I'm pretty sure that Edgar Wright might be the only guy around capable of giving us a movie that isn't just about "getting the band back together", rekindling lifelong friendship or getting hammered but also engaging in fisticuffs with extraterrestrial invaders. It also has a huge heart that laces throughout this sci-fi comedy that beats loud and proud. More important than all of this? It's fun. It's hilarious. It hits all the right notes. This movie rocks.
Wright brings us the finale to the "Cornetto Trilogy" (which includes 2004's Shaun of the Dead and 2006's Hot Fuzz ) does his best work here. He fires on all cylinders with charged dialogue, action that is not only well shot but downright bruising and comedic heights that few films are willing to reach for. The Wright trademarks are all here. We get the dramatic and dynamic close-ups of pints being poured, keys turning in ignitions and the like. Wright is clearly an auteur that excels at pop art but he also become one of the better directors of action in the game.
He also knows how to picks his collaborators well in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Pegg is, as always, Edgar's leading man and plays the sad-sack perpetual loser on one last quest for glory Gary King to a tee. Frost truly steps up to the plate here far more than his prior outings with his fellow superbro, Pegg. He steals the damn show with a physicality that is, all at once, somehow elegant and brutal. His physicality is a sight to be seen.
What I loved about this movie more than anything else though? The segments between the action. The heart of the story really comes through here. Gary and his friends used to run Newton Haven. They were young, dumb and full of life. The attempt at the so-called "Golden Mile" (12 pubs along a marked path) resulted in failure but, as Gary proclaims, it was the best night of his life. Therein lies the problem for The King, as he calls himself, he peaked early. The rest of his friends all moved on with their lives and, mostly, they left him behind. Gary's confidence is clearly a masque for the fact that he knows what he is. He's an alcoholic and a drug user. He's a continued disappointment to himself and others yet he hopes that maybe, just maybe, getting the boys back in town for one last go at the legendary pub crawl might give him some sort of closure. His friends all grew up and he didn't. The bonds of friendship are strong but growing old and circumstance changes a lot. This could have been a pretty damn good movie about guys sitting around talking through their baggage. I would have watched the hell out of that. What we get is much more than that.
There's the stuffed shirt, Oliver (Martin Freeman), who constantly brags about how great his life is. Steven (Paddy Considine), an architect and business-owner, always seemed to be lagging behind Gary and his cocksure swagger. Sam (the delicious Rosamund Pike), Oliver's sister, proved to be a huge wedge between them. Steven is a divorcee and clearly in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Peter (the brilliant Eddie Marsan) is a bit mewling and was bullied as kid. He was the token nerd who now works at his Father's dealership. Andrew (Nick Frost) is a corporate lawyer who has all wiped Gary King out of his life entirely. The reason for their schism is revealed later on the film and, man, is it a swerve.
There's a lot of slapstick (as Wright loves) and quick-fire exposition but underneath at all is this vein of missed opportunity, sorrow and an almost jarring sense of what old wounds and their impact can be. Gary himself is full of contradiction and for all his confidence constantly displays a frenzied desperation that is equal parts pitiable and endearing.
The turn into full-on science-fiction country will immediately bring to mind some of John Carpenter's work (The Fog and the criminally underrated Prince of Darkness ) along with "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". It could have lost its way in trying to imbue this rather great character-driven story with the more absurd elements but Wright's frenetic style belies the fact that this film is rather meticulous and well-crafted. As crazy as shit gets here it never feels forced.
The fear of aging and losing what we knew to time and the inevitable march of life are threads that weave in and out of the movie. This is also the sort of movie where Nick Frost drops a Macho Man Randy Savage elbow onto a downed robot and smashes his head into a million itty bitty pieces. There's even commentary about how things are becoming more and more homogenized (all the pubs have been Starbucked, as they say) to hint at some sort of conspiratorial clutch of the unseen over us all.
This film is brisk and dances throughout absurdity and truly human conceits of friendship, aging, connection and so forth. It could have easily been self-important and up it's own ass about things but Wright guides the film along with a steady hand and hits us with great action mixed with truly engaging meditations on male camaraderie and so on. It makes no allusions otherwise and carries the banner of these themes so damn proudly. Then a robot's head explodes and covers somebody in blue goo.