"[Edgar Wright and I] make comedies and both love genre cinema but neither Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz are parodies. The World's End isn't a send up in any way, in fact, we've gone out of our way not to populate the film with references to other movies, in order to avoid that label."
-Simon Pegg (Source)
The world has changed a lot since 2004 and I for one would like to believe this is part of the reason for this is Shaun of the Dead. Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, directed by Wright and starring Pegg and fellow Spaced alum Nick Frost Shaun of the Dead was a fresh take on the zombie genre but one that was also steeped in its history. It's also, for me at least, laugh out loud funny, which seems to be a rareity in the horror-comedy genre. It stacked a solid script with genuinely gifted comedic performers and well-known British actors. It came out just after the initial zombie/infection hit 28 Days Later and alongside Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. Shaun of the Dead outside of being a terrific film was also a cultural anitdote to the realism and seriousness of the new breed of zombie movies.
2007 rolls along and you've got the satire buddy-cop film Hot Fuzz. By taking all the cliches and tropes out of the (80s in particular) violent cop films and setting it in an idyllic English village you had a solid send up which, while not connected to Shaun of the Dead, carried on a similar vibe. Hot Fuzz amped up the action of its predecessor and took more risks through themes within the film. The idyllic village was not so idyllic as murders start to happen so who's to blame? Wright points the finger squarely at us. While we (okay maybe not all of us, but a majority of the population) want the safety and comfort of respectability what are we sacrificing? Well, our individuality.
The World's End may be the most clear in valuing individuality above all else. When a group of old friends reconvene after a lot of convincing to finish a pub crawl they started back in their teens they realize their home town have been invaded by some kind of alien/robot species. Even before they reach the town to complete the pub crawl, it's been made clear that outside of their leader Gary (Simon Pegg) they've all conformed, drank the Kool-Aid and are now leading respectable lives which as the film progresses is revealed to not make any of them particularly happy. They have to learn to sacrifice a great many things in order to achieve some kind of self-fulfillment and even when that is attained it's still not perfect, better better than what came before.
These films condemn conformity and celebrate the individual's realization of themselves. Yes, the hero and their friend (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost always) realize that they need to "step up" in some manner and face their responsibilities but they learn how to do so in their own terms. Each of these films put the characters in peril but this is when the films rely heavily on breaking the tropes of the films they are sending up and utilize their sense of humour and humanity. The characters are able to have a full realization and make a choice that helps set things on a better path at the end of the film.
Of course, part of the brilliance is a semi-return to normal. The impact of the events in the film is still present in some way but it's been merged in with the characters' lives. Just as the characters have adapted, so has society.
The Three Flavours of Cornetto trilogy has already impacted genre films by showing the possibilities of sticking to your guns. Wright, Pegg and Frost (along with their repertory cast) have proven that cinema, thought riddled in tropes, has the potential to rise above them, be entertaining as fuck and have an incredible emotional core. One of the coolest things about these films to me, which may technically be the least coolest thing, is that these films earn and pay off emotionally. There are genuinely moments of loss, redemption and understanding through all them which helps set them apart from all the imitators. Wright and Pegg understand that loss and remorse are parts of life especially in extreme circumstances and allow these moments to happen. They almost always happening in the simiplest way, with little music or fancy filming techniques. Just simple honest truths.
These are films that not only lovingly send up films that have come before them, but break the mold and make the genre a better place for all of us.