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A great director is only as great as the person defending him. There are people who claim that Orson Welles is overrated, that Martin Scorsese hasn't made a good movie since Raging Bull … and people who say that Neveldine & Taylor are unheralded heroes and Michael Bay is the best living director. Deciding a director is "great" is a sure way to start an argument-- so that's exactly what we decided to do.
With The World's End opening this weekend-- and our celebration of the unofficial Cornetto Trilogy in full swing-- Sean posed the question, "Is Edgar Wright a great director?" After critically beloved hits like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz he certainly seemed on his way there, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World felt to Sean like a retread of the same ideas… and he's worried The World's End will be the same thing. Katey, on the other hand, thinks Wright has more than proved he's got the talent to be lumped in with the greats. Who's correct? Check out the Great Debate below, then vote in the poll and decide for yourself.
KATEY: OK. Sean, you are something that I did not think you were allowed to be as a professional on the Internet. You are an Edgar Wright skeptic. I would have said Edgar Wright hater, but it seems you've had a change of heart recently. What gives? Why do you now sorta-kinda hate joy?
SEAN: Wait, wait. Let me clarify. I never hated Wright or his movies. In fact, I LOVE Hot Fuzz, but I think it's because I'm such a fan of the buddy-action genre, and I thoroughly enjoyed what he did with the tropes of that genre.
But, but the time we reached Scott Pilgrim, I started to feel that we'd seen all the tricks in Wright's back. The hyper-kinetic editing. The uber-fast (and admittedly funny) dialogue. The unexpected cameos. The formula still worked, but it was starting to get a little tiring. So it always baffled me that Wright received AS MUCH praise as he does. Because while I think he is good at what he does, I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call him a great director. Would you?
KATEY: I think your first mistake is in assuming that you only enjoy Hot Fuzz because you love cop movies, or that the only people who love Shaun of the Dead love zombie movies, or that only gamers like Scott Pilgrim. Because, for me, his talent as a director has nothing to do with the genres that he's riffing on, but for the stories that he's telling within those genres-- and, yes, the style he uses to do it. Obviously he has certain flourishes he returns to over and over again with montages and match cuts and whip pans-- but many great directors do.
SEAN: But that might hit on exactly what I'm getting at. I rarely leave a Wright movie remembering the characters. I remember the style. I remember the visual trickery, and the speed of the humor. But I haven't bought into his characters, who all strike me as one-note translations of the stock characters that occupy the genres Wright is spoofing in the moment. Particularly the characters Nick Frost has played over the years. He's the same chubby, underperforming sidekick. Simon Pegg, at the very least, has been able to immerse himself in the signature characteristics of the Uber Cop or the Slacker Horror Hero. Wright, to me, has always been about how the next shot looks, not what the relevant plot transition should be.
That's why Scott Pilgrim has no real plot to speak of. It escalates like a video game, and only makes sense in that context. People tend to rave about how Wright brought gimmicks from games into his "reality," but how real is that? To me, The World's End looks like his first attempt to say something about his characters ... perhaps because he's getting old, like the men in his new movie. Am I way off?
KATEY: Well, here's what's interesting about the Nick Frost thing. His character in The World's End is very different from the ones he's played in the past, and it proves that Frost really is a strong actor. And the way that he and Pegg are able to draw on 15 years of friendship in the film, particularly on some later scenes that get really dark, is really impressive.
But I also think you're missing the darkness, and the character development, that's been there from the start. I think Hot Fuzz is his lightest movie in terms of character development, because it's based so heavily on Michael Bay movies that don't give a damn about character. But in Shaun of the Dead, you've got this really touching triangle at the center-- Shaun trying to love both his girlfriend and his best friend and doing badly at both of them, and how a zombie apocalypse helps him change that. I wouldn't care about the film at all if I didn't care about those two relationships, and they develop it perfectly. Do you not see that in Shaun or Scott Pilgrim?
SEAN: I don't see it in Scott Pilgrim. I didn't care a whit about Scott, or the girls he was "fighting" to protect/win. That movie struck me as an experiment in style. That word I keep coming back to. Style. Maybe I'm just hesitant to move Wright's name into a group of "Great" directors. What rank is he part of? He's not the Scorsese/Coppola/Spielberg team. Is he even the Tarantino level? Can he get to that level? I think I'd need to see a lot of growth from him to ever consider putting him on par with directors of that ilk, but fanboy culture has him there already!
KATEY: Hey, let's not use the fanboy culture straw man argument. There's no one judging Wright here but you and me. And I don't think the fanboy exultation for him is as intense as you're making it out to be. There are big fans of the Cornetto Trilogy who are perfectly agreeable and willing to talk about Wright on regular terms. I think you're getting caught up on the fervor that surrounded Scott Pilgrim, which was mostly about that movie not making nearly as much money as it deserved to.
SEAN: Maybe. Part of it also is the "Wright for Ant-Man" campaign. Which might be fine. But I'm not sold yet. Are you? I'm more confident in that decision because I trust in Marvel, not because I trust in Wright, per se.
KATEY: I'm not sure what campaign you're talking about... Wright's been attached to make Ant-Man for YEARS, so it's mostly people anticipating something they know already exists. And if you want to see Wright grow, isn't Ant-Man exactly the challenge he ought to be taking on?
SEAN: Maybe. Or maybe he;'ll just turn Ant-Man into another Edgar Wright movie. Which, again, might not be a terrible thing. I'm just worried about it being more of the same.
I will say that revisiting Shaun, Fuzz and Scott this week, I found that I appreciated the first two a lot more than I thought I did. I just haven't been compelled to revisit Wright's films as often as I might, say, the works of a different director. I like him. I'm not wild about him. Personal taste? Of course. I wouldn't put him on a short list of "Great" directors. Maybe The World's End will change my mind.
KATEY: The World's End ought to be interesting for you, because it's kind of working in two separate directions. On the one hand, it's got deeper character stuff than the previous two films, and is about darker concerns, which could make it more powerful. On the other hand, it's explicitly about retreading old territory from your past-- and it's hard not to get the feeling that Wright is itching to get out of this little genre corner after he makes this.
As for the great director thing.. I would try just not to get too caught up in the idea of that label, and focus on great films. I think Shaun of the Dead is a full-stop masterpiece, which to me means that Wright deserves my attention for everything he makes afterward. I also think Wright is probably a better *director* than Quentin Tarantino, while Tarantino is a better writer. But if you think QT is great and not Wright? Well, that's why movies are fun
SEAN: Agreed. And in no way am I dismissing Wright or saying that he won't ever become a great director. All I'm looking for is something different. Some significant growth. He has style to spare. I'd love to see him tackle a wildly different genre. Maybe Ant-Man will be it. I hope it will be it. But it feels like that could be more genre experimentation, which we already know he can do in his sleep. We shall see. The book on Wright isn't written. And we'll both keep reading, I'm sure.
Is Edgar Wright a great director?