Netflix gives us a prequel to Jim Henson’s film The Dark Crystal and it captures the spirit, imagination, and pants-crapping horror of the original.
The Planet Thra is a living entity which shares its life force with all of its creatures through the Crystal of Truth, a mass of concentrated energy. Of all of the lifeforms on Thra, the most favored are the Gelflings, a race of small humanoids who ruled over most of the planet through their seven kingdoms. A thousand years ago, two new races arrived on Thra, the Uru Mystics and the Bird-like Skeksis, cracking the crystal in the process. The Mystics secluded themselves and studied the mysteries of Thra while the Skeksis took control of the Crystal of Truth and started to drain the energy from it, causing it to become the Dark Crystal. As the custodians of the Crystal, the Skeksis rule over the Gelflings, who believe them to be benevolent and immortal. However, the Skeksis have discovered that they can make themselves nigh-indestructible by consuming the essence, the life and soul, of Gelflings. It’s up to three Gelflings – Rian, the Warrior (Taron Egerton), Brea, the Princess of Knowledge (Anna Taylor-Joy), and Deet, the underground seer (Nathalie Emmanuel) – to stop the Skekis’ plan to devour their world.
END SUMMARY (Spoilers for the original film The Dark Crystal)
If you haven’t seen the original film The Dark Crystal, I honestly cannot recommend watching it first. As this is a prequel, I think that it might be better to watch this series and then watch the film to see how eventually the whole conflict resolves. If you have, however, seen the film, then you will know from the beginning that this story wasn’t going to be super happy.
The Dark Crystal was a pretty dark venture for a movie made by the guy who brought us The Muppets. Jim Henson was pretty honest from the beginning that he intended the film to be terrifying to children. He believed that it should be a throwback to the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales, because, much like Secret of Nimh director Don Bluth, he thought children benefited from being scared as long as they got a happy ending. This theory was fully tested in The Dark Crystal, which starts off with a showing of the horrifying Skeksis and only gets worse from there.
The Skeksis are one of the best villains ever created for a children’s movie/TV Show, because they’re simultaneously horrifying and cartoonish. They’re essentially giant, clumsy vultures with absurd voices that often act so over-the-top in their indulgence of vice that they seem almost harmless, right until they reveal that they are doing things that would make Cobra Commander blush. In the movie, that includes torturing sentient creatures, eating said creatures, genetically creating monstrosities, and, oh yeah, drinking the life-force of Gelflings to stay young. In the film, it’s implied that they’ve killed and devoured most of the Gelflings for this purpose. This show is the beginning of that process and contains some of the most grim and genuinely horrifying implications of it, ranging from forcing Gelflings to betray their own kind for safety to making it clear that they’re not just eating the Gelflings, but sucking their total souls away and condemning them to eternal torment. Some of the scenes genuinely made me feel scared, despite the acts happening to puppets. Seriously, my stomach churned with the screams.
The main narrative of the show is the traditional fantasy fare, with all of the characters going on a quest across the various realms of the world of Thra, with a number of side characters undergoing their own arcs. Much like with the film, a lot of the character arcs actually belong to the Skeksis and their internal politics, particularly the rise and fall of the Chamberlain skekSil (Simon Pegg) from his position as the favorite of the Emperor skekSo (Jason Isaacs). We also deal with the conflicts between the seven kingdoms of the Gelflings, particularly of the All-Maudra, the queen of the race (Helena Bonham-Carter). Basically, this is more a story about the world of Thra and its eventual fate than of any of the characters. Despite this, most of the characters are distinct and well-crafted, even though they’re mostly archetypes.
The puppetry is what you would expect from the Jim Henson Company and the set pieces are wonderful. The sheer size of the world they created and all of the creatures that populate it is a worthy expansion from the source.
Overall, I think this was a great prequel to the film, even if, by implication, stuff’s gonna go bad from here. We haven’t quite gotten to the events of the movie, so they could still make more episodes of this, and hopefully will, but whether they do or not this was well made. I enjoyed it.
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 Endimpacts 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.
So, it’s happening. I’m doing all of Edgar Wright’s movies, though I guess not in any particular order. There aren’t that many, since Fistful of Fingers never got distributed and he got kicked off of Ant-Man, and I probably won’t review Spaced unless it’s requested. I do like the show, though not as much as the subsequent films, I just am already regretting the shows I’m currently set to review… especially since I plan on doing an actual live review of the next season of Doctor Who. But, for now, I’ve got some more amazing movies by a visionary director to review.
This was the first of the Cornetto Trilogy and also the least-earning one at $30 Million, though on a $6 Million budget, it still was profitable… though it earned less money that year than Christmas with the Kranks, Fat Albert, or Catwoman, a fact that should kill your soul.
Slight format change: I’m putting a synopsis here, and a full summary after the “read more” page, so you can just read the analysis and not have to wade through the movie. If you want the summary, just go to the bottom and read it first. Let me know if you think this is better.
Shaun Riley (Simon Pegg) gets dumped by his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), because he’s so dispassionate about life that he only wants to drink at the same pub, the Winchester, with his slovenly roommate, Ed (Nick Frost). Shaun decides he’s going to get his life together, but unfortunately he’s been missing the fact that the zombie apocalypse has come. Shaun and Ed form a plan to get his mom, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), kill his step-dad Philip (Bill Nighy) who has been bitten, rescue Liz, and head to the Winchester.
However, things don’t go as planned. Shaun can’t bring himself to kill Philip, Liz brings along her flatmates David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis), Ed screws up most of the plans by being reckless and irresponsible, Barbara is bitten, and Philip becomes a zombie. They finally make it to the pub, but are surrounded by hordes of zombies. Eventually, David, Dianne, and Barbara are killed, Ed is bitten, and Shaun and Liz prepare to go out fighting, but are rescued by the military. Six months later, Shaun and Liz are engaged and Shaun keeps zombie Ed in the shed to hang out with, their relationship mostly unchanged.
Something painfully occurred to me during this re-watch: In terms of re-watchability, this is the worst of the Cornetto Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to watch again, but Edgar Wright’s films are notoriously good to watch a second, third, or tenth time. Hell, the other two movies in the trilogy, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, are arguably BETTER when you see them a second time. This one is about the same. Still good, but about the same.
Part of that is that this movie has less of the foreshadowing and repetition that are in the other two films, because this was the first one. Sure, they’re in the film and they’re done great, but they just aren’t as polished as they are in the others. But, none of that makes this film any less amazing, because when you consider that this is an underfunded first outing of a director who had previously only done television, this is basically watching Babe Ruth’s first home run.
Like the best zombie movies, the point of the movie is to use zombies as a metaphor. In Night of the Living Dead it’s Vietnam-era America (and a dash of racism from the living), in Dawn of the Dead it’s consumerism, in Day of the Dead it’s a lack of communication, in Land of the Dead it’s the nature of power to eventually be countered, and in Dead Alive it’s so that someone can kick ass for the Lord (if you don’t get this reference, ask me to review the movie). Shaun of the Dead actually takes it a step further and just points out that so many people are effectively already zombies that the actual zombification is really secondary. Hell, at the end, Noel (Rafe “I was the bad guy in Jurassic World 2” Spall), the jerk that worked with Shaun, is basically doing the same job now that he’s a zombie.
Shaun feels the way that many people feel. He’s given up doing anything he’s passionate about (like his deejaying) because he has bills to pay. He instead chooses to just do the same thing over and over again, drinking with Ed and Liz at the same bar, never trying to be stimulated, because when you know your dreams are dead, what the hell’s the point in doing anything else? And, like many of us, he’s just existing, he’s not really living. He’s not depressed or suicidal, he’s just dispassionate and doesn’t know what to do since he can’t do the thing that he actually wanted. It’s like most people whose passions are art or theater but aren’t lucky enough to do them for a living, you end up just working a job to keep a roof over your head, and you don’t want to dedicate all the energy for a hobby. You know that you could, but you also know it’d be super hard for little reward, so you don’t, and then you’re even more miserable by choice.
To summarize: You’re not living, but you’re not dead.
I’m going to add a clip from the show Steven Universe here, because there is a song that perfectly encapsulates what I’m saying.
The key to the movie is stated by Liz at the end: ” You did something. That’s what counts.” When Shaun actually starts to do something instead of just going through the motions, everything goes wrong, which is exactly the thing that most people fear so much that it stops them from doing anything. But, that’s also exactly what allows Shaun to start being a more complete person at the end of the movie. He hasn’t stopped hanging out with Ed, hasn’t stopped going to the Winchester, but he’s also doing other things that have some risk and discomfort. And that’s how you really feel alive.
As for the technical qualities of the movie itself, the foreshadowing and repeated dialogue is amazing, partially because it almost all functions as clever wordplay and partially because recontextualizing things is an easy way to convey meaning by inherently drawing comparisons. The big one is Ed’s speech about what they’ll do the next day:
“… Have a Bloody Mary first thing. Get a bite at The King’s Head. Grab a couple at The Little Princess, stagger back here and bang! We’re up at the bar for shots. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
Aside from Ed’s speech telling the plot of the movie (Bloody Mary is the first zombie they kill, a bite at the King’s head is Philip getting bitten, grab a couple at the little princess is picking up David, Dianne, and Liz, back to the Winchester for shots is… self-explanatory), there’s also Ed telling his other roommate Pete (Peter “I’m the Tick” Serafun… Seramichelle… Serafinowicz) that the next time he sees him he’s dead and Pete telling Ed to live in the shed.
The repetition is pretty great, too. Shaun’s dialogue to Ed when he’s playing the game is mirrored with Ed saying the same to Shaun when he’s shooting zombies. There’s a shot in the beginning of the film when Shaun closes his bathroom mirror and Pete is there as a jump-scare parody, which later is duplicated with the zombie Pete. “You’ve got red on you” naturally takes on two meanings. Shaun’s walk to the bodega near his house is similar both times, except the second time the apocalypse has happened. When Shaun tells David to turn the jukebox off, he says “kill the Queen,” (because the song is by Queen) which becomes a conflict when David tries to kill Barbara, who, as the King’s wife, would be the Queen. Additionally, almost every character seen in the first half becomes a zombie in the second.
Another hallmark of the film is that there are sharp, dramatic cuts with powerful sound effects for the most mundane things, like adjusting a tie or washing hands. Like with the repeated dialogue, this actually helps to convey the metaphor by saying that the scenes that normally would feature the zombies feature the mundane aspects of Shaun’s life.
There are tons of references to other zombie and horror movies, with businesses being named for George Romero, Lucio Fulci, John Landis, and their films. Much like in the original Night of the Living Dead, the zombies are never actually explained, although the proposed causes are borrowed from other zombie movies.
Other than that, the movie’s just funny as hell. Every performance is pretty much spot on, although I have a special love for Penelope Wilton as Barbara. She was always so gentle and loving that it was honestly heartbreaking to watch Shaun kill her.
Also, last thing, I finally looked up what Noel’s dialogue means when he says he only has an “Henry.” That’s Cockney rhyming slang for pot, because it’s Henry the Eighth -> An Eighth of Pot. Cockney rhyming slang is always fun.
So, most of you who read regularly may have noticed that I have a full-on heavy-duty man-crush on Edgar Wright. He’s my go-to guy for proving that most people don’t want quality films, by pointing out that, until Baby Driver, he didn’t have a movie crack $100 million, despite them being some of the most clever and thought-out movies I’ve ever watched. Because of the amount of detail put into the films and the layers of storytelling, imagery, and dialogue, Edgar Wright makes the most consistently re-watchable films I’ve ever seen. I’ve probably seen Hot Fuzz as many times as I’ve watched epics like The Godfather, classics like Ghostbusters, and cinematic marvels like Jurassic Park, because I always find something new to love about the film. He’s like Kubrick, except I don’t think he would murder me if we met in real life, until I refused to ever stop hugging him.
The World’s End was the last entry in the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” beginning with Shaun of the Dead and continuing through Hot Fuzz. The movies all star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (actually, a lot of the cast is the same), they’re character dramas hidden within the framework of a classic genre film (in this case, alien invasion), and they’re all about perpetual adolescence, though I think this one hits that theme hardest.
I’m inevitably going to do the other two movies, probably next week because I now have it stuck in my head, but this was the one that got requested, so I’ll do it first.
The film starts with Gary King (Simon Pegg, Thomas Law as teen), recounting his high-school years. He was part of a five-man group, consisting of himself, Peter Page (Eddie Marsden, James Tarpey as teen), Oliver “O-man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman, Luke Bromley as teen), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine, Jasper Levine as teen), and his best friend Andy Knightley (Nick Frost, Zachary Bailess as teen). In their senior year, the group attempted to conquer “The Golden Mile” by having one pint of beer in each of the 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven.
As Gary recounts it, the group slowly lost focus and never did succeed, quitting after the ninth pub, with Gary watching the sunrise, seeing a shooting star, and thinking that life would never quite be as good as it was that night. It then shifts to the adult Gary talking to a support group of some kind, who confirms that, indeed, his entire life has never again been as fulfilling as it was that night in Newton Haven. Another member of the group asks if Gary is disappointed that he didn’t finish the “Golden Mile,” to which Gary says that he isn’t. However, the look on his face clearly says otherwise, before becoming contemplative and then, finally, happy at having figured out what he’s going to do.
During the opening sequence, it’s shown that while Gary’s friends are all now successful, Gary himself is living in a tiny, trashy apartment and dressing like he did in high school. Gary visits each of them in turn, trying to convince all of them to join him again in completing the “Golden Mile.” He ends up succeeding through a hastily-crafted series of lies, including telling each member that the others had already agreed and that his mother has just died. It’s notable that Gary tends to use information from the previous person to manipulate the next one, clearly approaching them in order of perceived resistance. Andy, who used to be Gary’s closest friend, is the most resistant, due to some undisclosed incident in the past, but he finally gives in.
As the five make their way to Newton Haven, it becomes more apparent that Gary is basically trying to live the same life he has since High School. He wants to have a good time and doesn’t particularly care for anything more responsible. He still drives the “same” car, the Beast, though, through his monologue, he reveals that literally everything in the vehicle has been replaced at some point. He even has kept the title in his friend Peter’s name for more than 20 years, updating it periodically to ensure that Peter had to pay for all of his tickets. Gary also is apparently doing some form of drugs, as he admits to snorting something on the toilet when he’s worried that the police will find it. When they actually reach the town and start the trip, Gary still has the same map from the original trip.
At the initial stop, “The First Post,” Gary makes a speech about how it’s a quaint pub that used to be a post office, only to go inside and find a generic pub that has been recently refurbished. Gary tries to find nostalgia in it, even though the others make it clear that it used to look absolutely nothing like this. The four have their first drink, aside from the teetotalling Andy, then make their way to the next pub.
At pub two, “The Old Familiar,” they enter only to find that it’s identical to the last pub, due to the “Starbuck-ification” of the UK. The group is joined by Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Steven has a crush on and who Gary had sex with in the bathroom of the same pub back on the original pub crawl. Gary tries to get in Sam’s pants again but fails due to being Gary. Sam leaves and the group heads out.
At “The Famous Cock,” they run into Basil (David “I am also Doctor Who” Bradley), the conspiracy theorist of Newton Haven, but he avoids talking to them. Gary is then thrown out due to his behavior at the pub on the original crawl. While everyone else says that 11 pints is still enough, Gary secretly combines three leftover beers he finds outside into a pint and downs it.
At “The Cross Hands,” most of the group wants to abandon Gary after he callously ignores them talking about actual problems and keeps trying to re-live his glory days. Eventually, as they’re about to leave, Gary heads to the bathroom, leaving his phone. They answer it, finding out it’s from his mother, who he had told them had recently died of cancer. In the toilet, Gary sees that there’s still a hole in the wall from the original crawl. A high-schooler joins him but ignores Gary’s attempts to talk about the past. Gary, angry, shoves him, but the boy responds by grabbing Gary by the face and trying to knock him out. Gary fights back and ends up decapitating the boy, who is revealed to be filled with a blue ink-like substance. The head continues to move.
Andy suddenly comes in, pissed at Gary for his lies, ignoring the headless body. A group of other high-schoolers enter and attack the five, resulting in a fight which has Gary and his court emerge victorious. They attempt to call out to talk about what happened but find that their attempts are blocked. The Network is down. The five realize that this is why everything about the town has been so strange and no one seemed to remember them: Everyone has been replaced by robots. Everyone but Gary wants to head back to London, but Gary says that them quitting the crawl will look suspicious. They end up continuing the pub crawl.
As they make their way to “The Good Companions,” it’s apparent that many people throughout the town are now watching them. They enter, drain their beers quickly (including Andy, who is now drinking), and leave. At the next pub, “The Trusty Servant,” Oliver heads to the toilet as Gary approaches Reverend Green (Michael Smiley), his former drug dealer. Green tells them that the things in the town are NOT robots, because “robot” means slave, and they’re not slaves. They’re confronted by two more “not-robots” who try to silence Green, only for Green to eventually be told by a voice that he has a call. After answering it sadly, Green bitterly says “thanks” to the group and heads to the bathroom, where Oliver emerges. They continue on the crawl.
At “The Two Headed Dog,” much of the town’s pretense has been dropped, as the bartender now not only knows their names, but also seemingly everything they’ve said to a “not-robot” throughout the crawl. They discuss that they need a new term for the “not-robots” and they end up adopting the word “Blank” due to not coming up with a better term. Sam arrives with her friends The Twins (Kelly and Stacey Franklin), who she says have been acting weird. Gary tries to explain to her what’s happened, but she doesn’t believe him. However, when Sam tells the Twins what he said, they react poorly, leading her to believe it’s true. Gary appears and attacks them, pulling off one’s head to prove the point.
The Twins attack Gary and Sam, but Gary fights them off. Steven emerges to confess his feelings to Sam, but is interrupted by the Twinbot, which is one twin with the other’s legs for arms. Steven and Gary defeat the Twinbot, rejoin the group, and head off to “The Mermaid.”
At “The Mermaid,” Steven is abducted by Basil, who reveals that he’s never been replaced because he prevents the Blanks from ever getting his DNA sample that they need to make a copy of him. Basil tells Steven that the Blanks actually arrived in the shooting star that Gary saw at the end of the original crawl. Meanwhile, three Blanks who are in the form of the hottest girls from high school (Sophie Evans, Samantha White, and Rose Reynolds) seduce Gary, Peter, and Andy. One even swallows Andy’s wedding ring, though he’s recently separated.
Basil explains that the Blanks don’t want to replace people if they can help it and, in fact, are genuinely nicer and better than most humans but, unless you agree to comply with their plans, they replace you. Basil refuses to tell Steven what happens to the people who get replaced before disappearing. Steven relays the information to the group, now including Sam, however, it becomes apparent that the Blanks aren’t omniscient when they produce a copy of a citizen who died a few years back in Italy. They leave for the next pub.
At “The Beehive,” they are met by Mr. Shepherd (Pierce “I’m here because Dalton isn’t and they still needed a Bond” Brosnan), their old teacher. He explains that the Blanks have been replacing people because they want to bring Earth up to a sufficient level of civilization to allow Earth to join a Network of planets which cooperate and interact. Oliver seems to agree with Shepherd until Andy notices that Oliver now has a birthmark that he had previously removed and punches the top of his head off. Seeing that Oliver is actually now a Blank, the group attacks Shepherd, before they’re attacked by a swarm of Blanks from the bar. Andy, having reached his breaking point, hulks out, grabs two barstools and starts smashing every head he can find. During the fight, Gary manages to finish his ninth pint, matching his record from the original crawl. After beating all of the Blanks, the group is met with yet another wave of the same Blanks, including a replaced Shepherd.
The remaining five members split up and escape, planning on reuniting at the smoke house, a shack at The Bowls Club where they used to get high. Gary runs off with Sam, putting her in her car and telling her to get out of the town, while he rejoins the others. Sam drives off as the Blanks stop trying to look human, instead having glowing hands and faces. Gary makes it to the shack where Peter, Steven, and Andy are waiting for him.
Inside, everyone is suspicious of Gary but, after realizing that they can use birthmarks and scars as identifiers, the group prove to each other that they’re real. It’s revealed that Andy and Gary’s relationship soured after Gary overdosed on drugs, drove him to the hospital while drunk, rolled the car, and almost died from the crash while Gary ran off to avoid getting in trouble. Gary refuses to show his scars on his arms, instead smashing his head into a beam to produce blood as proof. The four remaining friends leave, only for Gary to lead them towards the next pub.
On the way, Peter meets the Blank of his former bully, Shane (Darren Boyd), and Peter uses the opportunity to beat the living crap out of him, resulting in his capture. Gary refuses to quit the pub crawl, resulting in Andy knocking him out and carrying him. Andy and Steven try to get to Gary’s car, but they have to cut through the tenth pub, “The King’s Head.” They rest briefly in the bar, only for Gary to wake up and drink his tenth pint. Gary says that “ten pubs isn’t bad,” but then throws Andy his keys and makes a run for it. Andy throws the keys to Steven and follows Gary as he makes it to the next pub.
At “The Hole in the Wall,” Andy fights his way through a crowd of Blanks to join Gary, who finishes his 11th pint and marks it off the list. As they are surrounded, Steven drives through the wall of the bar. Steven gets overwhelmed by Blanks and Andy follows Gary out of a window. Gary makes it all the way to “The World’s End,” the final pub, with Andy in pursuit, though Andy stops briefly to retrieve his wedding ring from the Blank that swallowed it. Gary finds a pint already poured for him, but Andy smacks it out of his hand. Andy finally confronts Gary over all of his betrayal, revealing that it wasn’t the car crash or any of the drugs, it was that Andy got better and became an adult, but Gary didn’t. Andy wanted to keep following Gary through life, but Gary never actually got a life.
Gary challenges Andy about what a happy life actually feels like, but Andy says that his life is far from perfect, as his wife has now taken his kids and he knows he can’t win her back. It’s then revealed that Gary had recently tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists and was committed. However, he hated being told what to do by the program there, preferring the freedom of his youth.
It never got better, Andy. It never got better than that night. It was supposed to be the beginning of my life. All that promise and fucking optimism. That feeling that we could take on the whole universe. It was a big lie. NOTHING HAPPENED!
Gary tries to get his last pint, but upon pulling the lever, the bar sinks underground and the pair are confronted by The Network (Bill Nighy), a disembodied voice. The Network speaks to Gary as the representative of the human race, humorously sounding like he’s calling him “Gary, King of the humans” as opposed to “Gary King, of the humans.” The Network explains that the plan is to replace a small percentage of the population to spread the Gospel of the Network, so that the planet will be able to be part of the Galactic Community. It’s revealed that, if you agree to join, you are given the option of being young again, with only your happy memories. Gary is met with his younger self, who he quickly kills, saying “there’s only one Gary King.”
The Network threatens him, but Gary challenges the Network, asking it who it is to tell the Human Race what to do. The Network calls Humanity children, but Andy counters that, children or not, helping someone requires their consent, otherwise it’s just controlling them. The Network tells them that this attitude is exactly why Earth is the least civilized planet in the entire galaxy and it enables Earth to constantly repeat avoidable cycles of self-destruction. Steven rejoins the pair, having survived, and agrees with the duo about resisting the assimilation. It’s revealed that the Network has not been particularly successful at dealing with Earth, having had to replace basically everyone in the town, with the rest being turned into organic fertilizer. The trio keep rebuffing the Network until the Network asks them what they want, at which point Gary quotes The Wild Bunch:
We wanna be free. We wanna be free, to do what we want to do and we want to get loaded and we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we’re gonna do.
The Network then gives up and leaves the planet to its own devices. The Blanks all power down but the Network starts to overload. The group runs away but still are going to be caught in the blast radius, until Sam returns with her car, allowing them to narrowly outrun the explosion.
The end is narrated by Andy. After the explosion, there was a pulse that apparently sent humanity back to the Dark Ages. There were a lot of casualties, including Gary’s mother, but Andy tries to look on the bright side as he gets back with his wife. He says he doesn’t miss any processed foods, but he sees a Cornetto wrapper and looks desperate to eat one. The Blanks woke up and face discrimination, though they now have no connection to the Network. Peter’s blank replaced Peter with his family and Oliver’s Blank took over Oliver’s business. Steven and Sam got together.
Though Andy doesn’t know what happened to Gary, the film shows Gary walking through the post-apocalyptic landscape accompanied by the younger Blanks of his companions. He walks into yet another pub called “The Rising Sun,” which has a sign out front that says “No Blanks.” Gary orders five waters, but the bartender refuses to serve the Blanks. Gary says that they’re on a quest, then orders five waters again. The bartender moves to grab a weapon, but Gary draws a broadsword and gets into fighting formation with his companions. When asked who the hell he thinks he is, Gary ends the movie with the line:
They call me The King.
I think this movie, more than the other two Cornetto films, deserves to be represented, because it was the most overlooked. Part of that is because it came out at the same time as another two movies that were also Apocalypse comedies, This is the End and Rapture-Palooza, and part of it is that it just wasn’t marketed well. Honestly, if it hadn’t been by Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg, I wouldn’t have seen it in the theater, and even when I did, I didn’t get as much out of it as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. And that’s really the main thing that I think hurt this movie: It’s much better on the second or third viewing than the first. On the first, you miss too many things that later become amazing jokes or character moments, because you’re still trying to follow the story and who dropped what zinger in the last conversation. The movie is a lot denser in its humor than the other two films, so it’s more important to already have an idea of what the plot is.
Now, to help with this, the Cornetto Trilogy films are huge on foreshadowing. In Shaun of the Dead, Nick Frost’s character Ed describes what he and Shaun (Pegg) are going to do the next day, which ends up being a humorous description of the movie’s plot. Additionally, Shaun outlines the plan for dealing with the attack multiple times, the TV broadcast humorously tells the audience what’s happening, and they even meet a mirror of Shaun’s group that show the decisions Shaun should have made. In Hot Fuzz, the entire first half of the movie is setting up callbacks for the last act, and the many action film scenarios that Danny (Frost) proposes to Sgt. Angel (Pegg) later come into play in the finale.
In this film, this is turned up to 11, because not only does Gary’s opening monologue basically describe the events of the later crawl (including when they meet Sam, when they lose Oliver and Peter, and where they go to escape the Blanks), but each of the pub names and signs reflects what happens in the pub. This served two purposes: First, it makes it easier for the audience to follow what happens with less exposition and, second, it drives home the point that Gary hasn’t changed between the two crawls.
As to the signs, that could literally be its own essay. Most of them have at least two meanings, and the ones with Blue paint on them are the ones where they fight Blanks. My favorite ones are “The Mermaid,” which depicts the hair colors of the girls who seduce the group, like how mermaids seduced sailors, and “The King’s Head,” because it’s actually a portrait of Simon Pegg.
The theme of the film, like with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is perpetual adolescence, though it’s much more direct in this one since the point of Gary King’s character is that he hasn’t ever changed. He goes out of his way to try and be the same person since high school, even keeping his wardrobe and car. Due to the many changes that he’s made, The Beast is much like the fabled Ship of Theseus: If every part of it has been replaced, is it still the same car? Well, Gary says yes.
Gary equates his inability to finish “The Golden Mile” with his inability to ever actually finish anything. That might seem ridiculous, but I’m not really allowed to say anything about it, since I literally started this blog to finish “The 100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time” list as a way of trying to move onto the next phase of my life after having it massively derailed. Sometimes the best way to move on is to find something you can accomplish that can represent what you’re really failing at, so you can stop being so afraid of failing.
I love Pegg’s portrayal in the film, and I think it nailed what Wright was going for. Gary is likeable, even lovable, but he’s never respectable, and he shouldn’t be respected. He’s complete Id, with almost no self-control or self-reflection. He just wants freedom. The problem is that total freedom is, as the Network correctly points out, basically just self-destruction. The Network, in contrast, is the ultimate Superego, a social standard brutally and completely imposed upon the individuals.
The movie goes out of the way to contrast Gary and the Network/Blanks, though my favorite contrast actually comes from the Robot/Boo-Boo conversations. The Blanks don’t like being called “robots” because the word robot is derived from a Czech term for serf or forced laborer, which they summarize as “slave.” This is despite the fact that the word “Robot” itself was coined by Karel Čapek in his play “R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)” and has since been used to identify artificial lifeforms or mechanisms capable of carrying out autonomous actions, without necessarily meaning that such life is enslaved.
In contrast to this, Gary says the phrase “Let’s Boo-Boo” when he wants to leave. He explains that it was a reference to the stage direction from A Winter’s Tale, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” It then became “Exit, pursued by Yogi Bear,” then “Let’s Yogi and Boo-Boo,” then, finally, “Let’s Boo-Boo.” The Blanks, and therefore the Network, do not believe in changing any more than Gary believes in changing himself, to the point that they hang on to the original and largely defunct meanings of words, rather than accepting that their meaning has changed over time. Gary, while he does, in fact, recognize that words change over time and for fun reasons, instead has just refused to drop the language from when he stopped changing, a sign of his stunted growth.
This is actually part of Wright’s adherence to traditional storytelling devices by having the antagonist mirrors the protagonist’s traits. In this case, Gary’s inability to grow and his selective memory are pretty much exactly what the Network is offering him: To be young again, with only his good memories. Basically, both sides are promising stagnation, and both sides are wrong. Not EQUALLY wrong, since Gary is just a shithead, not a mass-murderer, but they’re still both wrong. Life is about growth and change and some of the requisite trial-and-error for that growth is going to be error.
The end of the movie is significant because Gary orders a water, showing that he actually is trying to be sober and experience life, and that he’s moved onto the next part of his life. The fact that the pub is called “The Rising Sun” only drives that further home, signaling a new day for him.
Aside from Gary’s arc, part of the film also points out that by homogenizing or “Starbucking” everything, much of the charm and individuality of the small towns are being erased. While it’s most obvious when they enter “The Old Familiar,” most of the pubs on the crawl now look pretty much the same. They’ve been stripped of any nostalgia in favor of being “civilized.”
This is all without going into the amazing soundtrack, including The Doors’ cover of “Alabama Song, ” which was written by the father of Epic Theater, Bertolt Brecht. The characters names are all brilliant, as they are all references to court positions representing their place in the group. The cinematography is perfect, although it’s pretty similar to the other two Cornetto films, so it was expected. The detail put into the pubs, the dialogue, everything in this film was well done. It’s a shame it isn’t watched more.
I love this movie. It’s inspiring, it’s clever, it’s insightful, it’s witty, and it could fill an entire volume of analysis. Find a copy and watch it.