Edgar Wright and Nick Frost may or may not have drinking acumen to close down a bar, but they sure as hell know how to close down a festival. Last night the director and co-star of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" put a cap on their Cornetto Trilogy with the Canadian premiere of "The World's End," which also put a bloody bow on the 17th annual Fantasia Film Festival.
Fantasia Fest may be a genre lover's paradise, though it's more than the draw of cool movies and stars on display that makes it so. This writer had already seen "The World's End" at a typically dour critics screening in New York, so it was revelatory to experience the movie with its intended audience of die hard Simon Pegg fanatics, at least five or six of whom came dressed in Shaun's Foree Electric outfit and cricket bat. How's that for a slice of fried gold?
The night began with an intro by Frost and Wright, then the film itself kicked off with Fantasia audience's propensity to meow like cats during the moments between when the theatre goes dark and the movie starts. This was de rigueur for every screening here in Montreal. Like the well-oiled comedy delivery device it is, "The World's End" played like gangbusters, with at least a dozen moments of sustained applause throughout.
Then the two British comedy icons hit the stage again for a Q&A that gave fans a chance to ask their heroes questions in broken, French-accented English. Wright seemed very pleased with the film's reception, with its story of five grown men -led by Pegg's Gary King- re-enacting an epic pub crawl from their youth, only to realize the town has been taken over by overzealous robots with literal blueblood. How's that for a slice of fried social commentary?
"That's what's really great about making all these movies," said Wright. "It's a zombie movie, a cop movie and a sci-fi movie, but in reality they're all quite personal relationship comedies, really."
Frost was sanguine about drawing the blood and ice cream trilogy to a close, remarking that, "I think it's the end of this, which means we can go and do other things together."
Wright agreed with the idea of reuniting with Pegg and Frost again, even throwing in a casual jab at George Lucas' "master plan" for "Star Wars."
"We didn't want to lie and say we'd written nine movies already," said the director. "When the idea for a third one came up we thought there were actual themes from the other two we could make more final in this one. It's fun doing stand-alone films because you can do these endings you can't write your way out of. If we did something else together it would be something completely different again."
One of the unquestioned highlights of the movie are the many kung-fu (esque) brawls between the five pals and the robotic townspeople who want to take them over and homogenize them "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"-style. The battles scored lots of applause, and the stunt folk who performed them (under the guidance of choreographer Brad Allan) left an impression on Wright.
"Those kids in the bathroom fight are all teenagers and they're never doubled and they did amazing," Wright beamed. "They're all from a tumbling background or martial arts or gymnastics. The first kid Greg, he was Chloe Moretz's stunt double in 'Kick-Ass' as Hit Girl, a twelve year-old boy dressed a girl. Now he's 15 and turned 16 on set, so he actually went from stunt boy to stunt man."
"It was his stuntmitzvah," Frost added.
It wasn't just trained professionals who got to plow their way through an army of alien enemies. Playing King's estranged best friend Andy was an opportunity for Frost to out fight (and out fat) Chow Yun Fat with his drunken wushu moves.
Said Frost of his formidable fighting skill, "I was very lucky that before I did this film I shot a film called 'Cuban Fury' where I play a salsa champion. I trained for seven months every day, seven hours a day to become a salsa champion, so already my mind was set for big long choreographies to make the transition from that to fighting."
"The World's End" also marked the beginning of Frost's straight man career, abandoning the typical goofy sidekick shtick he's been performing alongside Pegg since their cult TV show "Spaced."
"It feels really nice to play the straight man for awhile," Frost opined. "There's a misconception that 'straight' doesn't mean funny. I think I disproved that tonight! (laughs) It's a treat. I'm an actor and the chance to inhabit any different character is wonderful, be it a crazy goofball like Ed in 'Shaun of the Dead' or a straight edged hardass like Andy."
Could this translate into an action future for Frost? When answering a question about supporting players Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike having a coincidental "Die Another Day" reunion in the movie, Wright dropped a bomb on the audience:
"We realized that by putting Pierce Brosnan in this film, and Timothy Dalton is in 'Hot Fuzz,' that the only way we could make that Bond trilogy complete is for somebody from 'Shaun of the Dead' to become James Bond."
He then pointed to Nick Frost. Cue massive applause.
"I've had a long conversation with Barbara Broccoli," joked Frost, "and can now confirm I am the new James Bond. There's your exclusive. Triple-0-7."
What "The World's End" has that many of this summer's other big movies lack is a genuinely powerful message about the nature of freedom in a society that wants the individual to conform. It also forms a perfect triptych of mankind with the other two, since Pegg's lead in "Shaun of the Dead" was an average bloke, his supercop in "Hot Fuzz" decidedly above average, with Gary King bringing up the rear as a very flawed, but wonderfully human, being.
Will you catch the movie, already out in the UK, when it's released in North America? To paraphrase Soup Dragons, you're free to do what you want, any old time.