Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are often hailed as two of the best comedy movies ever made. One expertly blends classic zombie movie tropes with the sentimentality of a rom-com, while the other is a pitch-perfect parody of all your favourite action movies. Then there’s the black sheep of the Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End.
A send-up of classic science fiction and alien movies The World’s End didn’t quite capture the public’s attention like its predecessors. While no means a disaster, it’s nevertheless been my experience that when the conversation of Edgar Wright’s magnificent trilogy comes up in the pub, you’re unlikely to hear people say it’s their favourite of the three.
Perhaps it’s the film’s darker tone, the fact it’s about ageing, or even that there are fewer jokes in it, but it just doesn’t quite get the love the first two films do. Yet of the three main characters played by Simon Pegg in each of these movies, I would argue that despite sharing a face, they were not created equal, and that Gary King is a league above his peers, Shaun and Nicholas Angel.
Unlike Shaun and Nicholas, both of whom are still superb comic creations, there’s a pathos to Gary that makes him feel like a more rounded character. Sure we can laugh at his buffoonish antics, but there’s an underlying sadness to the character that makes him feel more real.
Shaun and Nicholas are both more heightened than Gary; they’re comic caricatures, they exist to facilitate jokes in a way Gary doesn’t. Both go through their trials and tribulations, of course, but I doubt anyone reading this – unless you’ve lived a very storied life – can say they’ve had to kill their zombie mum, or save their partner from a neighbourhood watch Kabal.
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But Gary is different. There’s a groundedness to Gary, and I guarantee you’ve known someone like him, or maybe you’ve even been him. I know in my own life I’ve flirted with the mantle of the king, perhaps enjoying too many beers in an evening, living in the past, and sharing a penchant for long coats.
I’ve moved on from it now, but I feel a kinship with Gary that I just don’t with Shaun and Nicholas. There’s a feeling when watching The World’s End that there but for the grace of God goes I. I don’t mean the aliens, of course…
Abstracted from my own feelings on the character, I’d argue Gary gives Pegg more room to show off his acting talent. Shaun and Nicholas showed different sides of the man but let’s not pretend they pushed him in the same way Gary did. Shaun was just Spaced’s Tim Bisley pushed to the nth degree, while straight-laced career man Nicholas was just a more extreme version of Star Trek’s Scotty minus the accent.
No, Gary was different. There was a vulnerability and a desperateness to Gary that we rarely see in Pegg’s acting work. Too often, he’s relegated to comic relief, like in the Mission: Impossible films, a role he’s well suited for, but that’s not the limit of his talent.
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The closest we’ve come to seeing a similar performance from him is perhaps in Lost Transmissions, but even then, I found a level of artifice to the performance that was absent in Gary.
I find it fascinating as well how Pegg and Wright play with our expectations with Gary. He’s a classic British comedy creation, and his desperation to relive his glory days leant him an Alan Partridge-esque level of patheticness that we in the UK have been trained to laugh at.
Cleverly though, the rug is then pulled out from under us when we learn that Gary’s not very well, struggling with his mental health. It asks you, the viewer, to examine your own behaviour in a way that’s quite uncomfortable. I wonder if that’s why audiences struggled so much with The World’s End.
My own pontification aside, I’ll leave you with the words of Pegg himself. “I’d love to play Gary King again from The World’s End because I really, really loved playing that character,” he told SlashFilm. “Edgar and I tend not to dwell on the past..but in an imaginary kind of scenario where we did do a sequel, I would definitely do a kind of post-apocalyptic World’s End sequel with Gary off in the wilderness with his blank friends fighting.”
What can I say? You just have to hail to the King.