The World’s End review: the very bitter (and lager) end

The World's End green light Nick Frost Simon Pegg

Its humor is a little more uncomfortable than that of the other Cornetto flicks, and it’s more far satirical, in a far more cynical way, than I ever would have anticipated.
I’m “biast” (pro): in every way possible

I’m “biast” (con): in no way at all

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I can’t tell you — literally; I’ve lost count — how many times I’ve seen Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And this in a personal era for me when I lament that I am no longer able to memorize movies like I did when I was a teenager; there are simply too many movies, and too little time to watch them over and over again. And yet I keep coming back to these two flicks. For so many reasons. Because they harken back to the movies of the era when I fell in love with movies and was able to memorize them. Because they’re about the experience of living with pop culture as your guiding light and your religion, both within the context of their stories and in the larger meta sense. Because they’re about bringing some of the joy and the fun of the stuff of your childhood over into adulthood. Because the fact that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are just about the same age as me — and an approximately same level of geekiness, I imagine — means we just click, as storytellers and audience.

And now, the trilogy that didn’t start out to be a trilogy and ends up all the more powerful because it happened organically is over. With The World’s End. It’s seems odd and sad that there will be no more. (Well, I suspect there will be more from Wright and Pegg, but it’ll be very different.) And it is an epic end. I mean that literally, too. End is epic both within the context of its tale and in the larger meta sense. It’s darker in tone than you might be expecting from the previous films, even given all the too-close-to-home z-words Shaun didn’t want to have to kill and the shockingly high death rate in the charming village of Sandford. Its humor is a little more more uncomfortable from moment to moment, and as you ponder more where those moments take it. It’s more far satirical, in a far more bitter, cynical way, than I ever would have anticipated. It is cheerfully brash and arrogant… and then it smacks itself for being so, and smacks us for cheering that on.

The World’s End is a film whose geeky complexity I am still unpeeling to get at the heart of.

It takes longer than you might expect for End to get to the genre Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Pegg are simultaneously tweaking and celebrating this time out. (Once again, they cowrote the script together, and Wright directs.) A gang of old friends is coerced by the lone-wolf, never-grew-up, still-wearing-the-same-black-trenchcoat Gary (Pegg: Star Trek Into Darkness, Ice Age: Continental Drift) into finishing the heroic 12-pub pub crawl they started as teens but never finished. Because even teenage boys have trouble drinking a dozen pints of beer in one night. The other guys — Steven (Paddy Considine: Now Is Good, The Bourne Ultimatum), Oliver (Martin Freeman: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!), Peter (Eddie Marsan: Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman), and Andrew (Nick Frost: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Attack the Block), all fine upstanding grownup citizens with mortgages and relationships — are reluctant, but here they are anyway, returned to Newton Haven, somewhere to the north of London, which they all appear to have happily left behind 20 years earlier with no plans to return.

Now, my memory on the timeline is a bit hazy: it’s possible that the scream of “I fuckin’ hate this town!” does not come until after the discovery that the villagers appear to have been taken over by alien pod-people, or replaced by Stepford robots, or something similarly nefarious, when the movie blossoms in all its Wright-Pegg glory as a rip on Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Children of the Damned or an episode of Doctor Who (plus beer and minus the Doctor). The people of Newton Haven have a certain blank sameness about them, which the guys barely even notice at first: it’s part of that everything’s-the-same-but-different feeling that’s inevitable when you return to a place you once knew well but have grown out of. Even Gary, who hasn’t moved on, is bemused by it. But hell, it’s not like a blank sameness hasn’t descended over much of Britain: the funky independent pubs they once loved have been transformed into franchises of artificial quaint pubby Englishness. (The takeover of Main Street — or “the high street” in the U.K. — by chain stores and chain restaurants is about 20 years behind the U.S., but it seems pretty much complete now, and every British high street today is the same parade of the same logos you find on every other high street.)

There is a cautionary tale here in a way that the other Cornetto movies didn’t attempt to offer, via Gary’s refusal to grow up. (One of the meta-amusing bits here is the literal role reversal Pegg and Frost engage in; here Pegg plays the fuckup and Frost arguably the most responsible of all the guys.) “Don’t linger in adolescence” is a message not typically seen in popular cinema, which far more often embraces extended adolescence, especially for male characters, and which is in turn embraced by audiences. (See: the success of Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups 2.) “No, seriously, you maybe really don’t want to linger in adolescence, complete with stubborn idiocy” is powerfully suggested here… though the suggestion is a double-edged sword in which either choice — grow up or be a fuckup — ultimately is problematic.

If Shaun was, perhaps, a strawberry Cornetto and Fuzz was a dark chocolate, End is some sort of crazy acerbic blend of salted caramel and lemon, maybe.

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