The World’s End won’t be a classic in the way that Shaun of the Dead was — not yet, at least.
That film was a hilarious and fresh surprise. A zombie film with something to say that slammed a full needle of adrenaline past the breast plate of an arrested genre.
Science fiction doesn’t need that kind of boost — not entirely, at least. Over the last few years, we’ve had to endure a lot of crap (with more on the way), but we’ve also been blessed with Attack the Block, Moon, Elysium, Looper, Children of Men, Sunshine, and a handful of others.
These are smart and bold films with something to say and The World’s End belongs on that list. It may even belong on the top of it, but in that it isn’t going to save a dying genre and in that we expected this brilliance, it won’t likely become the cultural icon that Shaun has become.
Even though it’s a better movie.
Yes, The World’s End is better than Shaun of the Dead in my subjective opinion even though it is merely “pretty funny” and not “hilarious”. It’s also not as economical or as tight as Shaun was.
Here, writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/star Simon Pegg take their time establishing these characters, almost to their detriment, but when the needle drops, the party starts.
A fun but mature “party” that is darker in tone.
This film spends it’s time dealing with themes that would have felt foreign if they had been tacked on to something that felt more like Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz — the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy’s very good, but not great middle entry.
We’re seeing Pegg and Wright explore the fallout of puer aeternus; Pegg’s Gary King is Peter Pan — he never wants to grow up, and it is killing him.
His four friends — Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) — are all well-adjusted adults with loved ones and well-paying jobs that have no use for the man who was once their boy-King and group leader.
Realizing this, King embarks on a quest to “get the band back together” for a one night jaunt across “The Golden Mile” — a legendary suburban pub crawl that they had previously attempted in their glory years, only to fall just shy.
Throughout the film, we see the subtle cracks on the veneer of Andy, Oliver, Steven, and Peter’s lives. They’re no match for Gary’s demons and lack of emotional maturity, but as they reveal these characters to be somewhat imperfect, we gain a greater understanding of why they agreed to this uncharacteristic adventure in their home town.
Of the friends, Andy stands out.
Here, the clownish man-boy chum that Frost usually plays is replaced by a cold and wounded man. Gary and Andy are brothers from another mother, a relationship that is severed due to an accident that is alluded to through the first two acts and then revealed as the characters huddle up, fearful that the end is nigh.
By now, I’m sure you know that things go awry in the midst of the pub crawl. Not quite robot aliens have invaded the town and seemingly possessed almost all of the residents.
The film’s biggest real flaw, is that we’re asked to believe that the pub crawl would continue following this revelation, but the filmmakers try hard to justify this behavior with Gary reasoning that if they act uncharacteristically, the townie-bots will know that they know and pounce en masse.
When that inevitably happens, it sets off a truly bonkers chase through the now unmasked town and a batch of well choreographed and highly enjoyable action scenes that allow Frost to go into full on berserker mode. The friends reunite toward the cause of survival, but for Gary, the completion of The Golden Mile is his key goal.
I won’t reveal why Gary is so determined to finish the crawl, but I will say that everything comes into focus at that point as they stand in the last pub, unsure if they will survive.
The last 15 minutes define epic. All is revealed and there is a sense of finality and balance.
Wright and Pegg are asking questions about whether we would choose a do-over when faced with a losing game. They’re taking on the bitches brew that is nostalgia and using these near-robots as a metaphor — something new and perfect to replace us as we age and rot.
These robots are the teenagers that we snarl at as we drive by, the kids who are carefree with a pasture of opportunity and fun ahead of them. That used to be our pasture, our opportunities, our fun.
“Join us”, says a sign in The World’s End pub, right there by the front door. The robots want us to assimilate. They want us to make us better. They want to make us respectable. We are children that must be taught how to live. We want to be young. We want to be free and they want us to grow up and be more like them.
That Wright and Pegg decided to mix in a bit of meat with their blood and ice cream is unsurprising. This film is a natural progression. You can tell that this is the team that made Shaun of the Dead, and you can tell that they have grown and grown-up.
There are subtle nods to the rest of the trilogy, but they aren’t integral as they were in Hot Fuzz.
Whereas Fuzz felt almost like a spoof, this joins Shaun, in that it actually is a great genre film.
This really is a stand-alone project and a singular, ambitious accomplishment masquerading as a part of a bigger pie because there are some general thematic similarities.
Where do Wright, Pegg, and Frost go from here? It’s impossible to say and delightful to ponder. Pegg has said that they will work together again, but we know that whatever they do, it won’t be a part of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. After seeing this film, though, that thrills me for all the right reasons — just like The World’s End did.