"I still think nothing suggested in the past ten minutes beats smashy, smashy egg people."
Like many Americans, I was late to the party on the comedic trio of director Edgar Wright & actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. When their 2004 film Shaun of the Dead opened here in the late summer of that year, I wrote it off as just another mindless genre spoof, but when I finally caught up to the film later that year, I saw just how wrong I had been. I devoured their first collaboration together, the Channel 4 series Spaced and absolutely adored their 2007 film Hot Fuzz, and the six year wait since that film has seen them all move off in disparate directions, but their reunion was one I was beyond eager for, The World's End. So is it a worthy successor to their previous comedic masterpieces? Read on to find out...
Opening with a flashback to 1990, The World's End tells the story of five friends from high school who have now moved off in different directions, but their de facto leader Gary King (Pegg) is determined to reunite the gang and complete a legendary pub crawl, the golden mile, in their hometown. Gary is in a state of suspended adolescence, but won't flag in his determination to get his much more mature friends Steve (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan) & Andy (Frost) to complete this conquest with him. The other four reluctantly agree and head back home, more to placate their old friend than to look for any sense of accomplishment.
The golden mile consists of drinking a pint in each of twelve pubs, culminating in the last pub in town, The World's End. Things are somewhat complicated by the return of Oliver's sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), whom both Gary & Steve had unrequited feelings for in high school, but something more sinister is afoot in their hometown. The first signs of it are in the "Starbucking" of all the pubs, and how everything in town appears to have homogenized, but as the night goes along, the friends uncover a plot that may or may not spell the end of humanity as they know it.
Just as anyone who may have expected Hot Fuzz to be another Shaun of the Dead, so too will audiences be surprised to see that these three have changed gears once again and gone off in another new and surprising direction. As anyone who's seen a commercial or read an article about the film will know, this film is actually a subversion of the science fiction film, just as Shaun was to horror and Hot Fuzz to action. I'll be avoiding major spoilers in my review, but I don't know that this is a film where your enjoyment of it would be hindered by knowing what is going on in town. I had no clue, but the plot developments are not the real surprise here. That would be the way that the script manages to be a lively and constantly hilarious dig at the conformity of society, in particular British society. That should come as no surprise to any fans of their work as their other films have essentially the same theme, but here their commentary is as blistering as it has ever been.
What makes the film truly great, however, is that it never stops being a brilliantly constructed comedy. There are running gags, payoffs for every setup, and hilarious jokes all the way through. The action set pieces are fantastic as well, which should come as no surprise to fans of Wright as a director. Ever since the unspeakably clever fight scene in The Winchester in Shaun set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," his immeasurable talent behind the camera has been evident, but it's not a stretch for me to say that he has grown into one of the most reliably distinguished directors working today. The way he uses repetition and momentum in his camera work sets him apart from virtually everyone else working in comedy.
Both Pegg & Frost truly shine when working with Wright, and it's no surprise that both of their performances here are superb. Gary is wholly different from Pegg's other roles in Wright's films, and that makes him a joy to watch on screen. His character is thoroughly unlikable, but you can't help but root for him to achieve his dream of finishing the crawl, and his late film argument with Andy beautifully explains why we root for him. Frost is equally outstanding, playing his most buttoned-down role yet, and when he unleashes his rage in the film's second half, he's a wonder to behold.
The other three members of the "Five Musketeers" are also great, with Freeman having a corner on the "fussy and overly cautious" gent routine and Consadine is also very good, landing lots of great moments with Pegg. Marsan was another stand-out for me, playing a meek pushover, something I rather enjoyed seeing him do since he normally plays the heavy. Harry Potter fans should delight at seeing David Bradley, who played Filch in the Potter films, in a small role, and a bizarre extended cameo (that imdb has somehow not spoiled) was also funny, if a little strange.
All in all, The World's End works so well because these are men who understand genre filmmaking and how to truly spoof the conventions of a given style. They never lose sight of the fact that they have, first and foremost, set out to entertain an audience, and everything in their films is in service of that ideal. While I'd be hard pressed to say that this will usurp Hot Fuzz as my favorite film of theirs, it is a fantastically well-made film, full of great jokes and a bizarre third act that will lose some people, but seems designed to only work well for true believers in what they are doing in the first place.
If you're a fan of their work, I don't need to convince you to go see The World's End, but if you're on the fence about it, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It's funny, clever and insane, and what more could you want from a summer comedy?
GO Rating: 4/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]