The World’s End: Sly, Wry Sci-Fi

Edgar Wright's boozy sci-fi comedy tackles technology, commercialism and lost youth

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Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

Edgar Wright’s The World’s End is an apocalyptic comedy, rather like the early-summer release with the confusingly similar title, This is the End. It’s also a bromance like The Hangover, featuring five high-school buddies, now pushing 40, who reunite for an epic pub crawl across their English hometown of Newton Haven. Except it overflows with middle-aged angst over lost youth. And laments the generic nature of our corporate-driven culture. And—as the movie is written by Wright and Simon Pegg (their third such collaboration)—it’s also a witty send-up of genre conventions—this time, alien-invasion flicks. The movie may sound like an unpromising mess, but it’s fun, complicated and emotionally rich.

The pub crawl is initiated by the group’s once-gloriously charismatic leader Gary King (Pegg,). Gary is bound and determined to relive June 22, 1990, the night he and his four mates made an attempt to hit all of Newton Haven’s twelve pubs—a feat known locally as “The Golden Mile.” They didn’t make it to the last, The World’s End, and Gary, an unrepentant drug abuser and alcoholic, is determined that they not fail this time.

While Gary is caught in a state of arrested development, the rest of the gang is successful and reasonably well settled. None of them seem terribly enthused to join the crawl, particularly not Andy (Nick Frost, Pegg’s co-star in the Wright-helmed Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) who severed ties with Gary after a mysterious “accident” years before and has been a teetotaler ever since. Gary fairly erupts in rage when Andy orders a glass of water at their first stop. “It’s like seeing a lion eating some hummus,” he grouses.

(READ: Simon Pegg’s Q&A with TIME)

Even before they notice the strangely subdued townspeople (a something-is-not-right-here clue that hints at horrors to come), the quintet is struck by a sameness of the pubs, right down to the chalkboard menus, with their suspiciously similar handwritten menus. “Starbucking man,” Gary laments. “It’s happening everywhere.” He views his own refusal to change, to grow up, to mature as a badge of honor: he takes pride in driving the same car, listening to the same mix tape that Steven (Paddy Considine) made him back in high school and wearing the same long black coat that made him look so incredibly cool 20 years earlier, à la Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.

More telling is Gary’s resentment of the guys—the cast also includes Martin Freeman as an obsequious real estate agent and Eddie Marsan* as the sweet guy who got bullied in high school—who seem content with their perfectly conventional existences.  “You are all slaves and I am free,” he tells his friends, who he sees as bound by wives, kids and/or a 9-to-5 job. Unlike the American brand of bromance, where even Adam Sandler is meant to be adorable no matter how churlish his character, The World’s End embraces Gary’s boorishness—and more interestingly, the sadness of this dissipated pretty boy.

With his wicked delivery, Pegg is always going to be funny, but his characterization of this guy who peaked in high school is almost too good. The desperation of the character cuts into the easy laughs. It’s unusual to see a comedy this absurdly over the top—the gang decide the safest thing to do is continue the pub crawl and get progressively drunker in the face of danger—that is also mindful of big truths. Shaun of the Dead was smart, but it didn’t aim to make anyone think or, God forbid, fret. There is also some fascinating stuff in The World’s End about the need for human imperfection in the world—even losers like Gary.  When the guys are offered a sort of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style cleansing, along with a return to their youths, they reject the option. “To err is human,” Gary shouts.

Human, then, is this movie’s unsatisfying finale—which seems to be a problem pervasive in the narrow genre of apocalyptic comedies. This is the End, which is cruder and more raucous than The World’s End, had its heroes ascend into the light of the Rapture, redeemed by good deeds for each other. Warm Bodies ended on an upbeat note. The horror movie-spoof The Cabin in the Woods and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World both closed with big bangs. The World’s End isn’t that bold; it wraps up things in way that seems contrived and haphazard—as if Wright and Pegg came up with it after a long night at the pub.

(READ: When Shaun of the Dead landed on Time’s Top 25 Horror Movies list)

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of the review incorrectly listed the actor’s name as Eddie Marsdan.

6 comments
annjoy.viewster
annjoy.viewster

 Looks like most viewers enjoy "mindless, entertaining fun", and while we usually don't expect much more from comedies, if the story takes a sudden change, there should be something logical about it. Like the above mentioned "redeemed by good deeds for each other" is a certain logic the story is built around, but, unfortunately, it's another story. This has none, and therefore is absolutely absurd. "The gang decide the safest thing to do is continue the pub crawl and get progressively drunker in the face of danger"  is the only thing that explains why things go the way they go. Very smart, right? They don't do anything to change the situation - only drink, run to and fro, and yell they want to be free to do whatever they please. And that's just what it takes for the aliens to leave them alone - I'd like to ask them why bother then, why start it all, if you let go so easily? What's the point of all this? 



DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

A review, by default, is always one person's point of view.  In that respect, there is always going to be content that is subject to debate or disagreement. But this labyrinthine diatribe about angst and "bromance" (God, I hate that contrived misuse of the English language!) rather misses the point of a review.  And that is to inform the reader about the reviewer's opinion of what they saw in a manner consistent with fostering reader clarity and understanding.

Sadly, this didn't do it.

References to other films is a bad thing in my book.  First of all, not everyone has watched those other films, or even seen the previews to them.  This means all those nifty references to other films sail blithely, and obliviously, over the heads of those reading the review.  The point is lost.  Further, stacking such references is even a bigger waste of electrons.  A good reviewer will assume their references shouldn't be movie-related, but more related to life, and stick to them for analogies.  it may take more thinking, but it is far more likely to make them clear.

Secondly, perhaps less annoying, but no less difficult to deal with is the incessant need of the reviewer to characterize the actors.  The actors play characters.  An in-depth analysis of their motivations is fine, if one is an acting coach or perhaps someone interested in a career in psychology.  Most movie goers want to be entertained on some level and whatever rocks their boat is okie dokie with me.  Unfortunately, reviewing a movie from this point of view leaves those who are only interested in potentially mindless, entertaining fun scratching their heads.  Was it funny?  Or was it some kind of existential drama with aliens on the side?  I don't really see an answer there.

Finally, after reading this, I still have no idea what the movie is about, but I got the distinct impression that it wasn't worth the several hundred words that went into the review.  I understand what was written, but the reviewer seems to wander off on irrelevant tangents that distort the point, if not confuses it altogether.  Perhaps this was deliberate so as not to introduce spoilers.  But here's the thing; a disclaimer that there are spoilers if, indeed such are needed to give a clear picture of how good, or bad, a film was, is all one needs at the top of the article.  

I will also admit that each reviewer wants to generate their own "style".  I don't have a problem with that.  But like Apple's (and increasingly other company's) tendency to put form over function, thus confusing people in how things are supposed to work, a style should never get in the way of reader clarity.  Assuming that it was a writing style which accounts for the wandering and irrelevancy, then that style needs to be made more clear.

So, were I to grade this, it would vastly depend on what I was grading.  As an objective paper about a movie with relevant movie references, a B-.  As an investigation into psychological motivations of both characters and actors, an A-.  As a clear review of a movie, a D.

So in the interests of being concise and clear, please have less psychobabble fewer movie references, more real-life analogies/examples and more organization in your reviews.  Your readers are likely to thank you for it.  Or at the very least, they'll be able to understand it without reaching for a PDR and a DSM-5.

ihopeagain
ihopeagain

You also spoiled the ended of "This is the End" - which I haven't seen yet. Way to go dumbass.

buzzyk
buzzyk

Find an editor, please... you mentioned twice that Pegg co-wrote the script (we got it the first time), and it's Eddie Marsan, not Marsdan. I haven't seen the film, and wIth no mention that the story takes a dangerous turn ("sameness of the pubs" does not paint the picture), they decide "the safest thing to do" "in the face of danger". Have we missed a paragraph somewhere?

WJK1
WJK1 moderator

@buzzyk  Thanks for pointing this out.  The text was slightly changed in final edit to keep spoilers to a minimum.