If you’re a 20-something whose had a strong connection to fanboy culture over the years, than I feel that there’s a fairly good chance that the 2004 romantic comedy (with zombies) Shaun of the Dead was a lot more than just a movie for you. It certainly was for me, as it came out during the year that I was really beginning to understand that my interest in film and television could be used to define my character. It was the year I saw Kill Bill for the first time, and also had begun to get into the zombie films of George A. Romero. Then, along comes this British import that combines my love of genre entertainment with realistic characters, and a sense of humor both dry and quick-witted, and presto! I found the final link to making me decide where my passions and myself lied. Director Edgar Wright and his stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg hadn’t given me a movie, they had given my a rite of passage, and ever since then I’ve just been a progressively evolving film geek.
It didn’t stop there either though. Two-and-a-half years later the trio came out with a follow-up film called Hot Fuzz that actually managed to exceed my expectations. The film was perhaps even more mad-cap than Shaun of the Dead, but also still managed to have the heart and humor to make it really great, all while doused in buckets of gore. It also certainly didn’t hurt that the film came to America the same month as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse did, and needless to say both films got me high-off movies again. I would then go on to watch their earlier British sit-com Spaced (my review), and grew increasingly eager for their next project, as Wright, Frost and Pegg had said that they envisioned Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz as entries in a trilogy, which has since been referred to as The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy or The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy. Thing was, it was a bit of a long wait, as the critical success and recognition that they received led them to plenty of lucrative offers from Hollywood that filled up their schedules for the next few years. Now, six years after Hot Fuzz and nine since Shaun of the Dead, the trio have finally reunited for the concluding chapter of their trilogy, fittingly titled The World’s End. As expected, my anticipation for this film was sky-high…which more often than not leads to disappointment. Fortunately though, The World’s End mostlyy satisfied me, as it’s fast, visceral, clever, thoughtful, but also slightly underwhelming.
Simon Pegg stars in the film as Gary King, a former drug-addict pushing 40, who opens up the film by reminiscing about his high school days while at an AA meeting. He recalls a time when he just finished high school, and he and a group of friends attempted to go on a fabled pub crawl through their hometown. Referred to as “The Golden Mile”, Gary and his friends tried to get drinks from all of their town’s twelve pubs, but they never completed the task. Now, wanting to revisit his glory years, Gary reunites his friends who now all have successful careers and families, unlike him. Upon returning to their place of origin, however, it become predominantly clear that something is amiss, and it just so happens to be…
To be honest, the more left unsaid about The World’s End’s plot is for the better, as it’s clear that Wright has intended for this movie to be a big surprise, as he kept very mum about the film’s storyline until months before it’s release. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he fought the studio to not release a trailer that gave away that the film had supernatural elements in it. Over the years I’ve had several conversations with friends where I’d find myself discussing what Wright, Pegg, and Frost would conjure up for the final installment of their trilogy. We all pretty much agreed that it was logical that they would do a science-fiction movie, as it’s such a rich genre for the these pop-culture addicts to pass up, and it was evident that the success of their last two ventures would give them a bigger budget to work with this time around. I don’t think anyone expected, however, that they would do a movie that wears these particular influences so firmly adjusted on their sleeve. The World’s End borrows elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as channels the cheeky sci-fi tone of Douglas Adams’ beloved novel, Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. It’s certainly an out-there idea for a film, but it also is prime territory for these nerdy Brits
In the hands of a lesser director the movie would almost instantly go to being a silly mess, but fortunately Wright once again shows that he’s as firm and dedicated a filmmaker as any other living today. As with all of his previous films, The World’s End shows Wright can capture daily life as well as he can high-end spectacle and goopy viscera. Just like the other two films in the trilogy, it’s very commendable that this film doesn’t have any fantasy material for the first half-hour, as it establishes that the world here-in is not drastically unlike our own. At times the directing and editing can get a bit showy and monotonous (I know it’s jokey, but did we really need rapid close up shots of the character buckling up their seat belts?), but for the most part the viscera is constantly enticing, and it makes me anxious to see how Edgar Wright’s long-gestating Antman movie will look. I for one think it will probably look pretty awesome.
Thing is The World’s End succumbs to a lot of the same issues that other trilogy closers face: it’s just not as fresh as it was the first two times around. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz felt like passion projects as it was self-evident that these guys didn’t just watch lots of movies, but they understood how they worked too. The World’s End, however, seems to be missing the singularity factor of the previous two films, and while it certainly doesn’t come off as an after-thought, it often seems like it’s sole reason to exist is to merely cap off two greater films. It’s also doesn’t have as many laugh-out-loud moments either, and the film also has a pacing issue that’s similar to the one that was in Wright’s last film. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World also had a story built around the format of a “hero’s journey” so to speak, where our protagonist had to get from point A to point B to point onward. Once you realize that Gary and his troupe won’t reach their final destination until they hit the 12th pub, then the film can certainly be viewed as being a bit linear. In fact, the film also made me realize that Hot Fuzz is probably the strongest film of the trilogy, as that film also took a really bizarre movie premise stemmed from pop-culture indulging, but did it in a way that felt more natural, while also being funny and surprising at a more consistent rate.
That said, it’s certainly interesting that the archetype roles that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost usually play have been reversed for The World’s End, with Pegg now portraying the loose cannon while Frost is the “straight” one of the group. In fact I’m gonna say Pegg is the film’s ultimate scene stealer, and really does a great job of humanizing the film’s reckless main character. At first it’s easy to see Gary as being a hedonistic prick with a repellent nature, but as the film becomes more fantastic there are plenty of scenes that give the character honor points. With his gothy style and devoted attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if the character became a bit of a poster boy for nerd culture. Hell, I already have half of this guy’s clothing attire, so don’t be so surprised if I decide to be Gary King come this Halloween.
Before I close this review I will say this: what an ending! I certainly won’t be giving anything away, but I will say that Wright ends this movie in a really surprising fashion, which is even more unexpected giving the logical trajectory the film goes through most of it’s running time. I honestly feel that there was a movie on-par with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in World’s End, if only they had elaborated more on the final scenario. Still, while it’s far from perfect, The World’s End is a fine trilogy closer and a very different film to close out the summer movie season with. Neck-to-neck with This is the End for the title of 2013’s best zany post-apocalyptic comedy.