The World’s End (2013)

93

So it continues, my journey into the brilliant and audacious Cornetto Trilogy, the genius film series put together by Edgar Wright and his frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The World’s End was the final film in the loose trilogy, and it continues the legacy left by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz by being a well-made, hilarious homage to other genres and filmmakers that inspired the creators behind these films. The World’s End is perhaps the weakest of the trilogy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a terrific film.

The World’s End is about Gary King (played by Simon Pegg), a middle-aged slacker who has never truly grown up. His friends Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) and Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) have all moved on to have better lives and essentially become fully-functional adults, while Gary is just a pathetic man-child who longs to retain his youth and be the vulgar, dirty-minded youngster he was before. In order to achieve this, he invites his friends back to their hometown, where they will attempt the treacherous pub-crawl they tried years before when they were teenagers – and while they all reluctantly agree, it becomes clear this little reunion is just a way for Gary to hide his personal demons behind the idea of re-enacting the alleged best night of his life. However, as this is an Edgar Wright film, and there is obviously something sinister lurking underneath it, and it becomes clear that the gang may have to save the world in the process of trying to get blind-drunk.

Here’s what I find so odd about The World’s End is that despite being the weakest of the Cornetto Trilogy (yet still an amazing film), it features Simon Pegg’s best performance out of all three. While Pegg is remarkable in all of them, it is in The World’s End that he finally manages to give a performance that rose above anything else he had ever done before. Gary is just a loser in every sense of the word, and he is someone who has failed to grow up, desperately watching all those around him move on with their lives while he is perpetually trapped in an existence that no one wants to endure – a life that appears to be laid-back and fun, but is actually filled with existential ennui and dread about the fact that one hasn’t made anything of their life, and has remained stagnant while those who were gladly a part of that lifestyle years ago look back in embarrassment. Pegg imbues the character with a brutally brilliant combination of outright hilarity and adorably stupidity, as well as deeply melancholic tragedy. Gary King is far more than the stereotypical man-child who has failed to enter into society, and Pegg is absolutely amazing in the role. He gives perhaps his finest performance ever, even though Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were not performances to scoff at either.

Edgar Wright has always had the ability to assemble impressive ensembles in his films, and The World’s End is absolutely no exception. Nick Frost once again collaborates with Wright and Pegg, playing Andy Knightley, the mature and resentful friend of Gary who feels like he has been wronged in the past and refuses to get caught up in Gary’s scheme. Frost really impressed me in Hot Fuzz, but his performance here was also great. He was far less silly and idiotic than in the previous films, and playing the straight-man to Pegg’s broadly comic character (a complete inversion of the Pegg/Frost dynamic in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) and it was actually quite surprising to see such a different dynamic in this film. The central relationship between the two men – about testing their friendship and loyalty – is explored as it is in the other two films. Frost is tremendous in this film, and while he may not have the emotional arc he had previously, he does well with a more mature role.

The rest of the cast is also really good. Martin Freeman, who previously had small roles in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is finally given a larger role, playing the intellectual and cold-hearted Oliver, who is revealed to be the antagonist of the film, with his smarmy, self-loving attitude hiding a darker secret. Freeman has grown as an actor over the past few years, and he constantly surprises me with his choices. In The World’s End, Freeman is far more menacing that I have ever seen him before, and he is fantastic. Eddie Marsan is as likable and endearing as always as the more reserved, quiet member of the group whose character has a truly satisfying payoff. Rosamund Pike is as lovely as always, even if her performance as Sam, Freeman’s character’s sister, is a bit limited. Surprisingly, the emotional core of this film is Paddy Considine, who had a role in Hot Fuzz, where he was gloriously nasty, but essentially just a plot device. Here, he gets the most emotionally resonant character other than Pegg’s, and I really wasn’t expecting to be as moved by his performance as I was. It was a surprising, endearing performance from a truly underrated actor. Wright always chooses absolutely perfect casts for his films, and The World’s End continues that tradition, with Bill Nighy (one of the greatest British actors working today) even being given a role in this film, albeit one that is very easy to miss, believe it or not.

Shaun of the Dead was a zombie horror film disguised as a comedy. Hot Fuzz took its cue from rural horror films such as The Wicker Man and Straw Dogs. The World’s End is a science-fiction horror film that is evidently inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Village of the Damned and The Stepford Wives. It isn’t a typical science fiction film, as there is nary a traditional alien invasion in sight, yet it approaches these films as its main inspiration. There is a pervading sense of dread that these people aren’t what they appear – and it may just be the most sinister Edgar Wright film ever, as the maniacal friendliness of the small village folk, combined with their uncanny creepiness, just adds up to one of the most terrifying (but still hilarious) science fiction films of recent years. How Wright manages to make these pitch-perfect genre films is absolutely astounding, and he clearly is very serious about paying homage to films in such a way that it feels unique and fresh, while still being meaningful tributes to the films that have come before. Always unconventional, Edgar Wright is in top-form with The World’s End.

What I love about Edgar Wright’s films is how they are genre-bending concoctions of several influences. Wright has made it very clear that he loves cinema, and like any great artist, he takes from his inspirations liberally. He clearly borrows entire shots and concepts from previous films, but rather than stealing them for himself, he takes them and molds them into something that works in the context of his films. However, he doesn’t only use science fiction to tell this story – at its heart, The World’s End is a film about relationships and friendships, and thus often has a romantic streak at its core. The World’s End may surprisingly be the least romantic of Wright’s films in the traditional sense – our protagonist doesn’t win over the girl he loves (although another character does, and it was a wonderful moment), but rather there is a romantic attraction to the idea of nostalgia. The main driving force of this film is memory, a longing to get back to the “good old days”, and while The World’s End is a very funny film, it is also quite serious in its themes of returning to a place – both physically and mentally – and finding it very different. The location that the gang returns to has changed, much like the characters themselves. The pining to live out those memories we hold fondly is the central focus of this film, and nostalgia, something we can all admit to feeling from time to time, is the driving factor.

There is something I have learned from Edgar Wright’s films – expect the unexpected. Wright always tries to make films that the audience would logically believe will lead in one direction, and for the most part they do, until they radically stop and go to some very dark places we wouldn’t even dream of it leading off to. The World’s End has one of the most bleak and surprising final acts, perhaps the most impressive out of the entire trilogy – a massive escalation thematically and in terms of storyline. Of all the dozens of possible endings for The World’s End, Wright chose the most unexpected and ambiguous. Unlike Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this film isn’t wrapped up neatly. It ends with an odd, polarizing moment that seemed far too ambitious for this film, but on further inspection, it was utterly perfect. Some of my favorite moments out of Wright’s filmography can be found in this film’s impressive and very odd final act.

The World’s End also finds Wright at perhaps his most creatively audacious – he made sure to go as far as he possibly could in terms of designing this film. It is his most elaborate film of the trilogy, and creatively it shows Wright at the peak of his filmmaking career. He is a man who knows what to do with a budget, and there is not a single wasted moment in this film. The action scenes in this film were just as inspiring as in the previous two films in the trilogy, filled with heart-stopping stunts and humor that helped create a perfect relationship between the comedy and the action. It may not attempt to overuse CGI, only making use of it when it is absolutely necessary. Everything else was the product of practical effects. The cinematography and editing were exactly what we’d expect from this film – energetic, fast-paced and adrenaline-fueled. There is not a single dull moment in this entire film, and it is all thanks to a dedicated crew that brought out the best possible result from an intense and demanding, but ultimately brilliant script. Kudos go out to everyone who worked on this film – without every person playing their role, regardless of the extent of their responsibilities, we would not have the tremendous film that became The World’s End.

The World’s End was a bittersweet ending to an iconic film trilogy. It may not hit the enormous highs of Hot Fuzz, but it has far more emotion and thematic relevance than the other films in the trilogy. The cast gives incredible performances, particularly Pegg. I know Wright has found his way into the hallways of great mainstream directors, but I won’t deny that I do long for him to return to this kind of genre-filmmaking, collaborating with Pegg and Frost in these irreverent, odd genre-bending films that are as hilarious as they are heartfelt. Every trilogy has space for a fourth film if there is passion. I just can’t wait to see what Wright does next. Until then, The World’s End is a terrific closing film to a loose trilogy that is responsible for some of the most incredible comedy films of the last decade. This film has everything we’d expect from an Edgar Wright film – a great cast, a well-chosen soundtrack filled with great songs that complement the film well and above all else, a brutally resonant emotional core that explores some very human concepts through the veneer of an entertaining and action-packed genre film. It is a great film, and far better than its seemingly populist subject matter would have you believe. Wright is an absolute genius at everything he does, and The World’s End is just a perfect way to conclude his incredible trilogy.

 

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