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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 21.62%
Average: 2.7%
Pretty Bad: 2.7%
Total Crap: 5.41%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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World's End, The
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by Brett Gallman

"The end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine."
5 stars

Considering The Cornetto Trilogy’s fondness (and I daresay reverence) for cinematic nostalgia, I’m not sure I ever expected that trilogy capper “The World’s End” would highlight the folly of living in the past. But that’s what Edgar Wright and company are up to on at least one level here as he and frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost hurdle towards an apocalyptic landscape marked by both arrested development and fortysomething complacency, and their remarkably complex work doesn’t exactly skewer either side; instead, “The World’s End” is a thoughtful (if not madcap) examination of the notion that growing up and growing old is inevitable.

Moderating the proceedings is Gary King (Pegg), once a big fish in the small pond of Newton Haven, the childhood home he once ruled alongside his four friends. Over twenty years later, he’s still stalled in 1990: he wears the same clothes, drives the same car, listens to the same mix-tape. Gary’s particularly stuck on one night that saw his group fail to complete an epic pub crawl through the town’s “Golden Mile,” and a stint in AA inspires him to get the band back together in order to give it another go.

Of course, his four buddies are in a much different place, all of them having settled down as family men with steady jobs. Still, they reluctantly agree to tag along (mostly out of sympathy for Gary) and prepare to go another twelve rounds with the Mile, only to discover that Newton Haven isn’t what it used to be. At first, it’s surface level realizations anyone might have when returning to an old dump they’ve now disowned—the old pubs aren’t as quaint or personable as they once were, for instance. However, this creeping realization becomes more overt and disturbing when the gang discovers that the town’s citizens have been body snatched and turned into ink-blooded robots by an extraterrestrial hive-mind.

Like Wright’s previous efforts, “The World’s End” is built from the ground up around its themes before it spirals off into its genre riffing. It might be the most accomplished in this respect because its setup is rich and resonant without the eventual genre trappings. Wright has assembled an amiable bunch whose shared history is palatable upon their introduction, and simply watching these guys embark on a nostalgia trip would be immensely satisfying. I’m not a beer drinker, but even I can’t deny the appeal of a rowdy night on the town that reconnects old friends. Wright’s direction is typically electrifying from the get-go, as even Pegg’s expository opener is an exhilarating, bombastic trip down memory lane that’s punctuated by the rhythm of flowing taps.

The film’s structure demands that it takes a sharper turn into genre territory than its predecessors, but the transition is just as smooth. Just as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” eventually morphed into stellar entries in their respective genres, so too does “The World’s End” become a raucous, romping, stomping pod movie. It perhaps eschews the creepy, horrific undertones of that genre and instead opts for a brawny, action-packed approach that’s more concerned with impressive fight choreography and cartoonish splatter.

Wright has constructed some of the most thrilling barroom brawls ever committed to film here, and, despite the film’s boundless, zany energy, it’s anchored by a sense of controlled chaos, especially in the way the director funnels big character moments into each scene. One of the best finds Nick Frost, here playing Andy, the most estranged, buttoned-up of the bunch, finally letting loose to dole out cranium-smashing elbow drops. It feels sort of like Sammo Hung hulking out.

Wright’s fondness for pastiche is also quite evident, right down to his use of the familiar John Carpenter typeface for the opening credits (when combined with the killer robots, the film even subtly echoes “Halloween III”). Such an appropriation seems correct since Carpenter may have been the first great genre-masher, and Wright furiously blends together all sorts of modes here: at its core, it’s “Withnail and I” or “The Big Chill” meets body snatchers, though it eventually careens all the way into the territory promised by the title.

But for all its escalation, “The World’s End” never loses sight of its characters or themes. Wright’s skill behind the camera is obvious, but his strengths lie in his pure storytelling ability, particularly in his knack for honing in on the emotional undercurrent (he’s aided especially by his economy—there’s no throwaway lines or wasted action). That’s no small feat here because “The World’s End” threatens to be his most irreverent, off-the-rails effort yet, especially as it sprints towards an insane, unhinged climax that doesn’t play it safe, and it’s that refusal to take the easy route that makes the film so fascinatingly honest.

Conventional wisdom holds that this sort of movie should wind up being an apocalyptic teachable moment for the likes of Gary King to finally grow up and move on, but “The World’s End” has no interest in such hackneyed observations. While the film often presents Gary in an unflattering light and especially doesn’t shy away from revealing how his self-destructive behavior has also affected his closest friends in the past (particularly Andy), it has too much sympathy to completely condemn him—which is exactly what true friendship entails. Both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” pitched their tents in similar territory, but neither was quite as complex as “The World’s End” in this regard. It especially feels like a deeper exploration of “Shaun’s” insistence that we should accept our friends, warts and all, only it plumbs some absolutely devastating depths with Gary.

Unlike Ed, Gary King isn’t just simply an irresponsible screw-up struggling to make the transition into adult life—instead, he might be what Ed might have become had the zombie apocalypse not served as the ultimate intervention. It’d be easy to assume that switching Pegg/Frost dynamic serves as a bit of gimmicky stunt, but Pegg isn’t playing the same sort of oafish man-child that Frost brought to life in the trilogy’s previous entries. Pegg brings a certain, subtle self-awareness to the role that turns Gary’s shtick into something of an obvious, overcompensating act to mask the real pain and disappointment that’s been festering inside of him for years. In a career defining turn, Pegg captures desperation, denial, and self-destruction and wraps them up in an undeniable tornado of a character: after spending five minutes with him, it’s easy to see why his friends would be hesitant to indulge him—but it’s also just as easy to see why they can’t resist.

Again, the film is a total success on this level because none of the group winds up being extraneous; in some ways, they’re similarly disappointed with their own lives because they’ve slipped into the monotony of middle age. Steven (Paddy Constantine) regrets never making a move on Oliver’s (Martin Freeman) sister (Rosamund Pike), while nerdy Peter (Eddie Marsan) is still haunted by the bullying he suffered as a boy, and this impromptu nostalgia trip gives each a chance to right those wrongs. In fact, Oliver is the only one who seems to be genuinely content, but there’s a disturbing reason for this that cuts right to the heart of the film’s true villain: conformity.

Previous body snatcher films served as pointedly unsubtle allegories for political hysteria, but “The World’s End” aspires for something more immediate and timeless by tackling the insidious “Starbucking” of culture as the guys here put it upon observing the now soulless, uniform remodeling to several of the old pubs. A hive mind mentality serves as the natural enemy for someone like Gary, who has spent the last twenty years being told to shape up and adhere to societal standards. When he unwittingly engages the leader of the alien forces, Gary’s facing that insistence on a massive scale, and the film triumphantly reinforces individuality over conformity. Even when given the chance to get exactly what he’s wanted—a chance to be young again and to live without consequences—Gary realizes he’s just being sold another line of manufactured bullshit and that it’s more important to accept one’s own flaws than it is to sell out.

Who cares if Gary has chosen to stay in the 90s? That’s only ever been a symptom of his inability to accept that he peaked in high school; his choice to bury himself in pints instead of seeking the company of friends was far more damning, and this last gasp at recapturing old glory soon turns into something of a second chance to mend the deep wounds in his friendship with Andy. As always, Wright picks the perfect moment for these two to bond over a shared pain: it comes just as the film threatens to spiral completely out of control, and you can feel the world literally unraveling around these two just as they realize what they’ve lost during the past two decades.

As someone who has similarly struggled with finding my way after failing to live up to the false sense of potential instilled by small-town life (it’s easy to assume you’re going to conquer the world when you’ve never really seen it), “The World’s End” resonates more emphatically than Wright’s previous work. Formally, it might be shaggier than “Shaun” or “Fuzz,” but it’s soaked in maturity and wisdom that takes those films’ preoccupations and (quite literally) blows them up to apocalyptic proportions to reveal just how difficult it is to navigate a personal hell and emerge on the other side.

Wisely, “The World’s End” doesn’t posit that anyone can emerge unscathed, and it pulls no punches when it comes to exposing its heroes’ flaws, which they have to reckon with even as the film ends; however, it’s also a riotously infectious twelve step program, even if its steps are purposely scattered. Self-improvement doesn’t always follow a straight line—sometimes, it takes you on a cock-eyed, crooked path lined with goddamn robots and aliens.

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originally posted: 08/28/13 12:55:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/27/14 KingNeutron It was OK, worth the rental but might not be for everybody 3 stars
4/07/14 reptilesni I love this crew, but this movie didn't work at all. 1 stars
2/26/14 Brennan Best Movie of 2013 5 stars
12/07/13 Pearl Bogdan This isnt Shawn of the dead but it was still pretty funny 4 stars
11/23/13 Patricia fun end to the cornetto trilogy 5 stars
10/16/13 Carl A very fun film!!! 5 stars
9/29/13 Frank Robinson Enjoyable in a completely insane sort of way 5 stars
9/23/13 Simon again impressive for making a mish mash of genres work, funny above all 4 stars
9/19/13 Annie G So much fun - makes me want to do a pub crawl w/o aliens. 5 stars
9/05/13 PoetChuck Worst Movie Ever 1 stars
9/03/13 Geraldine Amazing! 5 stars
9/01/13 Bob Dog Better than the average movie, but weaker than the rest of Wright's films. 2 stars
8/24/13 Flipsider Very entertaining! 5 stars
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  23-Aug-2013 (R)
  DVD: 19-Nov-2013

  19-Jul-2013 (15)

  01-Aug-2013 (MA)
  DVD: 19-Nov-2013

Directed by
  Edgar Wright

Written by
  Simon Pegg
  Edgar Wright

  Simon Pegg
  Nick Frost
  Rosamund Pike
  Martin Freeman
  Paddy Considine
  Eddie Marsan

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