British-made entertainment has started irking me in a weird sort of way. It’s not that movies and TV from the UK are bad, just the opposite. No, I’ve grown peeved that British entertainment comes out overseas long before it comes to the United States. As such, I have to endure weeks — potentially months — of hearing about how awesome a film is before I can ever get the chance to see it for myself. It happened with Attack the Block, it happened with the past couple seasons of “Sherlock,” and it happened with tonight’s film.
Then again, I’m sure that movie fans outside the States will be all too familiar with the feeling, as most Hollywood blockbusters start here and slowly spread to the rest of the world. Payback’s a bitch, innit?
Anyway, The World’s End was released in the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand on roughly July 18th-19th of this year, depending on where those countries stood in relation to the International Date Line. Today, after a great deal of anticipation, American film geeks finally got to see it for themselves. Personally, I thought it was well worth the hype. It was extremely flawed — almost fatally so — but totally worth the hype. I’ll explain.
The premise involves a core group of five childhood friends who grew up in the sleepy town of Newton Haven. Naturally, the pack’s de facto leader is the craziest and stupidest one of the bunch (Gary King, played as an adult by Simon Pegg). On the night of their graduation, Gary leads his friends on an infamous pub crawl called the Golden Mile: Twelve pubs — from The First Post to the mythical World’s End — with every man drinking a pint of beer from each, all in one night. Despite having a great run, the hooligans only make it through nine of the twelve pubs.
Cut to twenty years later. Oliver (Martin Freeman) is a successful real estate salesman, Peter (Eddie Marsan) is a happily married car salesman, Steven (Paddy Considine) is a divorced man running his own construction firm, Andy (Nick Frost) is working as a corporate lawyer, and Gary… well, no one’s really heard from Gary in the past few years. Guy just goes off the radar until he drops back in out of the blue, announcing that he’s getting the group back together for one more attempt at the Golden Mile. Even more strangely, Gary dyed his hair black, dressed up exactly like he did in high school, and salvaged the car he drove back in 1989. The guy’s obviously on a huge nostalgia kick, but it’s not exactly clear why.
Anyway, Gary drags all of his old friends back to their childhood home, only to find that something is off. Maybe it’s just the alcohol talking, or maybe they just don’t recognize the town after so many years. But no, we eventually learn that the town’s residents have all been taken away and replaced by… we’ll call them “Blanks,” for lack of a better and more spoiler-friendly term.
For those who aren’t already aware, this film is the last part of the so-called “Blood and Cornetto trilogy,” along with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Though none of these three films have anything to do with each other in terms of continuity, there are notable strands of connective tissue between them. They were all directed and co-written by Edgar Wright, they were all co-written by star Simon Pegg, and they all featured Nick Frost playing a “best friend” to Pegg’s character. All three movies were made in homage to different film genres: zombies for Shaun, buddy cops for Fuzz, and science fiction for End. Also, all three movies are heavy on action and feature jokes involving cornettos (hence the trilogy’s title).
But with the Blanks, World’s End becomes the keystone of this whole trilogy. In Shaun, the antagonists took over whole civilizations by violently turning people into monsters. In Fuzz, the antagonists were kindly old authorities who sought to bring peace to their communities through immoral and sinister ways. In End, the antagonist is a perfect melding of the two. The Blanks are monstrous imitations of humanity, but their agenda is entirely peaceful. They sincerely want to help humanity by destroying it, wilfully unaware of the gross hypocrisy.
Moreover, the Blanks serve as a fantastic conclusion for themes that have been subtly weaving through the entire trilogy. Look through all three movies and you can see commentary on the growing somnambulism of humanity, the pros and cons of living in a more technologically advanced world, what it means to let go of childhood, condemnation of authority and conformity, humanity’s strange need for violence, the list goes on and on. The Blanks are surprisingly deep on a symbolic level and they’re easily the second best thing about this movie.
The absolute best, of course, would be the comedy. Though a lot of the humor is obviously crude, the real strength of the comedy is in the wordplay. The dialogue is fired off at a rapid pace, which serves to make the comedic exchanges even funnier. The finest case in point is easily Simon Pegg, who seems to play his character as Captain Jack Sparrow dressed like a goth and high on a metric ton of cocaine. Through a combination of drunken logic and boldfaced lying, Gary shows a remarkable gift for talking his way into and out of just about anything. Even when Gary is wrong, he somehow manages to be right, which of course makes it impossible to argue with him. Both of these points, by the way, are among the movie’s long list of hilarious running jokes.
This film kept me in stitches through the whole running time, and Pegg’s brand of humor was a key reason why. However, as I’ve stated earlier, the movie is far from perfect.
For example, there’s the matter of the action. The fight scenes were very funny, loaded with remarkably clever touches that were superbly executed. However, the fights themselves seemed a little bit off. It’s tough to sell the illusion that a group of forty-something men could plausibly fight off swarms of inhuman attackers, and I never felt the movie quite got that right. Of course, it certainly didn’t help that the film seemed inconsistent about how much punishment the Blanks could take.
Speaking of which, there’s the “modern art” installation. I’m referring to the massive statue that turns out to be a giant robot working for the Blanks. It does absolutely nothing. The robot might as well have been left on the cutting room floor for all the good it did. Such a huge waste of potential.
Then there’s Rosamund Pike. She’s of course playing the love interest, though she’s also the sister of Martin Freeman’s character. For the life of me, I still don’t know what to do with Pike. I really do want to like her, but I’ve only seen her as so much filler. It breaks my heart to say it, but Pike is a true mediocrity. She’s a placeholder, sitting in for an actress who can actually bring something memorable to a role. Of course, I suppose it doesn’t help that Samantha was designed to be a “straight” character, played for very little humor so she can effectively tell Gary to grow up. All the same, this role should have been cast with someone who could hold her own against Simon Pegg without getting blown off the screen. Just saying.
Of course, I was willing to forgive all of this movie’s little flaws… until we actually get to the World’s End. I don’t know what to tell you, folks. The film had me and then it lost me.
First of all, I personally found Gary’s motivation to be very underwhelming. When we finally learn why Gary was so hell-bent on getting through the Golden Mile, it’s just kinda nothing. Bear in mind, this was the catalyst for the entire movie. The reason why Gary dragged himself and his friends through an awful night of mortal peril and terribly freaky shit. People that Gary personally knew get brutally slain in front of him as the movie progresses, yet he still wants to finish the Golden Mile.
In my opinion, the movie needed a hell of a reason to justify the Golden Mile after all of that. And it just wasn’t enough. It may have been a little heartfelt, a little funny, and a little bit logical, but not nearly enough to pass muster. Of course, it also doesn’t help that Gary’s character arc ends in a way that doesn’t make any lick of sense.
Then we have the climax, which basically devolved into a shouting match. It was admittedly very funny, but just on the cusp of getting preachy. More importantly, it wasn’t nearly action-packed enough to be worthy of all the bloody mayhem that had come before. Hell, if you think of it as the culmination of all the action in the trilogy, the climax to this picture looks even more inadequate.
Strictly as a narrative, The World’s End buckles in a few places until it completely falls to pieces halfway through the third act. Yet even when this film is at its weakest, it’s still laugh-out-loud hilarious and serves up some very clever social commentary. Edgar Wright continues proving himself as a formidable writer/director/comedian, and his partnership with Simon Pegg is pure gold.
I have no problem recommending this movie. However, when Gary finally makes it to the World’s End, I humbly suggest that you leave the movie and make up your own ending. If you go that route, be sure to let me know what you come up with. I’d be sincerely interested in hearing it.