It’s been a long, hard road from Iron Man 3 (out on Blu-ray next month!) to here. After nearly four months of non-stop superhero mayhem, rehashed dreck and at least a few good flicks, we arrive at the last stop on our cinematic pub crawl to madness. The World’s End is the third collaboration between writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/actor Simon Pegg, who along with fellow Brit Nick Frost, are looking to reclaim the magic of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (both international hits). They’ve succeeded, and in the process put a final exclamation point on what was — let’s be honest — a largely forgettable slate of “blockbusters.”
The World’s End is anything but forgettable. If you’ve seen the film’s trailer you know the basic set-up: a group of five childhood friends come together to recreate a pub crawl that ended prematurely 20 years prior, only to find that their old hometown has been taken over by “robots filled with blue stuff.” Sci-fi craziness ensues. Though that synopsis is accurate, it manages to miss everything that is great about The World’s End while highlighting the rote and tiresome.
I should say what seems rote and tiresome at first. This crew of filmmakers is far too clever to offer a standard take on what is exhaustively tread ground (Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives spring immediately to mind). Instead, The World’s End builds credible relationships between its characters, and uses verbal wit and a propulsive visual style that makes the eventual repetitive dispatching of the robots much easier to swallow.
And if that were it, The World’s End would be ho-hum, but there’s more. I won’t spoil it, but the last 20 minutes or so of the flick are a complete riot, combining biting social commentary with clever dialogue during a string of scenes that each manages to top the last. After seeing so many sci-fi movies go off the rails in the last act, it’s refreshing to see one that knocks the last few minutes out of the park.
The World’s End is the third part what’s known as the “Cornetto Ice Cream Trilogy” (watch for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “cameo” late in the film), after Shaun and Hot Fuzz, and it’s every bit the equal of if not better than the earlier films. Credit Wright, who mixes great visuals with crisp editing and a booming soundtrack to create a sense of giddy forward momentum that carries the characters and the audience to the audacious conclusion. This is a movie that is always going somewhere, usually very quickly, and if you don’t pay attention you’re liable to miss a funny line, sight gag, visual pun or hidden in-joke. (I’m sure I whiffed on dozens of the latter.)
Also credit Simon Pegg, who deserves just as many accolades, both for his performance as Gary King and for his contribution to the terrific screenplay, which is filled with memorable dialogue spoken by human characters that express familiar emotions despite the insanity of the plot. Pegg usually plays likable guys, which makes it a shock to realize King is an asshole, something the film milks to gut-busting effect. Pegg’s pickish, self-absorbed act bumps up against all the characters, rubbing Nick Frost the most wrong, with the actor providing a seething undercurrent of bottled-up rage that’s just waiting to explode. Which of course it does.
There’s a note of redemption in the end for King, and in a way The World’s End provides something of the same for a summer movie season that specialized in expensive productions offering the cheapest of thrills. The World’s End reportedly cost a staggeringly low $30 million, which is probably less than the catering bill on Man of Steel, and proves that the merit of a movie — even a would-be sci-fi blockbuster like this — should be measured by more than the size of its budget.
Now can we get on with Oscar season?