***2nd Viewing Update…***
The World’s End plays even better the second time, most of my nitpicks were erased and Gary becomes an even stronger (sadder) character. The action is pretty great, the script is even sharper than I thought and the film actually doesn’t lose the characters when the genre kicks in, it is just as strong but not as prominent. Upgraded into the A- range, still wish the finale wasn’t so chatty (yes I said chatty!). Now, Back to my original review which is kind of wrong.
Edgar Wright’s previous entries in the Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, are not only great comedies, but are also great entries in the genre they are lovingly sending up. The World’s End doesn’t really reach that bar. It is often a very funny film and actually has more heart than possibly any of Wright’s other works, but the genre elements of the film never really gelled for me. Sure, Wright gets some cool fights and set pieces out of the premise, but to be honest I am not entirely sure what genre they were directly addressing here. I know it is all about the apocalypse ultimately, but the circumstances that lead us to the The World’s End seem less defined and focused as his previous works. Shaun of the Dead is clearly a zombie film, Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop film, but The World’s End has a lot of influences (aliens, body snatching, technology takeover) and I never could settle into what kind of film I was supposed to be watching. I mean, the world ending is a non-factor till the final moments of the film.
Actually, the old friends reunited back for one last night on the town story that takes up the first half or so of the film is great. There is no action, no genre elements, just a simple character study that looks at what it might be like if five friends are brought back together after being estranged years before. Simon Pegg and Wright’s script really strike a chord in these sequences and Wright’s direction has all the flair that makes his films Edgar Wright films. They dig into some great observations about life, growing up and what your past means if know one remembers it and all of this is tossed aside for set pieces and an allegory about technology and the stubborn nature of humans. There is plenty of material to be mined there, but the big reveal and proceeding conversation about it brings the film’s conclusion to a halt before relying on a big explosion at the end. Pegg is on the record that he thinks the journey of his character, Gary, is the compelling through line of the film, and he might be right, but all of the genre elements introduced in the film’s back half blinded me from looking too hard at Gary’s struggle with addiction on a first viewing.
Speaking of Pegg, he is fantastic in the picture and he might have turned in his best performance yet here. The fool of this picture, while also its hero, Pegg gets to show a wide range of emotions as Gary and he steps up to the challenge. Whether he is busting his buddies balls, beating the shit out of robots or desperately flirting with Rosamund Pike, Pegg nails it. We’ve always known he can lead a film since Shaun of the Dead, but I don’t think we knew he could be this dynamic of an actor. Nick Frost also gets to mix it up playing the straight man here, Andy, and he has a tragic sadness to him that is just as welcome as the hulking out version of Andy after a couple of pints. Martin Freeman is fun as always as one of Andy and Gary’s old mates, Oliver, but he might be too good at playing a robot as he gives up his game a little sooner than they would have liked. (Also, Edgar, how do you not kill robot Oliver like Ash from Alien as a crazy homage to the Ian Holm/Bilbo connection? A huge missed opportunity.) Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan are the other two members of the pub crawl and they both do fine work as well, but neither has that big a part to play; it’s mostly the Andy and Gary show, which is fine. The aforementioned Rosamund Pike is great as well when she pops up in and out of the picture, but I think they might have missed a good opportunity to finally have a strong female lead in the Cornetto Trilogy.
I’ve sort of been dogging The World’s End in this review, but I still am a very big fan of the picture. I can’t wait to see it again this weekend as I hope my appreciation will only grow on multiple viewings as it has for all of Wright’s films for me. Pegg is great, the first half of the film is probably the best non-genre based work Wright has done and the action beats, while feeling somewhat arbitrary, are still inventive and provide cool moments among laughs. The World’s End might not be the best apocalypse comedy of the summer, but it’s not that far off either.
The World’s End is a A-