As the weather heats up our minds turn to cold beer, patios and good friends, a perfect movie to reflect on this time of year is one of my favorite comedies, Edgar Wright’s The World’s End. It’s available at Black Dog Video and well worth re-examining or enjoying for the first time.
The World’s End is the third of Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”, following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz which he produced with chums Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The World’s End works as an homage to the other two films, blending the theme of emotional arrested development from Shaun of the Dead with that of the dangers of conformity lying under the surface of modern society in Hot Fuzz. It’s a surprisingly serious film and could very well be the best of the three.
Simon Pegg stars as Gary King, a 40 year old aging Gen X’r completely unwilling to adapt to a rapidly changing world. In order to deal, he fetishizes a legendary pub crawl from his 1991 high school grad night with his high-school friends. In a desperate bid to revive the past glory he recruits the old gang, all of them now successful and mature, to recreate the “Golden Mile”. The goal is 12 pubs in one night and King, along with old mates Oliver (Martin Freeman), Andy, (Nick Frost ), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsden) begrudgingly follow Gary on his desperate, hell-bent race down memory lane. Of course, this being an Edgar Wright flick, there is more than meets the eye on the Golden Mile as the town harbours a sinister secret that gradually reveals itself as the group grows more intoxicated, and their own secrets and buried conflicts bubble to the surface.
Where the movie stumbles is in the pacing and mood. The character comedy often feels at odds with the sci-fi mayhem it eventually develops into. At times the supernatural elements feel like a distraction from what is otherwise a superb coming of age comedy. The most enjoyable elements of the film are in the lead up to the science fiction payoff. Gary’s increasingly pathetic attempts to con the rest of the group are the heart of this movie. The action is fast-paced and well directed and boasts what has to be one of the funniest fight sequences in recent memory as King does battle while trying to finish a pint of lager at the same time.
Simon Pegg’s performance is a special effect unto itself. Unlike Pegg’s usual affable everyman character, his Gary King is much broader creation than anything he has done since the TV series Big Train and Spaced first introduced him to the world. Gary is a great tragicomic figure. He is charming, witty and enthusiastic with a desperate sorrow hidden behind his maudlin grin and rapid-fire quips. Gary King charges into every terrible decision with gusto like Don Quixote in a in a Sisters of Mercy tee-shirt and Doc Martins.
As the lone female lead Rosamund Pike brings a strong performance to Sam, Oliver’s sister and one of Gary’s high school conquests. She is a strong female lead and mercifully doesn’t fall into the usual Hollywood trap of simply playing a love interest to one of the male characters. She trades quips with the others, King in particular, and gives as good as she gets both in dialogue and action sequences. There is a notable is the lack of female characters. However, given that the film operates as a deconstruction of the adolescent male ego’s unwillingness to change, this can be overlooked.
The script is heavier than one might expect, touching on themes of depression, bullying, heartbreak, alcoholism and suicide. But this is not to say it’s not funny. It’s fucking hilarious, in fact, and it is a testament to Pegg and Wright’s abilities as screenwriters that they could weave so many complex themes into a sci-fi comedy and still have me doubled over with laughter through the entire movie.
Also, it’s refreshing to see a large budget summer release that is geared towards the thirty-something movie goer, not the 18 year old. My fellow class of 1993 graduates will get a kick out of Wright and co’s usual great soundtracks including bands like The Housemartins, The Stone Roses, Pulp and Happy Mondays, to name a few.
The World’s End is good, smart fun and it’s bittersweet to know it’s the last movie these three are likely to make together before branching off into their solo projects. Kind of like high school graduation. But given that the underlying theme of the movie is one of moving on into an uncertain world, it’s all the more appropriate.