The World’s End (2013)
Is this the end, beautiful friend? The apocalypse continues on the silver screen as after the disappointing financial returns of Edgar Wright’s comic book adaption Scott Pilgrim Versus The World the energetic young whippersnapper has retreated to pastures well trod in his earlier geek friendly films Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, the first two movies in the now oftly cited ‘Cornetto’ trilogy. With The Worlds End* the chillingly refreshing circle is now complete, as teaming up with his star co-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost they have almost obliterated the rotting memories of the execrable Paul, and delivered a frequently hilarious, throughly enjoyable SF inflected romp through sleepy middle-class Britain. It may be slightly uneven, it’s certainly self-indulgent, but it has a sense of invention and bravado rarely seen in UK productions these days, even if you get the sense that they started with a finale and worked their way backward with this one. Like This Is The End the theme pivots on a boozy affair of blokes approaching middle-age and ruminating on their successes and failures, with a sense of perpetual adolescence that runs through the trilogy like a shard of devilish dark chocolate, with a surprisingly emotional rumination of the gulf between youthful exuberance and a sense of carpe diem being disemboweled by the sobering realities of adult life. As someone of exactly the same generation who shares an identical horror, SF and comic book obsessed adolescence as Wright and Pegg which was also scored to the psychedelic sounds of ‘madchester’ they have always generated enormous affection in I and my peers since the first small screen outing Spaced, although the films are great fun they have always been a little too flimsy to harbour any enduring love for me although they certainly have their worshippers, but as a blast of raucous and cleverly (and self) referenced humor, of demented pop-cultural plundering and blitzkrieg filmmaking there is a great deal to saviour in The Worlds End which thankfully doesn’t suffer that ‘third movie in a trilogy’ syndrome which can hobble a series just as it triumphantly approaches the finish line.
Ah, sweet, idealistic youth – in the early nineties a group of young British friends in the sleepy town of Newton Haven finish school and bask in the knowledge that their whole lives are lying before them, to celebrate the misbegotten freedom the cheeky young chappies embark on a legendary bender around the town with the epic ambition of twelve pints in twelve pubs. Smash cut to twenty years later and Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) is yuppie incarnate, fond of money and eager to make his next million, Peter Page (Eddie Marsden) is largely content as the assistant director of the family car showroom. Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) holds a torch for his teenage crush Sam (Rosamund Pike) who just happens to be Oliver’s sister, whilst Andrew Knightly (Frost) has embraced the corporate life and abandoned the booze due to some unspecified, tragic incident a few years back. Pulling the gang together for one final grasp at immortality is Gary King (Pegg), a narcissistic, arrested development definition of a man whose two decades have passed in a blur of self medicated maudlin misery, with a delusional mind-set he believes that reprising their legendary pub-crawl and actually making it through to their twelfth pint at the final destination – The Worlds End – will resurrect his imploding and desolate life. Complicating the alcohol fuelled escapade is not only the married ones antipathy to such teenage excess but the rather more sticky problem of a clandestine alien invasion, I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers other than to say think Village Of The Damned, think Body Snatchers, think They Live and an absolutely livid Max.
Edgar Wright is renowned for his breakneck, flashy editing and pacing style, perhaps a visual gloss to cover the rather hollow cores of his hyperkinetic movies, impressively The Worlds End actually improves as it incrementally accelerates its momentum, the gags get better and the combat scenes get the geriatric blood-pumping as the expertly chosen score idolizes those baggy golden days of yore like a floppy fringed greek chorus. It’s a bittersweet shame that like a slightly inebriated uncle it veers off the path in the final stretch with a duo of climaxes which don’t mesh very well with the previous definitions and loosely considered ideals, as clearly the initial brainstorm session yielded numerous ideas which Wright and Pegg have bolted in to make a rather clumsy but undoubtedly loveable contraption. Like Scott Pilgrim battling through his girlfriends previous suitors The World’s End has a clearly delineated progressive structure, moving from pub to set-piece to character reveal then repeat to a stupored conclusion, the fight orchestrations are absolutely first class and possibly the most handsomely mounted element of the entire movie, even if it initially takes a little time to digest a significant tonal shift from a riotous UK comedy to these early middle-aged actors careening around the screen like a troop of red bull guzzling Jackie Chan’s. Working again with cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider Man 2, and some other early Raimi pictures) Wright ups the ante on his visual dexterity, it’s not quite as lens flare-tastic as the current fleet of SF movies than it is a middle class cybernetic Mike Leigh, the soundtrack alone is a greatest hits compilation of my generations youth with appearances of the obvious – Primal Scream, the Roses, the Mondays, Blur and The Charlatans – pulsing alongside slightly more esoteric fare from Definition Of Sound, The Soup Dragons, St Etienne, Silver Bullet and the almighty Sisters.
The crew have clearly mustered a conscious effort to craft a more emotionally charged and considered work than the previous installments, wrapping these ambitions around the gags which ricochet at a machine gun rate and don’t always graze the bullseye, although there are certainly a half-dozen times when I was doubled up in my chair with wracking laughter which I’m sure means that the film will reward frequent re-watches to assimilate all the easter eggs and in-jokes. Clearly they’ve thrown everything including the kitchen sink into the finale which means that the climactic contortions are a little exasperating as it appropriates both the works of Douglas Adams and a notorious antipodean anti-semite in a rather fitful and bewildering fashion, I’m also not so sure that consciously situating the film in a landscape of identikit high street retail units maps to the middle-aged ennui which the film strives to achieve, but for a ferocious assault of comedy, combat and genre celebration then you’ll struggle to find a superior generation to this strangely affectionate if uneven blend of three different movies. Then again, to be fair they have always excelled in melding genres (Shaun as rom-com-zom, Fuzz as giallo-conspiracy-action parody) so at least they’re consistent, and The Worlds End does contain the finest through-line gag of the whole trilogy in one perfectly elusive moment. With a cameo appearance from Pierce Brosnan and considering Timothy Dalton’s appearance in Hot Fuzz all they need to do is quietly go back and CGI in an appearance of Roger Moore or George Lazenby into prints of Shaun Of The Dead and they will have a Bond trilogy to compete with the ice cream franchise, if Lucas can continue to tamper with his creations and alleged molest our childish memories then I don’t see why Wright can’t follow an identical fashion, after all, it’s not the end of the world;
*It’s not often we European geeks get to lord it over our American colleagues but the film doesn’t open until last next month in North America, in the meantime certain circles have been boasting about their mastery of this list, for the record I’m on 136 and quite strangely was watching Extreme Prejudice over the weekend (the last film on the list) just as this started to do the rounds.