Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: The World's End (2013)

The World's End (2013)

The World's End, the third film in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright's "Cornetto Trilogy" of comedic genre films (so named after a brand of ice cream -- don't ask), is as much of a blast as the team's previous two films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, were. It combines buddy comedy with a sci-fi action story in a manner akin to one of my favorite films this year, This Is the End, to the point that one could call this the British version of that film from reading a plot description. However, this film is easily its own beast, mixing a well-written and very adult story with tons of laughs and a parade of epic bar fights that, together, ensured that there was never a dull moment to be had.

The plot involves a group of five childhood friends -- Gary King (Pegg), Andy (Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Steven (Paddy Considine) -- reuniting, at Gary's behest, to complete the "Golden Mile", a pub crawl through twelve pubs in their old hometown that they attempted in their youth but never finished. Problem is, while the rest of the gang has grown up, Gary has not, remaining a boorish man-child mentally stuck in his teenage years that the others have grown sick of, only joining him with great reluctance. A few pubs into their repeat of the Golden Mile, things take a turn for the weird when they start noticing that the people back home are no longer themselves, and that they have, in fact, been taken over by alien robots as part of a plot to conquer Earth. This isn't to say that their pre-existing issues are pushed to the back burner; in fact, as Gary chooses to press on with the Golden Mile in spite of the aliens, the other four start to notice that, in a different way, his behavior is also strange, indicating that he has some deeper issues than his jolly self is letting up on.

The manner in which all of this comes to a head won't be too surprising for anyone who's seen Shaun of the Dead, but if you haven't, you'll probably be shocked at some of the dark places and subject matter that this film tackles, especially given that it's a comedy. Without spoiling anything, the fact that Gary is an utterly messed-up person is never sugarcoated, and this film toes a very thin line between black comedy and just plain tastelessness. Fortunately, it never winds up on the wrong side of that line, with the darker, more moving moments not only making the comedy that much funnier and more involving, but with the jokes and good times in the first two acts helping to humanize the protagonists for when the drama bombs starts falling. Pegg easily turns in the best performance of his career here, with a character very different from the frustrated Shaun and uptight Nicholas Angel from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. For much of the film, Gary appears to be the comic relief, yet as his layers are peeled away, he winds up forming the core of the film in more ways than one. This is a far more grown-up film than Pegg, Frost, and Wright's last two (especially the lighthearted action spoof Hot Fuzz), taking on some very adult issues in addition to homaging sci-fi horror movies of old.

And now that the serious part is out of the way, let's get to the parts that this movie is being marketed on: the laughs, and the alien robots. The setup here -- a bunch of boorish drunks versus an alien invasion -- is not only golden, but it also solves the problem of the dumb mistakes that they make (because hey, they're wasted). Everybody here gets at least one good laugh, some by sheer virtue of casting, like Pierce Brosnan as a tight-assed high school principal or Bill Nighy in a role that I will not spoil. I won't spoil the jokes here, but the only problem I could reasonably find with them is the fact that, as an American, some of the British pop culture references did fly over my head; other than that, this film got progressively funnier as it went on. It's strange given that it also gets progressively darker as it goes on, with Gary showing himself to be a total wreck, but it avoids falling into the trap that so many comedies stumble into (looking at you, Identity Thief) of grasping for sentimentality in the third act. The climax, despite the path that it ultimately led for everybody involved, was one of the most fist-pumping, cheer-worthy scenes I've witnessed all summer, a bizarro "intervention" for Gary that is both riotously funny and the culmination of everything that the story had been building up to. Even the action scenes, composed chiefly of bar brawls with robot heads and limbs getting ripped off left and right, were spectacular, being both numerous and enthralling; my favorite had to be the one where Gary is trying to have his drink and is constantly being interrupted by robots trying to kill him.

The only real flaw here lies with Rosamund Pike's character, Gary's high school lover Sam. While she was as funny and cool as the rest of the gang, she didn't seem to serve much of a purpose beyond preventing the film from becoming a total sausage-fest. Compared to Liz from Shaun of the Dead, whose relationship with Shaun was the bedrock of that film, Sam felt extraneous, there only to create a thinly fleshed-out love triangle with Gary and Steven and to come back in the nick of time at the end to save the main characters. Instead of having her leave the film in the second act, having her stay with the main gang, and possibly develop her more as a character (along with the aforementioned relationship), would've made her stick out less.

Score: 4 out of 5

It was a close one for me whether to give this a 4 out of 5, but then I remembered (as I did in my review of Lovely Molly) that a film where I had to wonder about giving it a "perfect" score probably isn't perfect. And this film isn't perfect. But it's still a great, thrilling, hilarious, and very moving capoff to the "Cornetto Trilogy". By all means, see it.

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