“Starbucking,” as it’s used in Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, is the process by which something unique – in this case, a small town British pub – is removed of all its character. In the “Village Voice,” Simon Pegg elaborated that nostalgia’s “all about comfort and familiarity and Starbucks creates … a nostalgia in the present, a benign sense of comfort by making everything look the same.”
What’s striking about that sentence is if you substitute “Starbucks” for “Hollywood,” you get a pretty apt description of the studio system’s problematic gluttony for movie sequels, reboots and remakes. Which isn’t as arbitrary a substitution to make as it seems, given Wright has acknowledged that The World’s End was designed in part to be a play on cinematic “Starbucking” and how a “lot of movies [today] are about nostalgia, about recreating things from childhood… [and how big] studio films are either remakes of films from 20 years ago, or adaptation of toys or inspired by things from your childhood.”
With that as a guiding nudge, other substitutions become possible. Ones that turn The World’s End – a film critical of a man-child’s inability to abandon the past – into a film representative and critical of those Hollywood nostalgic impulses which forego or replace movies with character and originality with safer, uninspired rehashes of past properties.
That criticism resides foremost in Gary King (Simon Pegg) who is addicted to the world he knew when he was younger. King is desperate to reassemble a group of familiar people in order to both reproduce and reboot a previous experience while acting as a walking continuation of the images and elements (gothy clothes, beat up car, Sisters of Mercy tattoo) of that past. He’s told “there comes a time you move forward not backward,” but he’s unwilling to do so. There’s no reward or value in it for him. In the forward lies only risk at the hands of the new and uncertain. It’s telling that he never objects to the “Starbucking” of the Golden Mile’s pubs. He too is invested in creating nostalgia in the present, in the comfort achieved by everything looking the same.
He is, in other words, the perfect embodiment of Hollywood’s current attitudes. Consider something like Fast & Furious, or Grown Ups 2, or whatever sequel you like. What are they but a reassembling of a group of familiar people in order to recreate and re-do a past experience, while simultaneously recreating all the images and elements of that past? Alternatively, what is a reboot or adaptation of an old show, movie or toy but an act of leveraging nostalgia into the present with the intent to make it look like every other glossy contemporary blockbuster?
King’s belief that any future success is directly rooted in a return to the familiar and comfortable is practically Hollywood’s business model now. Any material that isn’t tied to the backwards, proven or established, is increasingly something it doesn’t want to gamble on.
The World’s End doesn’t look favorably on these attitudes. It views them as stunted, counter-productive, and limiting. As it considers King’s nostalgic obsessions somewhat pathetic and destructive, so too does it view the movie industry’s. The destructive aspect is symbolized in Wright’s film through the new world that the invading aliens are creating in Newton Haven, one where “original” townsfolk are replaced with inferior, derivative imitations that keep reappearing no matter how many times they fail. The result is a new status quo where originality and independence struggle to survive. An accurate portrait of the Hollywood landscape, where anything unique is cast aside or converted into diluted riffs on original things. The positioning of the alien’s intent as the major threat suggests the movie’s fear isn’t just the regressive attitudes represented by King, but dangers of its inevitable conclusion and widespread adoption.
The World’s End does seek to give some consideration to the good (but misguided) intentions of the invaders. It is the same minor understanding it affords King. It makes sense given that Wright is an unabashed geek. It also makes sense given that Wright is a filmmaker who also operates inside the industry’s status quo (he is making a Marvel movie) and has spent a good deal of his career working inside the shadows of other pop culture properties (whether by allusion or direct adaptation). But as someone who has managed to still negotiate his own unique voice and space from within, there’s a sense here that Wright fears what will happen when Hollywood’s own (sorta) good intentions to provide what they imagine pleases audiences – and make money in the process – becomes oppressive to originality.
So, Wright imagines a solution.
That brings us to the ending of The World’s End (spoiler time), where the film shifts from commenting on the problematic nostalgic state of the movie industry to proposing a deeply ironic, idyllic vision of the future. King and his friends stop the threat of the alien’s looming ideological takeover and the invaders status quo is blown up. Which is exactly what the film wants to suggest – in less hyperbolic terms maybe – Hollywood should do. Find a way back to moving away from the past and towards the new, the unique, the original. The World’s End may imagine that future as a post-apocalyptic landscape, but it’s appropriately symbolic of what Wright desires. Which is a clean slate where the current industry business model is wiped out, and there’s room for risk and a return to a more desirable element of the past: a time where not every summer blockbuster is a sequel, remake or reboot. It’s of course a romantic and arguably improbable notion. Which is the joke. Wright knows it would probably take an apocalypse to change Hollywood, but there’s still a kind of pleasure in envisioning a world where warped imitations of original things no longer exist. Especially if that world is Hollywood.