A film review by Craig J. Koban September 4, 2013


2013, R, 109 mins.


Simon Pegg as Gary King  /  Nick Frost as Andrew Knightley  /  Rosamund Pike as Sam  /  Paddy Considine as Steven  /  Eddie Marsan as Peter  /  Martin Freeman as Oliver  /  David Bradley as Basil  /  Bill Nighy as The Network (voice)

Directed by Edgar Wright  /  Written by Wright and Simon Pegg

Trust me, THE WORLD’S END just may look like another slapstick film about a pub crawl involving a series of middle-aged buddies trying to reclaim the glory days of their long lost youth, but about halfway through it throws a wicked curveball at audiences and takes abrupt tonal and story shifts that has its second half resembling science fiction films like THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.  It does all of this while miraculously managing to paint a fairly accurate and sometimes poignant look at the inherent obstacles that rear their ugly heads when men try to become kids again.  Trying to re-enact an epic 12-pub crawl from yesteryear in one night is really, really difficult when most of the people that populate the establishments are actually robotic duplicates from outer space. 

The unqualified WTF quotient for THE WORLD’S END is really, really high, but only a director of Edgar Wright’s unique skill set can make it all work.  He, of course, previously directed 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD (which was a subversive take on the whole zombie apocalypse genre) and 2007's HOT FUZZ (which riffed on the lame conventions of modern action thrillers), both of which also starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  THE WORLD’S END finishes the director’s self-anointed THREE FLAVORS CORNETTO Trilogy, named after a special ice cream treat that managed to make its way – in one form or another – in all three films.  THE WORLD’S END could not be any more different than the previous two entries in this trilogy, but it certainly shares those other films’ penchant for paying homage to the cinematic antecedents that influenced them.  Like HOT FUZZ and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, THE WORLD’S END mixes smashingly funny bromantic banter, zippy and kinetic action, and, of course, a throw-caution-to-the-wind sense of cheekiness and madness that refuses to adhere to any semblance of predictable formulas. 



That, and there’s also a heart to the story as well.  It’s about five fortysomething Brits whom all decide – for better or worse – to attempt to finish what they failed to do over twenty years ago: Return back to their old hometown of Newton Haven to go on a massive crawl of a dozen pubs – some with names like ‘The Famous Cock’ and ‘The Two Headed Dog’ – and have at least one pint while in each of them.  Back in the 90’s the men failed to reach their final stop on their mission, The World’s End, and now it's more important than ever for Gary (Simon Pegg) to finish his ol’ gang’s epic quest that they didn’t complete back in 1990.  Gary is one of those pathetic men still in a state of perpetual arrested development: He dresses much as the same as he did when he was a teen, acts in much of the same way, and, hell, still even drives the same car as he did all those years ago. 

He essentially has to coerce his former BFFs to join him on his lifelong yearning to finish the crawl.  He finagles real-estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), car salesman Peter (Eddie Marsan), construction boss Steven (Paddy Constantine) and a tough-as-nails and straight-as-an-arrow lawyer Andrew (Nick Frost) to return with him back to Newton Haven to complete the Golden Mile pub crawl.  The five men are eventually joined by Oliver’s sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), who was once an item with Gary, but has always been loved by Steven in secret.  Alas, romantic complications are hardly the toughest dilemmas of their night out.  Most of Gary’s friends would rather be anywhere but in his presence again, but the real problem of the evening comes when the crawl is interrupted by the startling revelation that most of the other townsfolk have been replaced by humanity-enslaving robotic doubles. 

I don’t want to say anything more about THE WORLD’S END, other than to say that you will either just surrender yourself to all of its zany ribaldry and escalating-by-the-minute sense of lunacy or…you won’t.  I was much more leaning to the former, mostly because I loved how the film radically altered course from being what was appearing to be a pretty routine reunion story of nostalgia-hungry men trying to recapture their bonds with one another…only to then morph into something right out of Rod Serling cross-morphed with John Carpenter.  What’s perhaps most inspiring is that Wright still manages to flesh out the characters amidst all of the film’s preposterous chaos.  Pegg’s King in particular is a figure that tiptoes between pathos and whimsicality.  He’s an alcoholic/drug addicted creep that has no life ambitions, but he does love his buddies and wants to return to the stellar days of his adolescence, even when his pragmatic friends don’t have an inkling or desire to do the same.  Despite the craziness of the humans versus robots plot, THE WORLD’S END still infuses its story with a touching amount of heart where the performer’s chemistry and camaraderie really stands out.    

That’s not to say that THE WORLD’S END is all sappiness.  Wright is a limitlessly confident and stylish director in terms of harnessing the film’s brash and hyper-charged action and its capricious comic energy.  The many sequences that showcase the completely befuddled men thrashing their way throw the robotic clones has a free-wheeling frivolity and inspired sense of choreographed mayhem, kind of akin to what Jackie Chan brought to similar sequences in his chop-socky flicks.  The robots themselves are kind of nifty creations, whose heads are attached kind of like Barbie Dolls that can be quickly taken lopped off or crushed into pools of blue goo.  The film finds novelty in showing Gary and his companions using whatever is at their disposal in the bars to be used as weapons against this alien menace.  

If the film were to a flaw then it would be that Wright and co-writer Pegg don’t seem to have a cohesive exit-strategy from the film in the third act; they simply don’t know how to end the film on a satisfying level.  The third act is allowed to meander along for far too long (which involves a prolonged, but pretty gut-bustingly funny, standoff between Gary and company versus the leader of the alien robotic army) that then culminates in an epilogue that – despite being pretty audacious – never real feels like it belongs in the final cut of the film.  Then there's Rosamund Pike’s Sam, whom never really emerges as a wholly necessary character in the largely male-centric storyline (she’s kind of painfully underwritten as the girl-that-got-away role…and nothing more).  

Still, I found it truly hard to wipe the wide smile off of my face after seeing THE WORLD END, even days later.  The film has a reckless sense of abandon with its wickedly divergent material and arguably packs more laughs per minute than many other mainstream Hollywood comedies of the year thus far.  THE WORLD’S END is certainly is not as revitalizing or compellingly novel as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but the performances by Pegg, Frost, et el are as razor sharp and hysterical as ever and the writing is crisp and full of lightning quick verbal zingers.  That, and the manner that the film manages to find a sobering heartbeat amidst its crazy sci-fi story twists is kind of a thankless achievement.  THE WORLD'S END may have a lot of robot bashing violence and eye-rolling insanity in it, but at its core it tells a story about a sad-sack of a man that wants to be reunited with his friends, return home, and rekindle the fire that has long since been extinguished in his life. 

Then again, it’s hard to reclaim one’s youth when attacked by evil mechanical doppelgangers from the cosmos.  Damn hard. 

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