The World's End Review
In 2004, Shaun of the Dead came out and it was a pretty groundbreaking comedy. Funny is one thing, but Shaun of the Dead was endlessly quotable, blended genres and actually had a surprising amount of depth with its foreshadowing and subtle moments. Shaun of the Dead was followed up with Hot Fuzz. Followup films are often tough. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg could have made a film that fell on its face and landed the pair the eternal reputation as "those guys who made Shaun of the Dead." Instead, Hot Fuzz proved to be as much of a genre-bending, boundary-pushing spectacle as its big brother (In fact, among the unofficial trilogy of films, Hot Fuzz is the one I like the most). So with the pedigrees of those two films - combined with the big films Wright and Pegg have made in the meantime without each other - it was fair to have high hopes for The World's End.
The story of The World's End goes back to the early 90's when a group of friends from high school - lead by Gary King (Pegg) - attempted to visit every pub in one area in a single night. They never accomplished said mission. 20 years later, the men have all grown up and gotten legit jobs - except King who still drives the same car and wears the same clothes from his glory days. King decides to reunite the old gang and attempt the same crawl. The night goes off as expected with the biggest problems at first being King annoying his friends and the bars going corporate. However, at one bar, King has a fight with someone. Who turns out to be a robot. And he is not the only one as King and gang find the entire area is swarmed with robots disguised as people. Matters are not helped by the fact that this problem may be deeper than the gang realizes.
In terms of good aspects, it practically goes without saying that this movie is funny - really funny. Being a Wright/Pegg collaboration, jokes come from all angles - funny dialogue, sight gags, character humor. There are a plethora of genuine laugh-out-loud moments in this movie. As with the previous efforts, the humor is also backed by a genuinely clever story. And the story is not just clever: It is well-told. The first chunk of this movie play out like a typical buddy comedy about a group of guys trying to relive their golden years - or more specifically, one guy trying to relive his golden years, and the rest being dragged along for the ride.
However, the transition into the apocalyptic portion of the film actually works. Before the serious stuff happens, the audience has time to connect with the characters and learn about their personalities. By starting off on the tone this film does, we truly understand that these characters are in over their heads. This is not Iron Man or Batman who have weapons, equipment and training that they can fight their out with. These are a group of guys who just wanted to go out drinking and ended up with way more than they bargained for. The movie does not lose its comedic touch either. So many comedies have really funny first acts and lose steam during their second acts. The World's End actually becomes funnier during its second act as the characters struggle to make heads or tails of what is going on. There are also enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing.
Pegg's performance also deserves credit. While he has been somewhat typecast as a slacker nerd, in his own films, Pegg has been stretching himself in other types of roles. His breakout role on Spaced and his role in Shaun of the Dead established said Pegg archetype. However, he played a by-the-book policeman in Hot Fuzz. Here, Pegg goes very much against type as an over-the-hill party animal who refuses to move forward in his life. He has a few moments that are bit annoying, but the funny moments win out. Pegg certainly deserves credit for being able to dial it up all the way and keep it on that tone for the whole movie.
Being an Edgar Wright film, there are a lot of subtle hints and in-jokes. Some are a little more obvious such as the less-than-subtle jab at corporations taking over local bars. Some of them required reading on IMDB and had me slapping my head at how subtle they were. I could go into greater detail, but those would be spoilers, wouldn't they?
In lieu of of its high points, The World's End does have a few chinks in the armor. As well defined as Pegg's character King is, the rest of the supporting cast is not as strong. There's a reason their names have not shown up much: I straight-up could not remember their names. The only one I remember well is Nick Frost - and that is because he is played by Nick Frost. And that is a shame because Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead managed to make even its bit parts memorable. To be fair, these characters are not annoying, and they are generally likable, after a strong precedent, it is fair to expect more.
Although I laughed a lot and laughed loudly during The World's End, sadly this movie did not have me laughing nearly as much as Shaun or Fuzz. Also, there were stretches of film that simply did not have my laughing. One example is a running joke about a member of the gang having an affair with a 26-year old.
Honestly, the biggest shortcoming of this film is its third act (seems to be a running theme this year, isn't it?). To be fair, the third act of this movie is creative and pretty exciting, but it goes on and on. Why does the third act feel so interminable? The World's End suffers from a bit of genre whiplash as the last act becomes too serious for its own good. I can honestly say I did not laugh at all during the last few minutes of this film as few jokes are even attempted. Overall, the ending feels like it belongs in a completely different movie.
Many moons ago, I wrote an article about good movies that lose steam at the ending. The World's End made me think about why that sort of thing happens. As a screenwriter myself, I think writers essentially "write themselves into corners." They come up with these brilliant ideas that pretty much have no other resolution than one that is disappointing. In this case, I can not help but think the radical genre shift may have been part of the joke, but if that is the case, I am not laughing. Besides, Shaun and Fuzz had satisfying endings.
I do not want to sound like I dislike this movie. Despite it flaws, The World's End delivered what I wanted: I laughed, I thought, I actually felt some suspense and I had a good time at the movies. The World's End is definitely flawed. Without a doubt, I consider this the weak link of the "trilogy" (also, in terms of Pegg-Frost collaborations, I rank Paul very high, but that was not a Pegg-Wright collaboration). Anyone who likes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (or Paul... Sorry, I really like Paul) will enjoy the World's End.
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