Film Review: The World’s End
With the geeky, charming and incredibly funny channel 4 sitcom Spaced, the partnership of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, along with Nick Frost, became one of the most consistently reliable in film. Their first full length feature, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, was quite simply one of the best British comedies, and horrors, of the 21st Century, while 2007’s Hot Fuzz was a loving pastiche to both folk horror like The Wicker Man and classic Giallo, as well as overblown American action (Point Break and Bad Boys are frequently referenced). In the following years, the pair branched off, with Wright making the insane, instant cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Pegg and Frost making more commercial fare with the enjoyable Paul. Now, in 2013, they’re back with The World’s End, the final part to their Cornetto Trilogy, a sci-fi with an all star British cast, Pegg as a gothic man child and plenty of throwbacks to classic gags. Can The World’s End live up to the incredibly high benchmark?
The plot is a simple but fun one. Gary King (Pegg) is an alcoholic loser with fond memories of his teenage years; now in AA, it’s clear from the start that his best years have deserted him and he is barely clinging to his youth. When 16, he and his friends attempted an epic pub crawl which culminated with a pint at The World’s End, but in-between too much drink and drugs, it was never finished. Now, nearing 40, Gary is calling back his old friends: Peter (Eddie Marsan), a gentle but kind soul who only hung around with the guys because he was rich; Ollie (Martin Freeman), a fast talking businessman; Steven (Paddy Considine), always Gary’s main rival; and Andy (Frost), a teetotaller who has bitterness towards Gary for an unnamed “accident”. Together, they set off on a trip to small old town Newton Haven to attempt the golden mile again, only to notice strange differences in the pubs and the residents.
Right from the start, it’s clear that The World’s End has a different tone to the previous two films; kicking off with an AA meeting and a montage to show how much King’s star has fallen, The World’s End is a dark and often quite downbeat film. There are references to depression, drink driving, suicide, overdosing; a whole list of fairly adult subjects that, amazingly, are actually handled sensitively and with sincerity. The only problem is, nobody really wanted them to; it’s nice to see a change of pace and something different and bold attempted, but compared to the non-stop laughs of the previous two films, this feels a little bit too grown up and concerned with issues, which means it ends up sacrificing a large percentage of laughs. Never is this more apparent than in the contrast between the first and second half.
The first half, which follows Gary’s difficult attempts to get the gang back together, and the first few pubs, has funny lines and character beats (Gary’s revelation that he has the same car and mixtape as twenty years before is a treat, and there’s a genuinely funny ‘poo’ joke), whereas the second half, when the plot really kicks in and the more serious moments take over, it’s actually not very funny. Never boring or slow, it has to be said, but you expect more laughs from such talent.
One trademark of the Cornetto trilogy is the huge British cast, but this ideology is a bit wasted, to be honest. Of the main characters, Pegg is absolutely brilliant as the man who could never grow up, while Frost, playing a sturdy, pleasant man, makes the role reversal a smooth transition. Eddie Marsan, usually so creepy and unpleasant, is really loveable, and of the supporting cast, gets the best moments. His story of childhood bullying is played nicely, and his later ‘revenge’ brings one of the bigger laughs in the second half.
Sadly, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman, two outstanding British actors, are given almost nothing to work with, their characters having none of the best lines or much personality. Rosamund Pike, also, as a teenage love interest, isn’t given many laughs, although there are a few touching moments. Meanwhile, the supporting cast, including Pierce Brosnan, Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith, are given nothing to work with, a great shame. The gag ratio just doesn’t seem to work, and compared to the brilliant turns from Peter Serafinowicz in Shaun… or Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz, it really doesn’t compare.
One thing Edgar Wright has always brought as a director, and has clearly fine-tuned during the making of Scott Pilgrim, is pure unashamed action. The first fight, in which blue ‘ink’ is spilled everywhere and numerous heads are pulled off, is one of the most exciting and brilliantly pulled off fight scenes you’ll see all year, while an even better one involves Gary trying to drink a pint and fight at the same time, a classic slice of physical comedy. Even when it isn’t making you laugh, The World’s End is always exciting and interesting, with twists, turns, violence and destruction all the way to, but not including, the end. The end itself? It reminded me of the overrated The Cabin in the Woods. When you build up to something huge and epic and out of this world, it simply cannot live up to the billing and The World’s End’s climax is just a bit silly, if not quite ‘nuking the fridge’, while the prologue isn’t as funny as it needs to be (although a sight gag about processed foods raises a smile).
Though I may sound very downbeat on The World’s End, I didn’t come close to disliking it; it had a few laughs, plenty of fast paced action and some of the finest acting from Pegg and Frost we’ve seen, while Wright further proves that he is constantly in control of the action on-screen. The World’s End isn’t a bad film, and that might just be the problem; the first two films in the trilogy were so brilliant, quotable and clever, that ‘not bad’ just isn’t quite good enough. It’s an enjoyable enough ending, but The World’s End lacks the big laughs of Shaun of the Dead and the set pieces of Hot Fuzz, making it most definitely the weakest part of the trilogy.
By Harry J. Ford
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