We’re at my favorite. Yes, that’s right, out of the entire Cornetto Trilogy, this one is the one that I will re-watch most. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the other two immensely, I love the hell out of them, but this is one of the most perfect action movie parodies out there while still being meaningful, intelligent, and freaking hilarious. The World’s End impacts me more on a personal level, Shaun of the Dead is funnier to me, but this one struck the balance that I think works best.
Based on feedback, I’m using my new format for movie reviews, so, if you want a full annotated summary of the film, go to the bottom and click the link.
PC Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is removed from the Metropolitan Police Service in London due to being so dedicated to his job that he makes all the other officers look bad. He’s also not particularly social or fun, due to constantly being “on duty,” which doesn’t help. Since firing him would draw attention, they instead promote him to Sergeant and transfer him to Sandford, Gloucestershire, a small village known for being peaceful and quaint.
When he arrives, he is partnered with PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), son of Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), the head of the local police service. Danny is a huge fan of action movies and is disappointed that most of police life, according to Angel, is paperwork and regulations. The two eventually start to bond with Danny showing Angel Point Break and Bad Boys II as examples of “proper action,” before finally becoming friends as they investigate cases together.
Meanwhile, a series of murders (shown to the audience but framed to the characters as accidents) start claiming members of the town, leading Angel to suspect there’s a serial killer. He eventually accuses local obviously evil guy Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) of killing everyone as part of a real estate scheme, only for it to be revealed that Skinner clearly couldn’t have done it. He then theorizes that Skinner could have done it with help, since he employs much of the town, but Frank dismisses it as paranoia, because murders don’t happen in Sandford.
Nicholas returns to his hotel room, only to be ambushed by Lurch (Rory McCann), Skinner’s supermarket cart boy (trolley if you’re British). Angel fights him off and goes to confront Skinner, only to find out that most of the town, including Frank, are part of a “secret” society, the Neighborhood Watch Alliance. Even crazier, the murders weren’t part of a grand, logical scheme, but just based on thinking the people were annoying or inconvenient to have in the “Village of the Year.”
Danny helps Nicholas escape, but he comes back, armed to the teeth. Together with Danny and, later, the rest of the police force, Angel engages in a shootout that destroys much of the town and ends with everyone in the NWA in jail or dead. At the end of the film, Nicholas and Danny are still partners, now having fun being bad ass on the streets of Sandford.
Part of the reason why this movie is my favorite is… well, I’ll Venn Diagram it.
The first time I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was amazing. The first time I saw The World’s End, it was just good. The second time I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was much the same. The second time I saw The World’s End, it became one of my favorite films. Hot Fuzz started at amazing and moved into epic on repeat viewing.
Part of it is that the foreshadowing in this movie is more subtle and spread-out than in the other films, but, because it’s based on action movie clichés, you really already know what’s going to happen. There’s one sequence where Danny asks Angel about all of the “action” he’s had in London which lists all of the things that are going to happen during the final sequence, including shooting a gun into the air and going “Aaaargh” a la Point Break. There’s another sequence where Angel is identifying potential threats on the street that turns out to be accurate, even though it’s portrayed as being paranoid.
The foreshadowing is also combined with Wright’s wonderful use of recontextualized repetition (apparently the Trope is called Ironic Echoing), with most of the lines in the first act being repeated, or repeated with a slight variation, in the second or third act, including “Get a look at his arse/horse,” which is one of my favorite uses of regional dialect wordplay. Yes, there are others. Probably. The point is, I find the way they compare harmless and dire situations in dialogue to be hilarious. They discuss catching a serial killer and a swan in almost the exact same tone, compare Angel’s initial hazing with his moment of broken spirit, and compare a firefight with solving a crossword. The last one brings me to all of the brick jokes.
A brick joke is when you make a mediocre joke which later turns out to be the set-up for a bigger joke. If you want examples, Arrested Development is filled with them and I even pointed out that Bob Newhart once set-up the joke in one episode and paid it off in another series. This movie, similarly, sets up some goofy lines that later pay off into absolutely ridiculous scenes, ranging from the revelation that there IS an Aaron A. Aaronson living in the village (Angel thought that was a fake name to mock him) and that an armed farmer and his equally armed mother are the first people that Angel takes out when he comes back (having been told that everyone and his mother owns a gun in the countryside). Actually, most of the jokes that are made at Angel’s expense seem to later come true.
Similar to Shaun of the Dead, the movie does a lot of sharp, dramatic cuts accompanied by music to show Angel going through all of the boring parts of police work as opposed to the kind of action sequences that usually are associated with them. While Shaun of the Dead used it to draw comparisons between Shaun’s life and zombies, Hot Fuzz uses it to subvert the usual cop movie trait of ignoring the procedural parts of policework, which reminds us of Angel’s absolute rigidity about his policework. And that brings us to the big theme of the movie.
All three of the Cornetto Trilogy films are about the dangers of perpetual adolescence. In Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, it’s fairly obvious what the main characters are. Shaun’s given up on really living life and Gary has never done anything with his life. Nicholas Angel, however, is not an unsuccessful police officer, but an absolutely amazing one. He is dedicated to the law to an almost absurd degree and that’s the problem: he’s got nothing in his life except for his job.
It’s a very different kind of immaturity from Shaun or Gary, because Angel is actually doing exactly what he wants to do: Be an amazing police officer. It’s just that, in pursuit of it, he has never learned how to do anything else or have a real connection with any other human. He is just his job, not a real person. In existentialist terms, I guess he’d be avoiding engaged agency (if this is wrong, please correct me, it’s been a while). So, his journey is to discover that there is more to life than just being the thing you thought you wanted to be when you were five. You also have to enjoy life and the movie points out that one of the best ways to do that is to be a little bit less uptight and a little more immature. Having never really been connected to anyone, at the end of the movie, Nicholas actually does have a successful relationship, it’s just not a romantic one.
Just like in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, the main character is a reflection of the antagonist (Shaun: Zombies, Gary: Network), in this case the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, who, just as Nicholas is dedicated to policework to his own personal detriment, are dedicated to their cause of being “Village of the Year” to the detriment of the citizens. This is represented best by the fact that Nicholas constantly repeats idealisms like “the law is the law,” while the NWA constantly repeat “the greater good.” Both of these are unforgiving maxims, enforced with no regard to what might be more humane. They even show that most of the people that Nicholas arrested without considering being more lenient are subsequently murdered by the NWA. It’s a great way to highlight the protagonist’s flaws, by showing that a slightly more absurd version of the same flaw would lead to something horrifying. Granted, it’s also that Angel wants to be superlative through hard work and exceptionalism whereas the NWA wants to be superlative by eliminating all which would drag them down (and, for the record, based on how many fatal “accidents” people mention in the movie, they’re doing it more than Murder, She Wrote). Basically, Angel wants to make the trains on time, while the NWA will kill everyone that makes them late.
Similarly, Nicholas has wanted to maintain the same image of himself from when he was five and decided that he wanted to be a police officer. The town, likewise, appears frozen in the past, having a rustic aesthetic, even with an Apple computer from the 90s. They both have tried to maintain the image they had in the past, to the point that they strongly resist anything that would change it.
The music, too, deserves a nod, and it’s always wonderful to watch a director that understands that the soundtrack and the score are a big part of the film experience. Granted, as well as it’s done here, it does pale in comparison to Wright’s song use in Baby Driver and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Still, the songs are well used and they tie in thematically, something that adds a lot to the experience.
The movie really does blend style and substance perfectly, an amazing example of exactly what film can do as a medium. It’s not too artistic to be watchable without effort, but the more effort you put into watching it, the more it rewards you. Hell, until the third or fourth watching, I didn’t notice that almost everyone’s name in the village is actually a profession (Skinner, Cooper, Hatcher, Staker, Treacher, Blower, Draper, Wainwright, Cartwright), yet another way to mirror that Angel is just his job, while the fact that they’re all archaic professions reinforces the village’s frozen nature. I imagine the only reason “Butterman” isn’t a profession name is because Nick Frost named the character as a condition of doing the film.
Additionally, the posters in the background change throughout the film, indicating which characters replace the functions of others, or how the NWA is manipulating the population in subtle ways. There’s probably still stuff I’m missing. I even had to have someone point out to me that N.W.A. was also the band that did “Fuck tha Police,” a great hidden joke. Seriously, the amount of effort that must have gone into this movie is mind-boggling.
To summarize, I love this movie. Aside from maybe Ghostbusters, Pulp Fiction, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I watch annually, this is the movie I’ve probably re-watched the most. Since it came on Netflix, I’ve probably watched it half a dozen times just when I want something fun on in the background. I’m glad that Edgar Wright has moved past the Cornetto Trilogy, but these films will always have a special place in my heart.
I’m going to do the rest of his films, but I think I’m going to make a special page just for these three reviews.
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The film starts with a rundown of the career of Police Constable Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), depicting him as a superb Metropolitan Police officer who has completely dedicated himself to fighting crime and serving the community within London. He meets with his superiors (Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, Bill Nighy), who all inform him that he is going to be promoted and transferred to the countryside due to the fact that his arrest record is so superlative it’s making everyone else look bad. He goes to tell his recently ex-girlfriend, Janine (Cate Blanchett), that he’s being transferred, but she points out that he’s too dedicated to the Police Service to ever really care about another human being.
The now-Sergeant Angel takes a train out to his new post in Sandford, Gloucestershire, the perennial “Village of the Year,” renowned for its low crime rate and peaceful nature. Angel checks into the local hotel and makes his way to the local pub, where he quickly removes all of the underage drinkers, much to the chagrin of the owners, Roy and Mary Porter (Peter Wight and Julia Deakin). Angel ends up almost getting hit by a drunk driver, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), and arresting all of the drunken youths, spending the night booking them.
The next day, Angel runs through the town, seeing many of the locals in the quaint little village, including the very odd and affably evil Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) who owns the local supermarket. He then meets the officers that make up the Sandford police service: the Turner twins, the desk Sergeants (Bill Bailey); Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), the head of the department; the oft-overwhelmed Sergeant Tony Fisher (Kevin Eldon); the combative Detective Sergeants Andy Wainwright and Andy Cartwright (Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall); the elderly and unintelligible PC Bob Walker (Karl Johnson); and PC Doris Thatcher (Olivia Colman), the usually lewd sole female officer. He is also shocked to find out that Danny the drunk driver is also an officer and Frank’s son. Nicholas is also introduced to Tom Weaver (Edward Woodward), the head of the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, who seems to be overly concerned with children in hoodies and living statues.
At lunch with the other officers, Nicholas is attacked for being a city officer coming out to the country, with every officer trying to find a way to be offended by Nicholas’s relatively innocuous statements. To be fair, Nicholas is very uptight and takes policework extremely seriously, which is a little off-putting. Danny, however, is not offended, but instead is completely entranced by Angel, who he thinks might be nearly an action movie figure. Danny is partnered with Nicholas and constantly asks him questions about things that he’s seen in movies, though Angel has done almost none of them.
That night, Angel meets the members of the N.W.A., including: Joyce and Bernard Cooper (Eric Mason and Billie Whitelaw), who run his hotel; Reverend Shooter (Paul Freeman); Amanda Paver (Lorraine Hilton), the local teacher; Leslie Tiller (Anne Reid), a renowned horticulturalist; James Reaper (Kenneth Cranham), a farmer; and Dr. Hatcher (Stuart Wilson). Overall, the group is fairly boring, but polite and upbeat towards Nicholas. The next day, Nicholas is giving a speech before the local school, but is annoyed by the local reporter, Tim Messenger (Adam Buxton). His annoyance is increased the next day, when Tim misspells his name as “Angle” in the paper, leading everyone to call him that for the rest of the week.
Danny and Nicholas try to track down a swan lost by a P.I. Staker (Stephen Merchant) but are unsuccessful. While sulking in the car, Angel makes observations about all of the people on the street while Danny makes jokes, including the “joke” (or not) about Michael “Lurch” Armstrong (Rory McCann), the local trolley boy who only says “yarp.” They take a break at Simon Skinner’s supermarket, where Skinner meets with Angel and makes a threat about a local man, George Merchant (Ron Cook), but Angel runs off to chase a shoplifter (Ben McKay) who he apprehends in a spectacular manner. However, Skinner declines to press charges, disappointing Angel.
Later, on traffic duty, Angel and Danny pull over Martin Blower and Eve Draper (David Threlfall and Lucy “I deserve more work, Hollywood” Punch), a solicitor and his mistress, who are playing Romeo and Juliet in a local production. Angel annoys Blower by writing everything he is saying down, before ultimately mentally dominating him and giving him a ticket. Later, Blower gives Danny and Nicholas tickets to the show, which Angel refuses, only for Inspector Butterman to ask them both to go anyway. The production is an atrocity against God and Stage, including the moment when the “dead” Romeo refuses to stop kissing Juliet for a solid minute and a terrible version of “Lovefool” by the Cardigans at the end. Afterwards, Skinner appears and mentions how terrible the show was, lamenting that Blower and Draper played the leads over the Prossers (Trevor Nichols and Elizabeth Elvin), two local actors. Later that evening, the pair are murdered by an axe-wielding figure in a cloak.
The next day, the two bodies are found in what appears to be a car crash which decapitated them both. Angel points out that the scene appears staged, but he’s largely ignored, with DS Cartwright and Wainwright telling him that Blower represented the whole village, starting with Aaron A. Aaronson. Angel is annoyed that the pair don’t really seem to want to investigate. They’re interrupted by Frank telling them that they need to deal with a hedge issue out in the farms.
In one of the most surreal and yet believable scenes in the film, Danny and Angel bring PC Walker along to translate the ultra-accented speech of Arthur Webley (David Bradley). Webley talks to Walker who translates to Danny who translates to Nicholas. They end up finding that Webley has recently collected a huge supply of weapons that he “found,” including a sea mine that appears deactivated. The police collect all of it and place it into the evidence locker.
That night, Nicholas and Danny go drinking, with Angel finally letting his guard down a little and sharing with Danny that he’d wanted to be a police officer since he was five. He’s so dedicated to being an officer that he has dedicated everything to that. As the night goes on, the pair drink and bond and Nicholas shows the first signs of being somewhat relaxed. While there, they’re told by Frank to take a very drunk George Merchant home. They do, only to leave and miss Merchant being attacked and having his house blown up by the same cloaked figure.
At Danny’s house, he and Nicholas watch Bad Boys II and Point Break to relax, with Angel remarking about how much paperwork the finales would incur. The next morning, Nicholas suspects that the explosion was intentional, but is mostly ignored by the other officers. Later, at a church fête, Nicholas displays his firearms skills at a shooting gallery winning a cuddly monkey doll, Danny shoots the doctor with an air rifle, and Tim Messenger asks to meet with Angel because he has urgent information. When Nicholas goes to meet with him, Merchant is killed by the cloaked figure pushing a church spire onto his head. Nicholas convinces Frank to order an investigation, but they find nothing. Angel then wades through copies of Messenger’s oft-typo’d paper The Sandford Citizen, finding interesting articles about Merchant, Blower, and Draper’s recent land purchases. Danny and Angel investigate further, but ultimately find nothing definitive. They’re then interrupted by Danny’s birthday celebration.
Nicholas runs off to buy Danny a Japanese Peace Lily (Angel’s favorite plant) from Leslie Tiller, but she mentions that she’s leaving town because a recent real estate boom has made her land extremely valuable. Moreover, that Messenger, Merchant, Blower, and Draper had all been aware of it. When Nicholas goes to his vehicle to get a notepad to write that down, Leslie is murdered by the cloaked figure, who Nicholas chases, but ultimately can’t catch. He then tells everyone in the station he knows who did it. The police force heads to Skinner’s supermarket where Angel lays out a well-supported and logical set of reasons why Skinner had means, motive, and opportunity. However, Skinner has alibis in the form of videotapes of himself at the times of the murders.
We then see the montage of Angel being broken that happens in most cop movies when they’ve confronted the villain and been beaten in the second act. However, he realizes that there was just more than one killer. He goes to talk to Frank, but Frank tells him that he’s just being paranoid.
Quick aside: This last scene is important, because in many cop movies, the bad guy sends a hit after the good guy has given up and it seems stupid, because it just proves that he’s on the right track. In this, Nicholas has just told Frank that he’s not giving up, so eliminating him actually serves a purpose.
Angel returns to his hotel room, only to be attacked by a cloaked figure, revealed to be Lurch. Angel eventually renders him unconscious and hears a call from Skinner that says he’s at the local castle. He then calls Frank to inform him of what happened, tells Danny what happened, and heads to the castle.
At the castle, Nicholas hears chanting voices saying “bonum commune communitatis,” or “for the common good of the community.” It’s revealed that all of the cloaked figures are the members of the NWA. The members then reveal that Nicholas was never on the right track: All of the people were murdered not for money or real estate, but because they all did petty things which lowered the village’s perfect image. Bad acting, an annoying laugh, building a gaudy home, misspelling words, and, in Leslie Tiller’s case, leaving the community. Nicholas, stunned, says that all these people died for no reason, at which time Frank appears and explains that, after losing Village of the Year due to an infestation of gypsies, his wife killed herself by DUI. Since then, Frank vowed to “make Sandford great again” by murdering anyone who would cost them the contest. Nicholas points out how ridiculous it is that they’re doing all this for the “Village of the Year” award, and Frank orders him captured by Danny.
Nicholas flees from the group through the sewers, finding dozens of corpses, including the kids and shoplifter he arrested. He gets out, surrounded, only to be stabbed to death by Danny. Danny takes his body to dispose of it, but instead releases Nicholas, alive, from the trunk of his car outside of Sandford. Nicholas tries to convince Danny, who didn’t know about the true nature of the NWA, to help him, but Danny calls it hopeless. Nicholas drives off before reaching a gas station, where he sees a list of action movies and, inspired, heads back to Sandford again.
When he reaches the outskirts of town, he takes out farmer Reaper and his gun-toting mother. He then heads to the Police evidence locker and takes out all the confiscated guns and ammunition. Angel then literally gets on a horse and rides into town armed to the teeth. He has the local kids spray-paint over all the cameras and heads to the town square, where he starts a massive shootout. He soon is joined by Danny and the pair take out most of the NWA. They then go to confront the Porters at the pub but are ambushed by Frank and the police force. However, Nicholas convinces the rest of the officers that Frank and the NWA have been murdering people, resulting in them joining him and Danny. Frank runs off and the police force heads to the Supermarket.
They proceed to fight through the market, taking out Skinner’s henchmen, only to find that Skinner has escaped with Frank. Danny and Angel follow in their vehicle until Frank swerves to miss a swan and careens into the town’s “Model Village.” Angel grabs the Swan, throws it in the car, and follows. Eventually, Skinner and Angel battle it out, with Skinner grabbing a child (Alexander King) as a hostage. Angel beats Skinner down, but is warned by the child (named Aaron A. Aaronson) that Skinner is coming at him with a box cutter, but Skinner slips and impales himself on a model spire. Frank then shows up with Danny as a hostage, then drops him and flees. Danny can’t bring himself to shoot his father, instead replicating Point Break. However, Frank gets in the car and starts driving, only to be attacked by the swan and forced to crash into a tree.
The Metropolitan Police arrive and offer Angel his job back (since the crime rates have been skyrocketing), but he declines. As they fill out all the paperwork for the gunfight, the police force is ambushed by Tom Weaver, who shoots Danny, but is blown up by the sea mine. A year later, Danny and Angel are now partners on the roads of Sandford and having fun.