Tag Archives: Simon Pegg

The World’s End – Invasion of the Boozy Snatchers

Pub trouble - Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman

Pub trouble – Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman

Who doesn’t love a good thematic trilogy? Three Colours? Rosselini’s Post-War trilogy? Fassbinder’s BRD? Filmmakers can explore ideas of genre and the era in which they live through loose thematic constructs that somehow inform upon one another. Often a filmmaker, like Antonioni, will cast the same actor in different roles in each film, playing with concepts of identity and performance.

The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy may have emerged through a joke cracked by Edgar Wright in a press conference, but there’s no doubt it caught the imagination. Wright’s Shaun of the Dead had garnered quite the (deserved) cult following, and his follow-up film Hot Fuzz was a rollicking, hysterical, if somewhat messily executed comedy hit. The concept of a trilogy featuring the superb comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in differing roles, each deconstructing the pulpiest of genres – horror, action and science-fiction – seemed too good to be true. And it was.

Crashing into the final hurdle like a wooden fence Simon Pegg just can’t leap, The World’s End is like eating a mint Cornetto only to find the bottom of the cone is not filled with chocolate, only blue goo and disappointment. Like Hot Fuzz, which suddenly switches genre with every passing act (from odd couple/fish out of water comedy, to slasher movie, to high-octane action flick), The World’s End switches tack midway through. Here, its Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? plot mutates into a clunky, misdirected Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody so suddenly that you’d swear you had just left the cinema and entered another movie entirely. And neither movie was very good.

Pegg, who has almost perfected the role of the likeable loser, here plays the unlikeable loser, Gary King. In the late ’80s Gary was the leader of the pack; not the coolest guy in school maybe, but certainly the most confident. Over the years his friends moved on and grew up, but he never changed, and is now a pathetic manchild, still dressing the same, driving the same car and listening to all the same music. An alcoholic and a drug addict, it is far less believable that he survived the 1990s than that his home town has been taken over by aliens.

Desperate to rekindle the magic of the “best night of his life”, an aborted pub crawl taking in all of Newton Haven’s 12 pubs, Gary monstrously manipulates his one-time friends into giving it another shot. There’s Steven (Paddy Considine), the quietly confident one; Oliver (Martin Freeman), the geeky professional one; Peter (Eddie Marsan), the one who was bullied in school and now feels bullied by life; and Andrew (Frost), the one who has suffered the most from trying to give Gary the benefit of the doubt.

Obnoxiously mirroring all the events of their first pub crawl so that we always know exactly what is about to happen, the quintet work their way along the ‘Golden Mile’, before an encounter with some humourless teens in a pub toilet reveals that many of the locals have been replaced by literally blue-blooded alien replicants. Fearful the malevolent powers that be might target people doing anything out of sorts, the group decide the discreet thing to do is politely finish the pub crawl and get thoroughly annihilated, then get thoroughly out of town.

Nightmare in Newton Haven: Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Nick Frost on the run from who the hell cares

Nightmare in Newton Haven: Simon Pegg, Paddy Considine and Nick Frost on the run from who the hell cares

Most of the faults with The World’s End land in Gary’s lap. He may be a believable character, but he is a despicable one, and nostalgic attempts to redeem him are repeatedly undone as he time and again proves himself to be beyond saving, and beyond worth saving. In Shaun of the Dead Shaun learned (like Spaced’s Tim Bisley) that it was possible to take responsibility for his life while also maintaining a childishness that allowed him to be himself. Here Gary never even begins to grow up, he just betrays himself and his friends again and again. For those who found Wright’s take on Scott Pilgrim obnoxious, you’ve seen nothing yet.

Worse still though, Wright and Pegg’s screenplay just isn’t funny. The jokes aren’t here. Oliver’s geekiness is highlighted through his repeated utterance of “WTF?” instead of actually swearing – it pays off in one decent joke, but by then you’re so irritated with the character it’s just too little too late. The classic Wright wordplay is present, but the style is tired from overuse, and there’s nothing to match the banter of “Dogs can’t look up” from Shaun or the farmers and their mothers exchange from Hot Fuzz.

Perhaps the finest element of Shaun, the pre-drinking speech that foreshadows the film to come, is here done to death. Not only does the film’s preamble give the entire game away, but in every pub the name of the establishment somehow relates to the events that occur there. By the time you get to pub 11, ‘The Hole in the Wall’, you’re not paying attention to the ‘drama’ unfolding but rather waiting for the damn wall to fall down. You wind up frustrated at the characters for not realising they’re so clearly in an Edgar Wright movie. The whole project feels self-aware and self-important, reeking of Wright’s comedic egomania.

Bizarre music choices aside, the big disappointment here is the film’s uninspired look, which never shows any of the energy of the earlier films in the trilogy. The fight scenes have a kinetic bar brawling energy, but they’re so distractingly choreographed that they never become thrilling, more puzzling. The alien robot designs, while original, come off looking cheap.

Pegg and Frost appear bored with their roles, with only Paddy Considine really giving all he’s got. Freeman, perhaps exhausted from all his Hobbit-ing and Sherlock-ing is hardly present, phoning his whole performance in via a Bluetooth. Marsan proves he has mettle for comedy, but he’s not given much to work with. As Oliver’s sister and a romantic distraction for both Gary and Steven, Rosamund Pike excuses herself well. A brilliant stroke of casting for the villain in Hot Fuzz is repeated here with a similar casting, but it’s far less successful.

The World’s End is at its best when it’s dissecting British drinking culture. Sterilised Starbucks-like pubs and school discos are featured and given the ribbing they deserve. But the film never settles on what it feels about alcohol as social lubricant versus social epidemic. In one of the finest dialogue scenes in the film Andrew gives a speech about how brave it is to be a teetotaller, turning down pints with the lads and standing up for himself. Not long after he is downing shots because the story demands it. It’s quite a shameful cop-out.

The character’s surnames – King, Knightley, Prince, etc – hint at a fantasy idea that has no place in this film, and is unfortunately repeated near the film’s denouement. You’re left wondering if Wright has even made the film he wanted to, or got lost somewhere in the process. There are clever ideas at play once the characters arrive at The World’s End pub, but they don’t even begin to make up for the drudgery of the film to that point.

Recently Despicable Me 2 had a better Body Snatchers joke in it than anything Wright and Pegg conjure up here, and the whole film suffers from a bipolar uncertainty as to what exactly it is. Sadly, the only thing it definitely is is a panegyric to Gary King, perhaps the most hate-worthy protagonist in modern cinema. He’s a King nobody should want. An act of regicide would be thoroughly welcome.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.nextprojection.com)

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Boldly going where all of these people have gone before…

I could never call myself a Trekkie, but that’s not to say I could never have been one. What I saw of the original Star Trek series as a child never turned me off particularly – albeit I was bemused by what threat plasticine blobs and Nazis could offer a heavily armed starship – but it was ironically my obsessive nature which stopped me from becoming a devout Trekkie in the first place.

In order to have become one, I would have had to have seen every episode from start to finish in rough order, and not just pick and mix on alternating weekends at my father’s house. Had I ever properly gotten into Star Trek, you would all fear me and the wrath of my über-geekdom.

Strangely  I have always had a passion for The Next Generation for the very reason cited above; I was able over the years to catch almost every episode on the telly as they came and went, and for those I missed I borrowed a complete guidebook from a neighbour and studied it diligently (and embarrassingly).

So yeah, as Trekkies go, I am FAIL. So much so that I only saw The Wrath of Khan for the first time last summer. I have never seen The Motion Picture, nor a single episode of Enterprise. But I do rank the TNG episode ‘Cause and Effect’ (the déjà vu one) to be one of the best episodes of a TV drama ever made (other members of that esteemed list are Lost’s ‘Deus Ex Machina’ and The West Wing’s ‘Two Cathedrals’).

So it would be fair to say I never had particularly high hopes for JJ Abrams’s revamped Star Trek, and I was never one to hide my criticism. But it wasn’t out of love for the originals or a feeling of treading on sacred ground that it bothered me, but simply a lack of timeliness to the project that made it feel wrong for now. The last two TNG films had been so poor (from the snippets I saw while angrily ignoring them) that throwing a new Star Trek into the mix that was looking backward rather than forward seemed strange to me. Does one have to go back to the beginning to fix what only went wrong along the way? Let’s hope not, or George Lucas will be announcing a reboot of the original Star Wars trilogy within days of now.

I was surprised then when the reviews started coming back so extremely positive. How could this be? Well, I should have seen it coming, what Abrams’s Star Trek has going for it is something decidedly simple but unique – it’s a blockbuster!

And no, I don’t mean to slam the previous Star Treks (since when has being a blockbuster been definitively a good thing?), nor imply weak box offices across the board. But there has always been something decidedly B-movie-ish about the majority of Star Trek films; they never lost touch with the fact that they were glorified episodes of good TV shows. Sometimes it worked delightfully, and other times it didn’t.

But Star Trek is undoubtedly an enormously mainstream, high-concept, high-budget ($150 million?!), audience-pleasing movie machine. Its CGI rivals the best the Star Wars prequels ever offered, its script is full of punchy dialogue, and there’s a sexy young cast who fit so snugly into their already worn roles that one suspects genetic tampering has been used to clone a second superior generation to crew the Enterprise. Just think – somewhere out there a hairless baby is being bred to be Jean-Luc Picard in forty years.

What they’ve done here is take an original idea and make it brighter, faster, sharper, funnier, surprisingly less camp, and suspiciously likable. There’s no doubt that this is the Star Trek film that anyone can enjoy with ease. The young characters are all introduced as new – there’s a few gags for the fans but baring the time-travel subplot not much that would require any foreknowledge of the series.

It’s not without its faults. Eric Bana as the Romulan villain Nero stoops almost as low as he did as Henry VIII in The Other Boleyn Girl – it’s a desperately written role, but he has nothing to bring to it that couldn’t be performed by a lobotomised Nicolas Cage.

The monster action sequence on an ice planet has vomit-inducing echoes of The Phantom Menace and seems determined to satisfy awkward cinemagoers who time the interval between action scenes and leave if unsatiated.

Similarly, much of the comic relief could have been left out – Simon Pegg makes a surprisingly impressive Scotty, but making him act the complete fool is an insult to the character, the actor (and his forebear) and most of the isle of Britain. Pairing him with a sidekick who is the freakish offspring of a Jawa and one of those coral people from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels hardly helps. The ‘Scotty in the water pipe’ sequence is so painfully out of place it deserves a right booing, but then it seems to be there to satisfy both the comic relief seekers and those who think a potential death is “exciting” or even an action sequence.

Speaking of potential deaths for characters who will clearly not die, young Kirk dangles from a precipice a total of three times in this film, not including his battle with a giant bug thingy on an ice slope.

In hiring an almost perfect cast for the Enterprise, Abrams has allowed himself to get away with a lot. Essentially by rewriting the past he has all but deleted four TV series and ten films from the Star Trek canon, allowing himself and his successors to craft an entirely new universe in which to boldly go. Leonard Nemoy’s rather charming cameo is used as the royal seal to decree this new Star Trek law.

Thus, what’s most unfortunate about the project is that it essentially fails to deliver on its own premise. Star Trek was billed as an origin story for a series epic in scope. It would explain how these characters that have been adored for forty years now came to share the deck of this starship. But it simply doesn’t do that, because the time is all wrong.

The very rewriting of the time frame by Nero’s evil nastiness changes the events that Trekkies were promised by this film in the first place. This is not how Kirk came to be in Starfleet, because Kirk had a father who raised him right, while this one does not – and if we learned nothing else from The Boys from Brazil it’s what a difference a dad makes.

Similarly Spock never lost his mother (Winona Ryder, oh how you shoplifted your career to death) nor his home planet. And how did Scotty actually come to be a member of the Enterprise crew when not prodded by alternate universe Kirk and future Spock?

Abrams has created an origin story to a completely (well, not completely!) different series; a series he will no doubt helm for some time (coincidently his former pet project Lost has been hammering home for months now that time-tinkery is ultimately fruitless).

One hopes he will continue to do a decent job with it, and that in time the Trekkies will either come to love it – or rise up in rebellion and demand their universe be put to right.

Regardless, if in fifty years time I see an alternate universe reboot of Star Trek: Voyager I will be the first to hunt down the aging Mr Adams and break both his crumbling knees.

3/5

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