'End' of an era
‘The World’s End’ puts a comedic sci-fi spin on middle-aged angst
By Carl Kozlowski 09/05/2013
Anyone who sees a movie made by British writer-director Edgar Wright is likely to come away not only amused but thoroughly surprised and perhaps a bit baffled by what they just watched.
First, Wright expertly mashed together broad comedy and scary thrills in the zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” and then turned the buddy-cop genre upside down with the hilariously violent “Hot Fuzz” before failing at the box-office with his American debut “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.”
Wright’s movies are the very definition of cult classics: Utterly oddball in nature and drawing passionate support from a smallish audience who find them entertaining, even if most mainstream moviegoers are confounded by his works. His latest film, “The World’s End,” continues Wright’s hot streak of earning 90 percent or more positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, while also unfortunately drawing rather low box office numbers.
Yet, those who complain that today’s movies are totally cookie-cutter and are yearning for a fresh idea they haven’t seen before, “The World’s End,” which is the perfect antidote.
Starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, who also top-lined “Shaun” and “Fuzz,” “The World’s End” follows a wild couple of days in the life of Gary King (Pegg), a hopelessly alcoholic loser who can’t get over the fact that he never finished an epic pub crawl while celebrating his high school graduation with his best friends. Those buddies have grown older and moved on with their lives, embracing marriage and careers, but Gary only has his fading irascible charm to get through life.
After opening the film with Gary recounting (via whiz-bang flashbacks) his high school derring-do and his buddies’ failed attempt to drink a pint of beer at each one of their small hometown’s dozen pubs, Wright reveals the adult Gary to be a wrinkled, washed-out mess in hospital-ordered rehab for drinking. But he immediately falls off the wagon, deciding suddenly that it’s time to round up the old gang and take one more shot at the pub crawl — now with steely determination to finish at the town’s most notorious pub, The World’s End.
But as the gang enters pub after pub, they start to notice that the mystical allure that these watering holes once held for them is gone. At first, they think the problem is that the bars have become homogenized by remodeling and gentrification, but then they discover a truly bizarre other reason for their hometown’s strangeness.
It’s impossible to describe the twist that sends “The World’s End” into its unique second half without requiring a SPOILER ALERT for the fact that a big surprise must be revealed. For Gary gets into a violent fight with a teenager in one of the pub bathrooms, and winds up discovering that the kid — and everyone else who lives in the town — is now a robot shell of his former self, and suddenly Gary and his gang find themselves in for a literal fight for their lives along the route of their crawl.
That audacious turn of events could have made the film fall apart, but instead Wright and his ace cast keep upping the ante with constant surprises, hilarious lines, impressively staged car chases and hand-to-hand combat scenes. And just as it seems the film might be losing its underlying wistful depiction of middle-aged angst under the weight of all the special effects, Wright, Pegg and Frost remember to redirect the proceedings to a surprisingly touching portrait of men having to come to terms with alcohol and loss.
Packed with thrilling stunts, wickedly funny dialogue and energetic performances from the lead characters, “The World’s End” provides a much-needed shot of creative adrenaline to the nation’s currently moribund multiplexes. With this weekend marking a final burn-off of lame movies that slipped through the cracks of summer release dates, treat yourself to this tasty cinematic concoction. You’ll be sorry to see it end.