Look, I love Edgar Wright. I do. I was a devotee of Spaced, watching both miraculous seasons of that show so many times it’s replaced parts of my vocabulary (certain friends will forever be greeted by ‘you big bloody man’, ‘pickle’ and ‘fucking… plum!’). When Shaun came out, I liked it, though I less enamoured than my peers: I’d come of age watching action rather than horror, so Hot Fuzz was more my bag (and was it ever my bag). Scott Pilgrim deftly combined a lot of geek-out passions (music, video games, comics), and The World’s End… Ok, The World’s End I need to watch again, but I remember it being, at worst, not as good as his best. Still far from shit, though.
Now that I’ve had some time to digest Baby Driver (which, to reiterate my love for the man, I really enjoyed – saw it twice in the cinema), I’ve been able to put my finger on one of Wright’s weaknesses as a writer-director: the man is not content to end a film once. Or maybe that’s unfair – rather, he creates narratives of so many threads that he ends up having to knit a massive, unwieldy blanket to tie them all together.
There follows A LOT OF SPOILERS:
Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead could have ended in the Winchester. Shaun and Ed, professing their love for each other, before dying romantically in a fiery blaze (with Liz looking on with a mix of understanding and disbelief). Or it could have ended with Shaun and Liz being rescued from said bar by the army. Or with Shaun and Liz adjusting to normality. Or, where it actually ended, with Shaun going to the shed to play video games with Ed. Now, I didn’t notice Wright’s many-endings syndrome at this point, because (a) it was the first big feature he’d directed (no, Fistful of Fingers does not count), and (b) it actually functions quite well: Shaun and Ed getting back together is the perfect way for this story to end. Still, I count four potential jumping off points there.
As with Baby Driver, what Wright (and returning writing partner Simon Pegg) did here was set up too large a cast to be disposed of neatly. Of all the members of the Sandford Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, obviously Skinner and Frank needed big, climactic send-offs. (In fact, Frank’s was satisfyingly anticlimactic.) But of course, they weren’t the actual climax, because then we need to see off Tom – a character who wouldn’t merit his own big face-off were he not played by Edward Woodward, godfather of the village conspiracy horror genre. And then there’s the exploding police station, with Danny’s fake death. And then the flowers on the gravestone fake-out. And then the triumphant screech of brakes as the car takes off. You could make a strong case for several of these being elements in the same ending – Tom + explosion, graveside + car – but my point is, they all feel like big beats where you could solidly end the film had you engineered the story that way. Wright engineered a story that required all of these endings, and it dragged a bit as a result. And I say that as someone who regards Hot Fuzz as his favourite Wright movie.
I’m gonna hold my hands up and admit I have not read the Scott Pilgrim comic book, so I don’t know how faithful Wright’s ending was to the comic book, but as its adaptor, it’s his responsibility to decide which bits to trim. There’s the fight with Gideon, then the second fight with Gideon, then the Nega-Scott face-off (again, a satisfying little anticlimax), then the resolution with Knives (I’m told this was maybe the original ending?), then the resolution with Ramona. Again, these endings do a good job of tying up threads and foreshadowings from earlier in the narrative, but remember: Wright started those threads. He painted himself into a corner, storytellingwise.
The World’s End
As mentioned above, TWE is the Wright movie I am least familiar with, so I’m on less sure ground here, but as far as I remember… they have the face-to-face with the aliens, and the aliens bail (1), and as a result the world ends (2), and then we get… I mean, I only remember one epilogue (Gary’s, at the water bar with his robot followers) (3), but something’s telling me every surviving character got their own sign-off? Even if it was just Gary, that’s still three endings.
- Baby could’ve left his foster-dad at the old folks’ home and made a clean getaway. But no.
- Jon Hamm could’ve died at the diner, leaving Baby and Debora to go live a life on the run. But no.
- Baby could’ve won round Kevin Spacey and then got away with Debora. But no.
- Jon Hamm could’ve died when his car went into the elevator.
- Or when his car went over the ledge.
- Or he could’ve died when he did, and Baby and Debora get away, and Baby would have had to live with hearing loss for the rest of his life, and that’s his karmic payment for his life of crime. But no.
- Baby surrenders, goes to trial, gets five years (parole), comes out, and THEN he and Debora get to drive off into the sunset.
Would endings 1-6 have been as satisfying as ending 7 ended up being? With the exception of maybe number 6, no – undoubtedly no. Number 7 tied up all the loose ends, paid off various foreshadowings from earlier on. As with Wright’s other movies, it’s all wonderfully layered and neat, storytellingwise. But it’s still a bit bloated, innit? He may make a very satisfying filmic lasagne, but no-one forced him to make it with 17 layers.