There are few things worse than disappointing movies, especially when they come from beloved directors. Edgar Wright’s final entry in his unofficial trilogy is one of those films, a movie that endeavors to both be a fitting ending to two of the best comedies of the past ten years and also a thematic summation of what that decade of personal progress has wrought, is one of those movies. It is ambitious as hell, but manages to somehow squander almost all of its goodwill through both fear and stubbornness.
The problem is that it tries to be both a silly genre comedy and a meaningful statement on friendship and sobriety, but the two movies have wildly different focuses and they don’t really serve the same ends. The sobriety movie, the better movie, dominates most of the first half hour and is a surprising departure from prior work. It’s melancholy, angry, and full of the nervous energy of actors who have mostly been pigeonholed operating with a surprising amount of nuance. It’s a very interesting movie, but around the half hour mark it is totally chucked out the window when Barbie Doll robots show up, and all the fight scenes start.
I’m not against a weird action movie inserted into thematically deeper material. Shaun of the Dead manages to use zombies to counterpoint the social stagnation of its heroes in a really smart way. The problem is that robots don’t actually add anything to the proceedings. There are easy jokes about returning back to the haunts of your childhood, but in reality the changes are writ most large in the characters who weren’t there during that, and how different they ended up from their childhood versions of themselves. Instead, it’s a framework used to attach some small scale action scenes (admittedly well filmed, a testament to his evolution through Scott Pilgrim) and some silly but superfluous jokes.
Which would be fine, except those jokes often run totally against the actual themes of the movie. It’s bad enough that everyone just starts going along with the stupid plans of Simon Pegg’s alcoholic train wreck of a character, but it quickly comes all tumbling down when the entire movie then hinges upon them actually stopping to celebrate the selfish, childish idiocy that the movie is ostensibly about moving past. After so many abject lessons about the sadness of adults trying to recapture their glory, the fact that the movie ends with speeches about how the whole of humanity are fuckups and that’s why they’re special feels like a slap in the face. Most of the leads aren’t fuckups. They have problems, but they’re good people who have gone out of their way to try to be there for their shitty friend who is obviously hurting. But hey, let’s raise a glass to being arrested manchildren, hey? It’s our destiny as a people!
I won’t even talk about the stupid epilogue, which manages to take a bad ending and truly seal it as caring more about self-serving genre tropes than being a movie of meaning. By then I was too sad that a movie that started so well had gone so far to avoid being about anything of import. This is supposedly a script that Wright and Pegg have had in them since teenagers, and I think that shows on the screen. Only an adolescent would look at a story like this and think that the choices made are actually good ones, investing in coolness and aloof ‘humor’ over anything with any weight or consequence.