Director: Edgar Wright
Starring; Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan
Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 blanks. This film fell ever so slightly short of my expectations, based on my love for Wright’s other work and particularly of course the first two installments of his Cornetto trilogy as well as the positive buzz generated upon the film’s release late this summer. I thought the genre bending was at an all-time high here, perfectly crossing over science fiction and comedy much like Shaun of the Dead crossed zombies with romantic British comedy and Hot Fuzz blended cop-conspiracy action with a similar sense of humor. I will also say this film is the most mature and serious of all three films. My main complaint among a few gripes is that its conclusion felt random and misguided, as if Wright didn’t know how to neatly tie up the loose ends left by the already slightly uneven structure of the story, making this a film whose parts are all brilliant but the sum of which doesn’t quite add up.
I know I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for not loving this movie as much as I was hoping to, so first let me say that its strengths outweighed its weaknesses for me and I did wholeheartedly enjoy it. I loved every performance, especially from Simon Pegg who usually plays the semi-straight man to Nick Frost’s lovably annoying counterpart. Here, Pegg plays a washed-up and incorrigibly crazy man who, reminiscent for the glory days in which he and four friends tried to accomplish a golden mile pub crawl, wrangles his old crew to attempt it once again. The chemistry between these men is often funny enough to carry the film even through the painstakingly long (but admittedly necessary) portion that is all exposition and character/relationship re-development one could say.
Then, when they finally do discover, somewhere along their path to the twelfth pint, that their town has been taken over by alien robots who bleed blue, the film suddenly feels both rushed and simultaneously redundant, but before I get to that I want to emphasize that there are still plenty of hilarious and shocking moments thrown into the mix. I loved every fight sequence and the song choice, all choreographed and timed with humor and bravado. Nick Frost, again, playing out of character was refreshing and fun, and Martin Freeman was also perfect in his role here as well. I of course also loved all the little nods to the previous two Cornetto films, making this trilogy one of theme and style: from visual parallels like the rapidly edited one-two-three sequences of shots meant to emphasize specific actions being taken, let’s say, to the long-awaited appearance of the Cornetto ice cream. And as I mentioned, all three films expertly weave genre expectations and somehow remain true to the spirit of the genre at hand, with laughs being supplied elsewhere.
But, like I said, something about the tone and timing of this film didn’t flow as well as it could have for me. I felt like once we discover the blue-blooded ‘blanks,’ the action doesn’t truly escalate all that much at least not as a direct result of the blanks– they just chase our protagonists around the small town, with blue light coming out of their facial orifices, in an almost endless cyclical manner that begins and ends too abruptly for it to have developed nearly as well as the first half of the film did (when there was no sci-fi element at all yet). And we don’t learn their true purpose until nearly the end anyway. This would have been okay with me except the film seemed almost in conflict with itself, unsure whether to emphasize this supernatural element or stick with the human drama that had been planted in the first half of the film, with more fights between Frost and Pegg than perhaps with any of the blanks, and as a viewer, I didn’t find there to be a balance between these two elements like there had been in the other films, so much as a tug of war or back and forth that grew repetitive but also felt like it started and ended in too short a span of narrative time for it to build and grow as it should have.
Yet, each side of this back and forth was still at least engaging and coherent in themselves separately I will admit, even if not when taken as a whole together, which would have helped certainly but wasn’t really all that bothersome in the grand scheme of my enjoying the film. And again, we are truly made to care about these characters which helps enough, even Pegg who is both the zaniest and yet somehow the most sympathetic, especially once we learn why the golden mile is so important to him. The film becomes more about what it means to be humans who make mistakes and want that freedom to do so, and for Wright to have evolved as a director so much so as to weave a film with such a surprisingly profound theme (among all the silly jokes and sci-fi nods, I mean) is truly commendable. I respected this aspect of the film’s trajectory and structure, but its ending is something that I outright, plain and simple, could not get behind. It seemed totally misplaced and unnecessary to turn what had been a smart and funny sci-fi comedy into a strange and above all rushed post-apocalypse story; the shift in tone and focus yet again was jarring and silly, and not in a fun way. As an epilogue, I feel like it raised more questions (mainly about its very point or significance in the film), in trying so overtly to answer questions that maybe we were’t even asking.
So, while I really liked this movie a lot, I had to take off some points for the pacing and coherence, and its ending especially. I would still highly recommend it though, because it is a well done film overall and a truly mature and accomplished conclusion to a trilogy that has built itself on humorous genre hybridization and the nuanced talent that requires. It is engaging and entertaining, but could have been a little bit more focused, is my bottom line. Again: the sum of its many brilliant parts does not amount to brilliance somehow. It does, however, come just close enough to be considered, at least, very good.