I blame the pixelated bluster and vacuous destruction of this summer’s other wide-releases for my initial misgivings about The World’s End. Directors have been wantonly leveling cities and ending the world for so long now that any connection between their imagery and images of real-world destruction has been obviated by overuse and the radical cynicism of Hollywood’s big studios. Naturally, I assumed another cataclysmic summer movie would provide the requisite annihilation, but forget the attendant metaphors that make annihilation meaningful to an audience. I should have known better. The final installment of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy,” The World’s End, gives audiences what we have been missing all summer: a raucous, entertaining movie.
The World’s End, co-written by Pegg and Wright and directed by Wright, gleefully bends genres in much the same manner as its predecessors, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Yet the objective here is not to throw every conceivable trope at the wall and see what sticks, but rather to deliver the same sharp – if at times preachy – social satire that defines Pegg and Wright’s previous collaborations. Where similar films might be tempted to take the narrative elements of The World’s End and produce a tired paean to the bromance, Pegg and Wright plumb the depths of narcissism, question our valorization of the man-child, and examine the struggle of the individual against the totalitarianism of “polite” society. As an added bonus, they make you laugh. A lot.
The plot follows manipulative and manic AA-burnout Gary King (Pegg) as he and his four former high-school friends attempt to complete an epic pub-crawl in their hometown 20 years after their original attempt failed. The film’s title denotes both the name of final pub on their journey, and also the secret alien invasion the paunchy men discover while chugging their pints. It is somewhat unclear why the four stable 40-somethings would actually opt to join Gary, the friend they had all wisely moved on from, but Pegg plays his scoundrel with just enough pathos to occlude any serious skepticism. Indeed, the supporting cast is pitch-perfect, right down to the cameos. However, Nick Frost as Andy – Gary’s former best friend and current loudest detractor – provides the other charismatic half of the now-signature Pegg-Frost duo. Frost and Pegg are capable solo performers, but their obvious chemistry immediately enhances any movie they star in together. Certainly the smart, tight script of The World’s End also affords Frost and Pegg’s repartee ample time to bounce around the scenery.
Of course, if the script furnished Frost and Pegg with the necessary elements to transmute into comedy gold, then Wright’s direction makes the entire film shimmer. The World’s End may prove what Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz hinted at: no one knows how to film a fight better than Edgar Wright. His cinematography prevents any sequence from feeling over-choreographed. Instead, it allows the earnest physicality of five aging Gen-Xers battling teen-punk-robots to (I apologize in advance) punch you in the gut. To be sure, a movie about a 12-pub crawl would feel incomplete without a good brawl, and The World’s End is not stingy.
Certainly The World’s End is not without flaws. The film’s conclusion feels like it drags on a bit longer than it should as it works to straighten all its bent genres into a unified denouement. The epilogue also feels tacked on and tonally uneven for an otherwise carefully thought-out film. Yet I suppose if the film were perfect, it would undermine the very message it works so hard to deliver. When Earth’s would-be alien overlords offer Gary – and by extension, humanity – a chance at cultivated perfection, Gary defiantly shouts, “to err is human!” It’s a deep, scary theme, this intrinsic imperfection of humankind, and one not often explored while oscillating between over-the-top comedy and existentialist science fiction. Like any genre film, The Wold’s End takes big swipes at themes that resist simplification, but the cast and crew are having so much fun that any accusations of self-importance or righteousness slide away like beer foam running down a pint glass.
At one point in the film, Andy declares of Gary, “You remember the Friday nights. I remember the Monday mornings.” Luckily for us, The World’s End is the fun, frenetic Friday night to the Monday morning hangover that has been the 2013 blockbuster season.