The World's End
Co-writer/Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan
Simon Pegg gives a strong performance as Gary King, a slacker whose greatest memory is of the time he and his buddies tried to tackle The Golden Mile, a pub crawl of twelve establishments in their small town, back in the 1990s when they were in high school. They failed to reach The World's End - the last pub on the list - and Gary has been unable to move on with his life ever since. He gathers up his mates - Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan - and the group reluctantly returns to try to complete the Golden Mile one more time.
As the pint count rises, the crew soon discovers that the townsfolk have been transformed into complacent alien robot creatures that bleed blue, can fashion body parts to various sockets, and emanate light from their eyes and mouths in a way that reminded me a little of the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Naturally, there are a few fight sequences framed with Wright's keen visual style. These lumpy 40-year-olds can battle with the best of them, and in true Wright fashion, there's no explanation offered as to how they're capable of these exceptional feats of strength. The fights aren't as stylized as the ones in Scott Pilgrim, but seeing Nick Frost beat the crap out of a robot alien thing is a pretty great source of comedy. I laughed a few times here and there - Pegg's crass behavior and refusal to grow up provide some good chuckles - but it seems that with the larger group dynamic, there's less time for character building and meaningful laughs. The dialogue is always crisp, but it rarely made me laugh out loud.
The film tries to move at a quick clip; there are twelve pubs to hit before all is said and done, so the characters are constantly transitioning from one location to the next. But the momentum doesn't feel as organic as Wright's other work - the survival element of Shaun of the Dead and solving the mystery at the center of Hot Fuzz kept those project rolling, and even slicing through the seven exes in Scott Pilgrim gave a sense of urgency to it. Because Gary is caught in the past and wishes for nothing more than to recreate it, the movie feels mired down, stuck at his pace while the rest of his friends desperately want to move on. Perhaps this is intentional, but while it might be thematically relevant, it doesn't do the film any other favor.
The fact that this isn't as much of a straightforward genre piece as Wright and Pegg's other collaborations points to their evolution as storytellers. The genre elements seem like more of an afterthought this time around, with their main focus being to warn us about the perils of living in the past. But for all the film's harping against nostalgia, it seems strangely confused by its own message. Nearly the entire run time is devoted to proving how putting memories on a pedestal can endanger the lives of our characters, but in the movie's climactic scene, the filmmakers seem to inexplicably change their minds and legitimize Gary's worldview.
The World's End isn't afraid to visit some dark territory, and though my audience was laughing consistently throughout, overall the comedy doesn't work as well for me here as it does in Wright's other projects. Perhaps in rewatching it, things will become a bit clearer for me, but as someone who's loved everything on Wright's filmography up until now, it says a lot that I actually don't have much desire to see this one again any time soon. Until next time...