Each film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy suddenly switches from normality to a nightmare. All three focus on characters who battle an unlikely foe en route to their ultimate fate. Shaun (of the Dead) triumphs over a zombie apocalypse to win back Liz. In Hot Fuzz, it’s obvious that Nicholas Angel’s professional success can’t disguise that his only companionship comes in the shape of his peace lily. As he works out the NWA’s heinous schemes, he also helps his new friend Danny become the high-octane police hero that he’d always dreamed of. And in The World’s End, Gary King finally retraces the best night of his life.
Each film could work as a comedic classic if it was restricted to the real world. But how might these stories unfold if they didn’t leap into the fantastical?
Shaun of the Dead
“Go round Mum’s. Get Liz back. Sort life out!”
It’s a meagre list of ambitions, but one that’s harder to achieve when you don’t have Z-Day to motivate you. If, like Shaun, you live in the same city as your mum, visiting her is pretty simple. The other goals are opposing sides of the same piece of flying vinyl.
While Shaun needs to do something to win Liz back, he also needs to do it quickly because they’re approaching 30 and she’s much more of a catch than he is. Luckily, Liz’s checklist of complaints gives him an immediate plan of action.
OK, so he’s not hot on theatre but joining the gym is easy, especially as he demonstrates a basic level of fitness. Stopping smoking is almost definitely doable given that Shaun avoids a cheeky smoke despite a stressful day, and only falters when prompted by Liz. Trading beer for wine is a minor sacrifice. Longer-term plans — flat-hunting and restarting his career as a DJ — aren’t quick fixes, but a step in the right direction will suffice. As Liz notes in the cellar of The Winchester: “You tried. You did something. That’s what counts.”
Even if Shaun achieves all of that, there’s still a monkey in the room: Ed.
But Ed has exacerbated Pete’s exasperation by leaving the door open, calling him a prick and blasting out hip-hop (sorry, electro) at 4 o’clock in the morning. If, as is likely, Pete moves out, Shaun can’t afford the rent on a two-bedroom house in N8 (minimum price approximately £1600 a month, according to Rightmove) on the wage of a sales advisor at a generic high street electrical store (£13,500 a year, suggests Indeed).
While Shaun’s salary falls far short of that of Liz’s teaching job, the couple could easily afford a one-bedroom flat in the area. Which means they also have an excuse to move Ed on. Especially as few London flats have their own shed.
You can’t have a buddy movie without considering the character development of each participant. Nicholas Angel’s ex Janine sums up his problem. “You just can’t switch off, Nicholas. And until you find a person you care about more than your job, you never will.”
Despite his awe-inspiring dedication to the job, Angle soon loosens up. Hanging out with Danny, sinking some beers and bonding over Bad Boys II cements their friendship. In the film, it takes around 42 minutes. Without the NWA (a secret society of murderous older folk protecting their Village of the Year title counts as a fantasy to me), it would doubtless take them longer. But they’d get there through the mundane work of apprehending underage drinkers, pulling over speeding drivers and locating errant swans.
Danny is a tougher challenge. He feels he’s missing out on the thrill of “gunfights, car chases, proper action.” There are few ways in which the police are likely to encounter such incidents in a tiny hamlet.
Yet with Nicholas as a role model, Danny shows an aptitude for policing which doesn’t seem likely when we spot him staggering out of the pub at the start of the film. If he continues to progress, he could apply to become a Nuclear Tactical Support officer which sounds even more hardcore than anything in Point Break. Although given his slow-motion chase of Auntie Jackie’s sister’s brother’s boy, he’d really have to jog on to pass the MOD’s Job-Related Fitness Test.
The World’s End
To paraphrase the words of Peter Fonda in Primal Scream’s Loaded, Gary King’s ambition is to be free to do what he wants to do, to get loaded and to have a good time. Why? As he tells Andy: “It’s all I’ve got… all that promise and optimism… it was a big lie!” And how will he do it? By finally completing The Golden Mile.
As we see, Gary doesn’t struggle to reunite his old friends. Keeping them is a different matter. The attack of the Blanks is the only thing keeps the gang marching onto The World’s End. Without that first attack by the Blanks, Gary’s dead mum indiscretion would’ve caused a punch-up. Nonetheless, he could’ve kept the show on the road with some uncharacteristically mature behaviour. A heartfelt apology would probably have been accepted, leaving the pub crawl as their remaining challenge.
A twelve-pint pub crawl is not easy, but nor is it impossible. You need a good breakfast, steady pacing, and the self-discipline to stick to lower alcohol ales rather than bloating 5% lagers or, worst of all, shots. Between his battle-hardened tolerance and a tactical puke or two, Gary would’ve made it to The World’s End. And without The Network, the world as we know it wouldn’t have come to an end.
As it was, Gary rejected the opportunity to relive his youth, but at least entered a brave new world where being stuck in the past is par-for-the-course. Even if he’d never be able to listen to The Sisters of Mercy again.
Catch a special Halloween screening of Shaun of the Dead with a Q&A with writer and director Edgar Wright at the BFI Southbank in London on October 31.