brilliant night out on an epic pub crawl and one of the friends who hasn’t grown up and is desperately trying to recapture the days of his youth drags them all back to their home town while his former friends have moved on and have new lives now and he feels lost in a world that’s moved on without him….goofy sci-fi comedy everybody! So was the uninspired limply directed alien invasion that’s going on in the town that doesn’t want him a metaphor for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s lack of inspiration? Who knows?
That’s the thing, its not the idea that’s bad. The idea of returning to your former home thinking it’ll be the same and wondering if its you that’s changed or the town and it turns out it actually is the town is interesting and reflects the film makers’ own personal journey into stardom quite well and I get that. But the World End feels more like its main character than they probably wanted it to be. Gary King is clinging onto when he was young, radical and popular, but now he’s in his late thirties when he goes back to that old setting, things really don’t feel the same no matter how much he wants them to be. Just like with the film, the same people have got together but the atmosphere isn’t there, something’s changed.
Its flat, its not funny, its uninspired and feels like a completely wasted opportunity and that Pegg and Wright really don’t have anything more to say and that they really want to try other projects and that they feel bound to this old friend who’s stayed the same and wants everyone back together. But that old friend is us; the audience. We wanted this. We waited six years for this, we want the old spark from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and it just isn’t there anymore.
People have been making excuses about people expecting this to be a comedy and finding it to be full of neuroses, depression and mid-life crisis that maybe that’s not what they were going for, it wasn’t supposed to be a comedy. Y’know what? Fine. If Pegg and Wright feel they have more to say as film makers and they feel they’ve outgrown the quick cuts (which are strangely absent which is what makes me doubt its really a cornetto movie) then great. Fine. I am fully willing to watch Pegg and Wright grow as storytellers and I got what this movie was trying to say. The problem is if you can’t decide what you want to be you end up not being anything at all. What was this? Was it a deep character study piece? Was it a sci-fi comedy? Was it a metaphor for mid life crisis? Most importantly was it meant to be funny? Well yes it was because there are all these lines that sound like jokes and there are pauses as though we’re meant to laugh but there’s just silence in the cinema and the awkward sense that…holy shit they just failed. Pegg and Wright just failed to make me laugh…this is not a good sign.
The direction is an interesting point. Edgar Wright is incredibly talented. He has unique quirks in his camera placement that make his films instantly recognisable, he’s one of few directors who can truly make a funny script funnier. All of this is completely absent in the movie. The action is also very flatly directed and very simplistic when this is fucking Edgar Wright here, the man who put the R is quirky. His last big project was Scott Pilgrim for crying out loud. But the camera movement just felt very stock, very Hollywood and just left me bewildered that this was directed by Edgar Wright. In fact until I see the making of footage, I refuse to believe this was directed by Edgar Wright.
Another point: the build up. Pretty much the first half an hour is exposition for our wild night of aliens and robots and stuff. NO HINTS WHATSOEVER THAT ITS ABOUT ALIENS. None, nothing. One of the ingenious things about the opening to Shaun of the Dead was it was a man going about his daily life not noticing the escalating zombie apocalypse subtly growing in the background. In Hot Fuzz its a more simple murder mystery but here…smack! Right the fuck out of nowhere after half an hour of trying to establish our characters, all of whom are stereotypes anyway. Don’t get me wrong, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsen and especially Paddy Considine are pretty good with a script that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot for them to do. David Bradley also stands out pretty well in a minor role.
Another obvious complaint is Simon Pegg is not the right man for this character. Frost is the wild party animal who hasn’t grown up, Pegg is the slightly straight man who gets less straight over the course the film. I get changing it up but for God’s sake Pegg and Frost are really not good at playing each other’s characters. Pegg’s strong point is deadpan humour. I maintain his best performance is his guest star role in the episode of Black Books he’s in where he plays a boring corporate bookshop manager who is almost psychotic in his demands for everything to be normal and to follow a boring set of rules. But he’s got nothing to work with here and his character just comes across as reprehensible. I know you’re supposed to feel sorry for him but Frost does that well, Pegg however just comes across as a prick that needs to grow up and loses sympathy because of his demeanour. Pegg and Frost have realised far too late that they’re typecast.
I could go on but overall it just left me feeling like Wright and Pegg stopped wanting to do films in this style quite a long time ago and that they really shouldn’t have promised us a third film. The Cornetto movies worked because they felt like the creators wanted to make them and were enthused by the ideas, the World’s End feels like a movie where the makers don’t really want to be here and I don’t think that was a clever artistic statement based on what the film happens to be about.