It’s wasted youth weekend at the Spotlight. Beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to first cast a wary eye at the teen fantasy film, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES, finding little enrichment in its melange of demon hunters, vampires, werewolves, and CW caliber lead actors. Then the panel splits opinions on THE WORLD’S END, the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy in which a group of friends reunite to complete a pub crawl started in their teen years, only to have it derailed by an invasion of robots. Finally, Steve and Larry give their thoughts on the home-invasion horror film YOU’RE NEXT, which has absolutely nothing to do with stated theme, but, hey, life just isn’t convenient like that. Plus, what’s not coming to theaters next week.
Sitting down after watching the third chapter in the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” (a.k.a., the Cornetto Trilogy, so named for the brand of ice cream that appears in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and now THE WORLD’S END), I would like to write a lengthy, detailed review noting intricate virtues of the triumphant final flavor (mint chocolate chip, for those keeping track). Unfortunately, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg neglected to craft a triumphant film, so I cannot write that review. Far from the crowning conclusion, the third serving of Cornetto melts slowly for 109 minutes, its initial lustre resolving into a gooey, sticky mess on the sidewalk. Yes, technically it’s still mint chocolate chip, but you wouldn’t want to eat it, except to prove your unswerving fealty to the Wright-Pegg tribe.
This time out, Pegg plays Gary King, a middle aged former big fish in a small pond, who laboriously explains the back story in a prologue sequence that turns out to be a monologue at some kind of group therapy session. Gary regrets never finishing the quest he and his friends attempted years ago, to pub-crawl their way through all twelve local establishments in their home town. With nothing else going on in his life, Gary cajoles and badgers his old mates into having a second go. What follows is a fitfully amusing but dramatically trite exploration of middle age, but wait – and you knew this was coming – there’s a twist: the small British town has been taken over by alien robots!
The sci-fi element is intended to put a jolt into the otherwise mundane story (god knows that watching Gary and company work their way through a dozen pubs is not enough to sustain a feature film), and to some extent it does enliven the proceedings. Unfortunately, the alien invasion is also intended to lend a new perspective to Gary’s predicament, forcing him and his friends to realize what’s truly important in life. Well, sort of.
You see, what’s really happening is something else – perhaps not fully intentional, but not entirely accidental, either. Gary, frankly, is a self-centered jerk; although he presents the pub-crawl as a chance for him and his friends to reunite, the exercise really serves only his needs, and everyone else is just along for the ride, because he would feel incomplete without his posse. In his context, the threat of alien invasion does not force a revaluation of Gary’s personal priorities; it serves to reinforce – or at least, eclipse – his personal failings. Along with his friends on screen, we in the audience are supposed to forget about what a louse Gary is, because how important is that when the world’s end is nigh?
Unfortunately for THE WORLD’S END, it is nearly impossible to overlook Gary’s shortcomings, because Pegg nails them so perfectly in his first few minutes of screen time. What he never manages to do – ever – is convey the charm that would coax his friends into following him like trained puppy dogs. Throughout Gary’s interaction with Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Andy (Nick Frost), we wonder why they ever put up with him, let alone agreed to get back together with him. (He convinces Andy to come along by lying about his mother’s supposed death; Andy is too stupid to see through the obvious deceit, which the film reveals later as if it were a surprise.)
We also find ourselves yearning eagerly for one of Gary’s “friends” to punch him in the nose; when it finally happens in the third act, it is about an hour too late. By this time, whatever flavor the film had has melted away. Gary’s insistence on completing his quest – even after the aliens have snatched two of his friends – is incredible and absurd, but never really funny, and he never has a change of heart or one of those personal growth moments that might make us think there had been a reason for making him the protagonist.
Instead, THE WORLD’S END leads up to cornball conclusion in which the Voice of the “Network” (Bill Nighy) tries to coerce Gary into joining the aliens voluntarily. The aliens turn out to be less interested in violent take-over than a simple merger; they would rather win allies than replace them with Stepford Clones, but they are willing to use force if necessary, because otherwise it would not be so obvious that they were the bad guys – which is necessary in order to make Gary seem like a good guy. In response to the alien’s offer, Gary’s penchant for fucking up everything he touches is provided as a counter-point, as if it were a point of honor – proof of the superiority of the human race. We are supposed to cheer Gary’s individuality – his desire to be free and do what he wants to do* – but he provides such a miserable example of the human race, that it’s easy to see why the aliens thought we needed a little help up the evolutionary ladder. In fact, our final image of Gary sees him starting a bar fight – lethal judging by the weapons on display – over a drink of water, in the post-apocalyptic world that results from the aliens’ departure. Presumably, Wright and Pegg intend this message to be taken with a heavy dose of irony, but they offer no evidence for this onscreen.
In spite of everything that is wrong with THE WORLD’S END (the title is taken from the last pub the boys reach), Pegg and Wright are too talented to his their target completely. The supporting characters are nicely played, engendering whatever sympathy the film evokes. Pierce Brosnan shows up in a bit as a former professor, lending a touch of class that the rest of the proceedings lack: he almost sells you on the idea that the alien invasion is a good thing. The shift from character comedy to sci-fi spoof is handled in a nicely matter of fact way, and Wright is fine with handling the tonal shift. If nothing else, his films are a distinctive change from the usual cookie-cutter approach: AT THE WORLD’S END is not much better than THE WATCH, but at least is is disappointing in a more interesting way.
Wright’s handling of the fight scenes is mildly amusing in a dumb-movie kind of way. Our boys are surprisingly adept at defeating the supposedly intimidating aliens – at least until the the third act arrives and the script realizes it’s time to gin up a crisis, at which point our heroes start loosing or at least have a harder time winning.
THE WORLD’S END exudes the lazy, knock-off aura, examplified by by the appearance of a giant robot – that doesn’t actually do anything interesting – and by the title itself, which is justified in the final reel almost as an afterthought. The film may not, in a literal legal sense, but the equivalent of a “contractual obligation album,” but nine years after SHAUN OF THE DEAD, it certainly feels as if Wright and Pegg are simply delivering the film out of a sense of obligation to their fans, recycling the old motifs with little new inspiration. Once again we have the small English town with the sinister secret (HOT FUZZ), and once again we have Pegg as a man on a mission, which is interrupted by monsters (zombies instead of aliens in SHAUN OF THE DEAD).
The difference is Shaun, unlike Gary, wanted to win back his old girlfriend – a worthier goal than drinking twelve pints at twelve different pubs – and SHAUN OF THE DEAD truly felt like a Working Title romantic-comedy rammed headlong into a zombie apocalypse film, with all of the Working Title virtues intact and augmented by the bizarre context. THE WORLD’S END, on the other hand, has all the virtues of a pub-crawl – if any. Adding robot aliens into the mix does not create some brilliantly original genre hybrid, combining the best fo both. It just gives us a pub-crawl with alien robots.
THE WORLD’S END (August 23, 2013, A Universal Pictures Release of a Working Title Films production). Directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. Rated R. 109 minutes. Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan.
2 out of 5 on the CFQ Review Scale: not recommended, but with some redeeming qualities.
- Gary’s creedo is provided in voice via an audio clip from THE WILD ANGELS: “We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. … And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we are gonna do. We are gonna have a good time…”
You gotta love an alien invasion film where the aliens make the serious mistake of trying to invade some council estates (read, “projects”) in London and discover that the street-tough kids there are not going to yield the territory without racking up a body count. That’s the idea behind ATTACK THE BLOCK, Joe Cornish’s directorial debut that was exec produced by SHAUN OF THE DEAD’s Edgar Wright. It’s neatly pulled off with a surprising bit of depth, and worth checking out when it’s released on homevid on October 25th.
So a bunch of us were gathered in a room in New York Comic Con’s press warren, and got to throw questions indiscriminately (but incisively) at Joe. I managed to capture the session for this podcast.
This week’s installment of the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast takes a ringside seat for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, director Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the graphic novels, starring Michael Cera as a young man who must defeat his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes. Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski judge the bouts and offer the usual insightful round-up of news, events, and home video releases.
If you have seen the trailers for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, you already know almost everything that’s good about it. Director Edgar Wright (who co-scripted with Michael Bacall, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley) has crafted a deliriously over-the-top roller-coaster fun house ride, in which the agony and ecstasy of fighting for true love is literalized in terms of Fant-Asia-style battles, which are mixed with candy-colored videogame graphics and wrapped up in throbbing garage band rock music. It is by turns zany, silly, and hilarious, and it features the best martial arts action ever seen in a non-Hong Kong film. Why, then, does the film so often fall flat?
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD attempts to present a very special sort of reality – not that of the physical world but a reality of the heart. The ardent desire, the all-consuming passion, the desperate sense that this is a matter of life-and-death is externalized with physics-defying fight choreography that, albeit unrealistic, is a perfectly believable depiction of what goes on inside the soul of someone in love with an apparently unobtainable object of affection.
The problem is that the actual love story feels like a mere excuse to tie together the fight scenes: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD never generates the actual feelings that would justify the visual pyrotechnics; those emotions must be taken for granted. Once the premise is set in motion (Scott Pilgrim meets the girl of his dreams but must defeat her seven evil exes before he can win her), the plot hits a plateau, shuffling from one cool fight scene to the next, separated by dialogue scenes that, while amusing, feel like treading water.
Although the lulls are never allowed to last too long, fast pacing cannot disguise the emptiness at the film’s heart: there is nothing interesting about Ramona Flowers, the girl of Scott’s dreams, except that she has seven evil exes (her only distinguishing characteristic is a tendency to change hair color frequently – wow!).* Gradually, it becomes clear that more effort went into diversifying the fight scenes than developing the love story that supposedly justifies them. About halfway through, you are likely to find yourself counting on your fingers, wondering how many evil exes are left before the film can end.
The problem is exacerbated by the too-hip self-awareness. The continual use of graphics, subtitles, and split-screen effects lend a hyper-real quality that prevents the excessive violence from outwearing its welcome, and the deadpan humor is the perfect counterpoint to the outrageous action (which the characters takes almost for granted). But ultimately SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, for fear of seeming sentimental and square (just the opposite of the heartfelt romanticism seen in the best legitimate Fant-Asia films, like HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS).
Michael Cera is well cast as the perfectly inauspicious Scott Pilgrim, but Kieran Culkin steals the show as Scott’s gay roommate. Chris Evans does a great spoof of an action movie star, probably the best thing he’s done since playing MACE in SUNSHINE (2007), and more than enough to pique your interest for seeing him as Captain America. Winstead looks right as Ramona, the girl of Scott’s dreams, but her mysterious, stand-offish attitude – intended to suggest hidden depths – turns out to be all she has to offer, and she never generates any real chemistry with Cera.
In fact, the only member of the cast who generates any real warmth is Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, Scott’s previous girlfriend – a seventeen-year-old high school student of Chinese descent, whom Scott dumps after meeting Ramona. Chau is the one good element not revealed in the trailers for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD – an unexpected emotional complication whose naivete spares her from the hip detachment undermining the other characters’ emotional lives. She is the one we really feel for, and after she transforms from helpless waif to vengeful fighting chick, we realize she’s the one Scott should really end up with. That he doesn’t is a mistake only partially compensated for by having her bless Scott’s romance with Ramona, letting him off the hook by telling him, “You’re not cool enough for me.”
As visually interesting as SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD IS, with sharp clever editing to propel even simple dialogue scenes along in an imaginative way, it is at times a bit dingy and dull during its non-action interludes. The humor is not always as funny as intended, and the rock-and-roll score seldom galvanizes the action with the full blast of intended electricity (a dueling bass guitar scene relies on the visuals to provide the snap lacking in the soundtrack). For all its merits, the film feels a bit like the Scott’s garage band: you enjoy them for their enthusiasm and desire to entertain, but beneath the rollicking feedback and distortion of the performances, you get a sense that the songs sort of do really suck.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (August 13, 2010). Directed Edgar Wright. Screenplay by Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Cast: Michael Cera, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Elizabeth WInstead, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans.
- It is possible that this is a deliberate joke: Scott is risking his life fighting over a woman with whom he has little if anything in common. If so, the filmmakers never deliver the punchline, which should have come at the end, with Scott realizing his mistake and dumping Ramona for Knives.
This article has been edited and expanded to clarify certain points.
Haven’t seen the trailer for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD? Well now you can view it in a unique way. I-Trailers has released an interactive version of the trailer, complete with an introduction by Edgar Wright and trivia about the film. This continues the off-the-wall marketing campaign the film has been receiving. If you’ve read the graphic novels at all, this indie-style of promotion shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Take a look behind the scenes of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, in this short montage of film clips and interviews with the cast and crew, including director Edgar Wright.
SuperHeroHype have been talking with Marvel Studios President of Production, Kevin Feige, on the eve of IRON MAN 2’s release and he has some new information about one of the studio’s smaller properties, ANT MAN. Apparently Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) is still directing the comic book adaptation and is set to start work on it once SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD is released.
In the Marvel comics ANT MAN had several incarnations; first was Dr Henry “Hank” Pym, whom invented the various methods for someone to reduce their size and assume the identity of ANT MAN and then there was Scott Lang, a thief who was reformed with the aid of Pym and Iron Man and became the second ANT MAN. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish have written several drafts of the film adaptation but SCOTT PILGRIM had put the project on hold. With PILGRIM almost finished Feige reveals,
“Edgar was in LA last week, we sat down, and we started working on a calendar of when to get him back into it once he finishes promoting Scott Pilgrim, so I think towards the end of this year, early next year we’d start looking at early prep for that, but certainly for a release date after The Avengers.“
So even though ANT-MAN is a long way off (I’d wager on a 2013 release being planned) it is still happening. Edgar Wright is a more than capable director and based on the PILGRIM teaser trailer, looks as if he can handle a larger budget superhero film such as this.
Universal Pictures releases this fantasy-action-romantic-comedy. When titular Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falls in love with a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in hand-to-hand combat, fant-asia style. Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, and Brandon Routh fill out the cast for director Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), working from a screenplay he co-wrote wtih Michael Bacall, based on the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Release Date: August 13.
Edgar Wright’s (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD trailer has been a long time coming, but it’s finally been uploaded to Apple Trailers for all to see. The trailer itself focuses on the main plot of the film; Scott Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera) gets a new girlfriend, only to find that in order to keep her he has to fight (sorry, defeat) her seven evil exes.
SCOTT PILGRIM is an adaptation of Brian Lee O’Malley’s cult comic book series of the same name which reads like a combination of manga fight scenes, video games references and a twenty-something coming of age drama. Edgar Wright has been hard at work on the film adaptation for some time now and it’s great to see the long-awaited trailer at last. The minute and a half shown here gives a good impression of the manga and video game inspired visual style of the film and the fights scenes look like they they’re going to be a lot of fun.
The film is due for release on the 13th of August this summer but it’s more than likely that we’ll see another trailer before then.