Rating: 3½ stars (out of 4)
The World’s End (2013): Dir. Edgar Wright. Written by: Wright and Simon Pegg. Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman. Rated R for pervasive language, including sexual references. Running time: 109 minutes.
Now this is the high-concept sci-fi film I was waiting for all year! What a treat to see a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and yet, still manages a deeper emotional connection than that other big sci-fi film Elysium ever did. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have completed a comic partnership with this third film in the “Cornetto Trilogy,” but let’s hope they continue their passion for ice cream.
Here is a film that doesn’t need to dumb down its material—as with the best British comedies, it doesn’t wait for audiences to catch up as it produces witty lines and manic slapstick. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who usually play the straight man and wise-cracking slacker respectively, switch roles this time…sort of. Here Pegg is the alcohol-addled Gary King, a former party boy looking to relive his glory days on the “Golden Mile: Twelve pints in twelve bars!” Meanwhile, Frost plays the straitlaced, straight-edged lawyer who appears to have it all together. That the two commit to their characters, and refuse to lapse into their more well-known personas, is a credit to the surprising range of both actors.
I won’t ruin the premise of the film for you, more than it’s about five former high school friends looking to complete a pub crawl in their hometown. Hopefully you’re one off the blessed few who has yet to see a TV spot or trailer for this film, but even if you haven’t, you’ll be surprised how the seemingly outlandish conflict thrusts our heroes into problems very much like the ones they already have. Heads will, and do, roll.
Wright, whose previous film was the high-energy, live action video game allegory Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, swirls youthful exuberance with a classic comic style that owes a debt to Monty Python and Blackadder. He loves repartee as much as he loves epic fight sequences (an excess this film shares with Hot Fuzz). Unlike most comedies, however, his films build tension and suspense even as they amble along jovially. That tension often leads to events both cataclysmic and anticlimactically hilarious.
The World’s End is steeped in nostalgia, so prevalent that it casts an eerie pall over the drunken merry-making. The film perhaps bears more in common to Shaun of the Dead than Hot Fuzz in that the comedy and ridiculous situations actually work as fitting metaphor for the characters’ struggle with maturation. Wright’s characters grow, yes, but they never completely leave the man-child behind.
The film begins a bit slow, but it gradually picks up as we introduce the characters and gauge the extent of Gary’s hedonism. We get the sense the quintet came together more from happenstance than from kindred personalities. As such, we sense closeness as the characters reminisce, but also the awkwardness as old grudges resurface and tempers flare.
Of course, it helps that Wright has assembled such a talented cast, many of whose faces will seem familiar to American filmgoers, if not their names. Martin Freeman is the most recognizable star here, but Eddie Marsan impresses as a coddled car salesman who never grew up, and Paddy Considine brings a slow-burning intensity to his grudge against Gary. It’s one of the few comedy ensembles where I would have been perfectly happy to see any of the main cast in a starring role, even if The World’s End doesn’t utilize all of them fully—unfortunately, our one female actress Rosamund Pike gets shafted. Her inclusion in the proceedings would have elevated the film to true subversive territory. But hey, you can’t have it all.
Watching Gary King conquer the pubs recalls the same headlong insanity that spurred Johnny Gray’s quest for his beloved train in the silent film classic The General. It’s a quest both deeply funny and profoundly sad, as Gary trades his soul for something so seemingly arbitrary. It’s pathos with an ultimately sweet (but not too sweet) aftertaste.
–The CineMaverick, 8/27