Saturday, August 24, 2013

The World’s End / **** (R)

Gary King: Simon Pegg
Andy Knightly: Nick Frost
Steven Prince: Paddy Considine
Peter Page: Eddie Marsan
Oliver Chamberlin: Martin Freeman
Sam Chamberlin: Rosamund Pike
Guy Shephard: Pierce Brosnan
Voice of The Network: Bill Nighy

Focus Features presents a film directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright. Running time: 109 min. Rated R (for pervasive language including sexual references).

“The World’s End”—the supposed third film in the “The Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy by filmmakers Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost—is bloody brilliant. There’s no better way to say it; and I just don’t feel like beating around the bush about it. It’s bleedin’ aces, Bob’s your uncle! That’s no codswallup. You aren’t going to see a funnier movie this year. You’ll laugh your arse off. It’s truly the dog’s bollocks. It takes the piss out of 50s/60s science fiction/alien invasion films, and yet it is one at the same time. It’s just bloody brilliant.

For those uninitiated, the Cornetto trilogy isn’t really a trilogy at all beyond the fact that it refers to three movies. The three movies are “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”, and “The World’s End”. According to the trio of filmmakers behind them, who disapprove of the term “trilogy,” there are a few elements to these movies that connect them. Edgar Wright directs them all. They each star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the two leads. Wright and Pegg write each. Nick Frost comes in later in the process. They are based around the geographical areas these artists know well. They focus on the friendship between the Pegg and Frost characters. They are each comedies based on a specific non-comedy genre—“Shaun” is a zombie flick, “Fuzz” is a buddy cop movie, and “World’s End” is a science fiction film in the tradition of the b-movies of the Cold War era. And finally, each contains a reference to the ice cream treat known as a Cornetto. Other than those elements these are three freestanding films, and this latest one is the best.

The movie starts out simply enough. We learn of Gary King and his band of friends when they were still in school. Gary, Peter, Steve, Oliver, and Gary's very best friend, Andrew ruled the world their final year of school; and Gary was their... king, as it were. To celebrate the end of their school captivity, the crew decides to run all twelve of the pubs in their hometown in an all night pub crawl ending with the town's legendary pub, The World's End. The boys don't make it through the entire crawl, but Gary still feels this was the greatest day of his life.

Some twenty years later, Gary says life never got any better. Upon his release from some sort of rehabilitation program, despite the fact that the other four men have moved on to successful careers and family lives, Gary gets it in his head that they should relive their "glory days" by finishing their abandoned pub crawl. The other men, who have all moved away from their small town, reluctantly join the perpetually juvenile Gary for one last midlife hurrah.

For a good portion of it's running time, "The World's End" has the semblance of a pretty straight forward midlife crisis comedy, with Gary leading these grown men in a night of misguided debauchery. During this night many old wounds are reopened, and the old crew has a harder time hiding their frustration with Gary's inconsiderate behavior than they did when they were teenagers. The film's themes and the crew's characters are very solidly established in this section of the film. The quick wit of the dialogue begins to rev itself up. Pegg and Wright's dialogue is sharp and wickedly funny.

Pegg and company work very well together. I've never seen Pegg so comically on before. His energy is through the roof, and it’s easy to see how his character could infect others with his screwy ideas. It's also easy to see how his shtick could wear thin after a while. Of course, Pegg and Frost are longtime friends in life, but the entire cast seem very much like old friends. Martin Freeman has excelled in sharp-witted material before with his work in the original British version of "The Office". I don't think I've ever seen Paddy Considine or Eddie Marsan deliver such laugh out loud material before though. They hold their own quite fine. Rosamund Pike is the right choice to play Oliver's sister and former fling of Gary's. She's a beauty and just cold enough to fend off Gary's lecherous tendencies. Even if the plot remained in this realm of hilarious revelation, the movie would've been an immensely enjoyable entertainment; however, the filmmakers have much more in store.

After a few pub stops, it becomes clear to the guys that something has fundamentally changed about the town in which they grew up. At first it seems that the changes are those typical of places you once lived after you’ve spent some time away. McDonaldization has homogenized the pubs. Some of the architecture has changed, but there are other clues. People they once knew don't recognize them. The behavior of the town’s people seems unnatural. There's a crew of kids just like Gary's crew when they were the same age, but they don't have the same irreverence or disrespect for authority. The town’s people seem happy, but not in a normal way. Something sinister has happened here.

I won't reveal what is ultimately behind these changes, but it is right out of a classic sci-fi film from the 50s or 60s, such as "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or "The Day the Earth Stood Still". What's really remarkable about what the filmmakers pull off here is that this is no spoof of the genre but a legitimate entry, right down to the metaphorical meaning behind it all. No great science fiction story is really about what it is about; rather it is all an allegory for some universal truth about what it is to be human. Here Gary is desperately trying to regain his youth and avoid the conformity of adulthood, but none of it is really that simple. The others have sacrificed to build the lives they have, and although that required some conformity, what they've built is unique to them. We all stand to lose in the face of total conformity.

“The World’s End” is ultimately a comedy, but the way it incorporates a serious sci-fi theme into its comedic structure is nothing short of storytelling genius. Pegg and Wright infuse the comedy and metaphor with a grand intelligent wit that comes from someplace familiar to us all. That camaraderie of youth is what drives our desires as we age, even once it has lost its place in our lives. “The World’s End” taps into that youthful nature and incorporates it into a mature work of observation and allegory. In doing so, it propels its message through incredible amounts of humor. I task anyone who is a least somewhere near the age of the people in this film not to find something to laugh at. I don’t believe it can be done, even if you don’t typically watch British comedy. 

No comments: