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Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: The World's End

With "The World's End", Edgar Wright has fulfilled the third part of his "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy".A trilogy based more on marketing than any storytelling ties, Wright, in his previous two films "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" successfully sent up both zombie and buddy cop movies wrapped in the unique shooting style and matter of fact humor that Wright has been known for since his days of running the cult television series "Spaced". With "The World's End", Wright (and co-writer Simon Pegg) tackle alien invasions in a manner quite similar, and even evokes one of the giants of British sci-fi in the process. In short, "The World's End" is the closer we were all hoping it would be after years of anticipation.

Gary King (Simon Pegg), an alcoholic longing for a return to his own "Glory Days", gets in touch with his old school friends Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver aka "O-Man" (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andy (Nick Frost) who have all moved onto their adult lives and responsibilities. Gary convinces them, through some conniving, to return to their old town of Newton Haven to tackle "The Golden Mile", a mile-long stretch of pubcrawl throughout the town that they had conspired to tackle in their younger years but failed to do so. They're joined along the way by Oliver's sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike) with whom Gary had a fling and Steven has unrequited feelings for. The biggest challenge they face is getting along with each other, particularly Andy and Gary, that is until they discover that the town is filled with robotic duplicates.

In Wright's previous films in this loose "trilogy", beyond just genre excursions, is a thematic unity of growing through adulthood and how we respond to the varying challenges that approach us as we age. From "Shaun of the Dead" where its a look at how we deal with the idea of our life needing direction in our late 20's, to "Hot Fuzz" which operates around the idea of becoming a productive citizen in your 30's. The World's End, for its part, tackles the longing for the fun of our youth in your 40's. This is reflective, as in all the film's of the trilogy, through the friendship of characters played by Pegg and Frost. This bro-mance style relationship continues to be the centerpiece of each films' grand story beats. This time though, we have an interesting about-face in that Frost is playing the straight man for once and Pegg is the wilder, more radical character. There are other carryovers as well beyond the central themes, these include Simon Pegg's character being spurned by a blonde woman, David Bradley playing another crazy old man, a fight in a bar, a former Bond playing the central villain, another delicious cameo appearance by Bill Nighy, and of course the eponymous Cornetto appearance (this time: Mint Chocolate Chip).

What carries the film in its strongest moments is its sense of outlandish, but not broad, humor. Occasionally, witty reparte will fly past you so quickly that you may miss a joke or two, but this is what makes the films of Wright so incredibly rewarding upon rewatch. Recently, when Shane and I were chatting about the film on our Podcast, he mentioned how similar the film was to the writings of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. This comparison is very apt, I can particularly see the Adams influence in the idea of the pub-crawl during the course of the alien invasion, and through the almost casual chatter the robot/alien leader has with Gary and Andy. The similarities to classic Doctor Who are also worth noting as the plot is not too far astray from "The Android Invasion". There's a good deal of influence that Wright is pulling from here, and it isn't necessarily all British in nature. One of the best surprises of "The World's End" is its unexpected ending, which is almost Raimi-like in its pseudo-bleakness (but not without its happy moments), a filmmaker with whom Wright shares some visual sensibilities.

One of the best elements of "The World's End" is that it does not rely simply on the talents of Pegg and Frost to lead the charge completely. This go-round, the doors open up a bit more and we get nice moments for Freeman and Marsan particularly, and it's especially nice to see the latter playing something other than a underhanded character. Pike is also a welcome presence, a far too underused actress, sadly a bit underwritten here. The aforementioned former Bond cameo is also a tremendous highlight. "The World's End" is a film that thrives on the chemistry of its core cast, making this group of friends a believable unit along with just a dash of the Arthurian (each of the main characters last names are King, Knightly, Page, Chamberlain, and Prince) sense of returning to their own metaphorical camelot, there's even a holy grail, it just happens to be in pint form.

There is a slight issue with sluggish pacing, particularly when it "hits the proverbial fan". The idea of this group of gentlemen continuing on with their pub-crawl when they should be scooting out of town gets a bit absurd. Yet, this is a minor complaint at best, and quite a few of the pub crawl set pieces are well-done, even post reveal of the true nature of the town. Of which, it's unfortunate that the ads for this film had to reveal what seemingly was being withheld until its second half as an almost "From Dusk Till Dawn" style surprise. Perhaps given some distance and time from release, that shock factor of the invaders' presence will return to viewers at home.

In "The World's End", Edgar Wright presents that sometimes you simply can't go home again, and when you do, people can't remember who you are in the first place. On the other hand, I'm delighted that Wright is one filmmaker that has yet to abandon his own roots and is, in my eyes, still working with a perfect directorial score. I can't wait to see what he does with "Ant-Man", which has the potential to be Nolan-like in its auteur vision. With "The World's End", the six year wait was well worth it.

I give it an A

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