Thursday, 1 August 2013

Cornetto's End

Caught The World's End last night with Fliss, and was pleasantly surprised.  Not just because it's a definite improvement over the rather overrated Hot Fuzz (a fantastically funny 90 minute comedy stretched into a two-hour mess), but because it turns out there's rather a lot to be said about it.

Of course, pretty much all of that requires spoilers, so head across the jump at your own peril.

The first thing to note is that Wright hasn't managed to quite sort out the major problem of Hot Fuzz: both films take far, far too long to get going.  I didn't hear a single person in our crowded cinema laugh for at least the first ten minutes, which isn't a great sign in a comedy film.  The problem in this case is pretty much Pegg, really.  Gary King just isn't funny, and for much of the film, isn't interesting.  He's also too similar to the hero of Shaun of the Dead, and in some respects to Tim from Spaced.  Fliss' first comment when we left the cinema was that these Wright/Pegg films were getting very samey, and I agree.

But here's the thing: I think that's the point.  Of the five men who attempt the Golden Mile, Gary is by far the least interesting, a sad child of a man utterly unable and uninteresting in adapting to the way life changes you.  If Pegg's performance feels too much like trying to recapture past glories, well, that's entirely consistent with what he's trying to do.

Meanwhile, the other four characters - particularly Nick Frost's Andy and Paddy Considine's Steven - are far more interesting, combining as they do the realisation their lives have moved on with an increasing joy in reminiscing about their past.  Indeed, so impressive are these four actors at portraying childhood friends reminding each other how things used to be that it's almost a shame when the blue-blood ("it's more like ink") robots show up to cause trouble.

Not that the robots don't fit in, here.  As time goes by it becomes increasingly clear that they are intended to be superior copies of those they're replaced, but this uses a definition of "superior" that entirely misses the point.  You can't treat the past as a chocolate assortment from which you just pick out the strawberry creams.  You can't return to a younger body because that younger body was the one you were using when you were happier.

And that's the point.  If you'd offered King the Network's deal when he first returned to Newton Haven, he'd have snapped it up - actually, he might have checked his new robot body could get wasted first.  Because King is the only one of the "five musketeers" who has no idea what the importance is of growing up and leaving the past behind.  If the phrase "Cornetto Trilogy" didn't already suggest this is the last Wright/Pegg film - at least in this template - then the underlying current of "come on, now; that's enough" should do it.

The problem with this reading, of course, is that whilst the Network's solution is clearly flawed, its basic point that the refusal of humanity to learn or mature - brilliant illustrated in what is surely the greatest bar chart ever compiled - is an appalling state of affairs is basically justified.  But then, what's life without a little inconsistency.  After all, when Gary, Andy and Steven angrily reject the Network's "we know best" approach to interstellar relations, they do it in the most bellicose, self-contradictory, drunken manner possible.  The proud and puny humans standing up to powerful extra-terrestrial entities and telling them to go fuck themselves is a common sci-fi trope, of course (Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, Babylon 5's "Into The Fire", and every third episode of Star Trek: TOS being just the first examples that spring to mind), but usually it's a message of affirmation - humanity can steer its own course; we might yet surprise you.  Here, it's a much more cynical take - yes, we screw everything up, but fuck off anyway.  We are, to paraphrase the film, each other's cocks.  No outside interference need apply.

So if the resulting apocalyptic coda is a bit pointless - and has the strange effect of basically justifying King's ridiculous idea that once you've had your childhood adventure, the rest of the world is just a bit of a waste - at least the build-up works.

A fitting end to the trilogy, then.  Not its funniest, but its most complex, and wonderfully self-aware in its lack of self-awareness.  Far more than one might have expected after watching Hot Fuzz, or even in some ways Shaun of the Dead.  Rest easy lads, you've managed the triple,

But come on, now.  That's enough.


Tomsk said...

Incorrect! Hot Fuzz is the better film. The World's End is more serious-minded to be sure but less funny as a result. King's character fitted in with that mood, but it was refreshing to have a dislikeable person in the lead role - in that aspect almost the opposite of Shaun of the Dead.

Once the chase got going it was very much like an extended episode of Dr Who, only without Dr Who. It felt like a step backward to the simpler messing around of Shaun of the Dead, whereas Hot Fuzz is very cleverly structured. The appropriateness of the pub names and the one-to-one mapping of new pub crawl events to old pub crawl events were well-crafted though.

I agree the ending is a bit pointless and I suspect it was there simply in order to be able to make the Cornetto joke.

There were many great small details though - particularly liked seeing Doom Bar on tap in the final pub.

Overall I'd rate it on a par with Shaun of the Dead, and somewhat below Hot Fuzz.

SpaceSquid said...

There is no way that Hot Fuzz is a better film than Sean of the Dead. It's not in any way well-constructed; the first and third acts are both overly long. It's jokes are less funny, and there's nothing remotely as good as the final scenes in the Winchester in their first film. I will grant that Hot Fuzz almost certainly has the better soundtrack, but by every other measure it comes up short.