I utterly despise most British comedy. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monty Python or Benny Hill. They simply aren’t funny. Formerly, I could even say that all British comedy was pathetic. With the arrival of Simon Pegg’s body of work, though, those days are over. It’s all brilliant stuff, so when I saw the trailers for The World’s End, my adrenaline immediately peaked. The problem with this kind of anticipation is that, eventually, you get the let-down. Would that be the case with The World’s End?
The World’s End (2013, R) is the story of a bunch of high school friends re-uniting after twenty years in an effort to complete an epic pub crawl that they failed back in the days of their youth. Upon arriving back in their hometown, they find that things have radically changed. Radically, as in, the town has been invaded in Body Snatcher-ish fashion by an alien presence that won’t be going away quietly. Our heroes must therefore liberate the town, whilst coming to grips with the events of twenty years ago. It’s actually touted as the third installment of a trilogy with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but this is based on the appearance of a particular ice cream brand in each film and nothing else.
It all sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? Most Simon Pegg movies do when you describe them on paper. Thankfully, the execution is where the greatness lies, and The World’s End did not disappoint. In the hands of anyone else, this would have been 100 minutes of jokes based on bodily functions and crudeness. Instead, it’s witty, fresh, and hilarious. The laughs were hearty and lingered well past the opening credits. My wife and I chuckled the entire rest of the evening and were still quoting lines days later.
This is a bit of a role reversal for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Usually, Pegg plays the responsible guy. Frost is the bumbling loser. This time around, Frost is Andy, the all-around straight man, while Pegg is Gary King, the jerk still trapped in his high school identity. Pegg does a better job than Frost, but I think that might have more to do with my past visions of Frost characters giving me some cognitive dissonance. I mean, he basically starts out in the movie saying he doesn’t want to drink. It was just weird.
Familiar faces like Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and David Bradley beef up the cast well. There is a lot of chemistry with this group. Example, my wife, who isn’t someone who picks apart movies at all, made multiple comments about how flawless the comic timing was. Other than Frost, the performances and character interactions were as natural as I’ve ever seen in a movie. This isn’t easy considering the plot involves an alien invasion.
Edgar Wright returns to direct the crew here. In my opinion, Wright doesn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of style and creativity from behind the camera. For example, nobody is going to see an Edgar Wright show and marvel at the cinematography. His strength is seen in two places. First, since he’s usually writing, he keeps the characters in sync with one another and the dialogue flowing. Second, no matter how ridiculous the concepts are that he introduces (zombies, aliens, etc.), he is always able to inject at least one poignant scene into the mix, and it always works. Not only does it work, but it competes for the best scene in the entire film. Other directors who are far too hung up on camera angles and such could learn something from this. Let me add that I found the foreshadowings of the pub names to be very clever.
For the Catholic, this is perhaps a mixed bag. There is a definite element of redemption and forgiveness involved which has some value. However, in speaking with some colleagues, there were opinions that the closing dialogue in the final confrontation with the alien intelligence amounted to a criticism of God. I didn’t pick up on this and find it a bit of a stretch, but I’ve found more than a couple of people who thought the same thing. Ergo, I mention it here. To me, it came off as standard human/alien sci-fi argumentation about humanity’s significance and value even if not as “perfect” as its inhuman opposition.
The content level was disappointing. There seemed to be a lot more cursing in this movie than in previous Pegg/Wright work. The c-word came up three times. Tons of f-bombs and sexual innuendos. Impressively, though, I don’t think there was a single instance of blasphemy. The violence is mostly pretty silly, but there are some intense moments. Not scary, just intense. There was one scene with some immodest dancing and attempts at seduction but no nudity.
As stated above, this is a comedy, which means viewers are supposed to laugh and feel better after seeing it. This was accomplished in spades. While the amount of language got out of hand, it was not scandalously so. If you want laughs, watch The World’s End.
2.5 tiaras, would have been 3 if not for the profanity.
Review by Throwback