The World's End (2013) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language, sexual references and violence
Running time: 109 min.
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, David Bradley, Michael Smiley, Pierce Brosnan
Cameo: Rafe Spall, Bil
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Review published August 23, 2013
Simon Pegg (Star Trek Into Darkness, Mission Impossible 4) stars as Gary King, the hot punker whose peak of popularity came from his high school days, after which his life just could never get on the proper track. The same fate didn't happen to his best friends, who managed to mature and marry, getting lucrative jobs and living life as we're all told it should be. Over two decades later, Gary is determined to get the boys back together to finish the one epic night they never got to finish when they were all teens: to down a pint at each of the 12 pubs their town of Newton Haven, a publicized pub crawl dubbed the "Golden Mile". The boys-turned-men want none of it, but Gary still has his magic charm to cajole them with, and soon the gang of five head back to familiar stomping grounds to relive an epic moment. Now, if personal disagreements with Gary don't do their plans in, the robotic townspeople certainly will.
Director and co-writer Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim) dubs The World's End as the third film of his trilogy (dubbed the 'Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy') starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Snow White and the Huntsman, Pirate Radio), who struck cult movie gold with their previous efforts, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. As with those other films, it's a buddy comedy mash-up with a genre spoof, here taking on Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other human-replacement world invasion flicks, as presented within the course of a pub crawl comedy.
It's as witty as you'd expect from this ensemble of actors and Edgar Wright, with plenty of quotable laughs, choice meta moments of parody, and well-orchestrated action pieces. Just as important is the quality of the cast, who work well together, each with his own moments of glory, with distinctive and likeable personalities that make them a fun troupe to watch, whether they're bickering over brews or out to try to save the planet. In this way, it's a bit like the stoner comedy released the same year, This is the End, in which a group of male friends bond when confronted by the possibility of the end of the world.
The World's End isn't just a silly romp with explosive special effects. Like many of the 'body-snatcher' films it emulates, this one has themes of free will vs. conformity, which seems to be somewhat unique in this telling. The men won't succumb to being happy in this community where they can be eternally young and care free because they value their freedom -- freedom to be belligerent fools if they so choose.
It is also about the resistance to conforming to society, where we were once free as teenagers to paint out lives any way we might like, only to ultimately "become responsible" and do whatever society tells us is the proper thing. For Gary, the pub crawl is the metaphor for finally embracing that part of him that refused to grow up, trying to put all of the pieces back together to regaining that revered part of his life when he was 'King' of the world, before his once-rebellious friends were 'taken away' by their own career and familial obligations.
As with the other entries in this ramshackle trilogy, the comedic steam does begin to dissipate as the film builds toward a climax and violent conclusion of overkill proportions, capped of with a mildly perplexing ending won't quite tie up the thematic loose ends in the most satisfactory of ways for some viewers. Yet, by this point in the film, the entertainment quotient has been more than met for this ambitiously wry but never dry genre excursion. Though a tad darkly lit for a modern film, Wright's tightly-edited direction keeps the action flowing and the comic timing just right.
Fans of Pegg and the boys, Edgar Wright, and 1990's nostalgia (especially in pop tunes like The Soup Dragons', "I'm Free", which seems to be the anthem the film strives to capture), will love this more than most, but its reach should also please lovers of British comedy, eerie sci-fi, and those who just love a good, old tale extoling the virtues of occasionally drinking to excess with your best buddies in tow. While pub crawls have been around for quite a while, and body-snatcher premises even longer, through the 'Spaced'-out filter of Wright and Pegg, The World's End feels like a freshly poured pint to savor to the bitters' end.
©2013 Vince Leo