Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The World's End

Grade: 77/B+

Edgar Wright takes his interest in nonconformity and perpetual adolescence to its darkest territory yet in The World’s End. Wright is easily the most gifted genre satirist working today- someone with an innate understanding of film history, language, and how they’ve become common tongue among cinephiles. But what makes his films so memorable even after the laughing ends is his deep empathy for the fuck-ups and goofballs on the screen, and his belief that they can turn their lives around, even if it takes the end of the world to do it.

Gary King (frequent Wright protagonist Simon Pegg) is a middle-aged alcoholic living in the past, and his antics stopped being funny twenty years ago. Gary manages to rope his old high school friends into undertaking The Golden Mile, a 12-pub stretch that demands a pint at each bar, all ending at the titular bar. Along for the ride: ineffectual Peter (Eddie Marsan); ultra-professional real estate man Oliver (Martin Freeman); Steven (Paddy Considine), who never forgave Gary for sleeping with Oliver’s sister, whom he loved; and old best friend Andy (Nick Frost), who harbors his own grudge against Gary. The five return to their old hometown, only to find that not everything is what it seems.

Without revealing the specific sci-fi films Wright is riffing on (though the trailers give plenty away), it’s needless to say that he handles the genre elements with aplomb. Wright proved himself an inspired director of action with Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and while he tones down the earlier films’ kineticism, the Jackie Chan-inspired fight scenes here are still a perfect blend of stunts, action, and comedy. Wright brings his sense of energy and flow to each frame, and the film features some of his best gags yet (every mention of the Three Musketeers is priceless).

Wright gives the supporting players (Marsan, Considine, Freeman) great stuff to work with, but the film, like the previous installments in his Cornetto Trilogy (the masterpiece Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is about the relationship between Pegg and Frost, both playing against type here. Pegg is an actor of immense charm and likability, but it’s in service of a self-centered character whose nonconformity hides the deep-rooted sadness of a man with nothing left. Frost is equally excellent as Andy, who plays like what would happen if Danny from Hot Fuzz grew up and had his heart broken by his best friend.

The World’s End is fascinating in that it has a more ambivalent view on individualism than Wright’s previous films- it’s all about how our innate humanity is in our “right to be fuck-ups”, and how that might clash with the order that keeps our lives together. The World’s End doesn’t quite match the heights of Wright’s previous films: the pacing is sometimes slack, and the purposefully messy ending, while admirable and fascinating, isn’t entirely satisfying. But it’s all in the service of what might be his most poignant film.

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