Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The World's End

The World’s End is in a slightly awkward position as a movie. It’s technically an original movie, but it’s connected by cast and crew to two previous movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz which together form the thematic trilogy currently called the Cornetto Trilogy. So while The World’s End is a really good, perhaps even great, film it’s also a flawed movie, that falls kind of short of its predecessors, which makes it look weaker by comparison.

The plot, like Shaun and Fuzz is a reworking of a genre formula into a British comedy. This time five high school friends who have grown estranged since they all grew up are brought back together by the manchild of the group, Gary King (Simon Pegg). His goal is to return to their hometown and complete a pub crawl known as the Golden Mile, hitting 12 pubs in their hometown for a pint each, which they’d failed to do earlier in their life. But when they return they discover things are just a little too clean and that the once unique pubs are now chains. It turns out that the town is being taken over by aliens who are replacing the townsfolk with highly durable robots. In order to fool the robots, they decide to continue the crawl, which if nothing else explains why, as the situation gets worse their decision making gets worse.

One of the ways this one differs from the other two in its trilogy is specific it is in what it’s riffing at least. While Shaun was a broad zombie parody and Fuzz was an even broader parody of American action movies (with hints at slasher films and mysteries), The World’s End is a very specific parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with bits of The Stepford Wives in there). The parody is therefore a little more specific, which means that the jokes are typically funnier than they might be otherwise but that there are fewer of them to be had.

The writing is a little more character focused than broad comedies like this usually are, but you should be expecting that. The upshot of this is that the acting has to be a little stronger than usual. Martin Freeman is the surprisingly strong member of the group, as he needs to sell a couple of pretty major shifts and he does it well.

But, as with the previous two, the big parts are from Pegg and Frost. The most interesting aspect is that Pegg is playing the live-wire goofball and Frost the straight man.  Frost’s character is interesting, as he (as well as the rest of the group) are already tired of King’s antics, which would usually set them up as wet blankets but here they go out of their way to show how irritating and tiresome he is. But the real strong acting comes from Pegg himself. He’s at the center of the movie, both in the actual movie and in the way his character insists on being the center of attention, but the eventual arc of his character is a lot darker than you might expect. It’s up to Pegg to sell all of it and he does an incredible job. It’s probably the best performance of his career and one of the biggest selling points of the movie is just to see where he takes the character.

Which is why it’s odd that it’s also instrumental to the films biggest issue, a significant issue with tone. The funny parts are so funny and the dark parts so dark that it has trouble holding a consistent tone. This can make certain scenes really jarring, especially towards the third act. It gets a lot more of its steam back from the creative third act, but its denoucemont goes on a bit too long.

But at the end of the day, neither of those things matter as much as you might think. The World’s End is still a funny and engaging movie, easily one of the best comedies of the year. The metaphors (which get surprisingly complex come the third act) are more specific to Britain than in previous movies, but the characters and story are still as universal as ever. Bottom line, The World’s End is a satisfying conclusion to this particular thematic trilogy and I can’t wait to see where this trio’s careers go from here. Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and Simon Pegg better not be teasing about playing Ant Man.

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