Mark Reviews Movies

The World's End


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 8/23/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 23, 2013

It's not that The World's End isn't another successful genre satire/spoof/homage from co-writers Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright. It is, but the real stakes of the film have little to do with its science-fiction threat—the paranoia about pod people (not quite literally, but thematically) cleverly twisted from the fear about its Cold War-era target to the apathetic acceptance of a culture of corporate sameness. Likewise, the majority of the humor has little to do with an assortment of general or specific allusions to other examples of the genre.

The struggle isn't to save a small town and the planet from an invasion; it's within one man who refuses to grow up because he doesn't see any good in it. The battle isn't between the heroes and the invading force; it's between the man and his friends, who have spent two decades outgrowing his shenanigans and can't believe they've been fooled into enabling him on his quest for eternal arrested development.

In other words, beneath the comedic and genre trappings of the film is a pretty depressing tale of a man who has given up on life, save for one final attempt to reclaim his glory days. Such ventures never work, of course, but those people who believe the endeavor could succeed also believe they are the exception to the rule. Gary King (Pegg) is no exception.

There's an undercurrent of impending doom, then, to his journey to recreate and try to top the best night of his life. Following his last day of secondary school, he and four of his friends undertook an epic pub crawl to each of the 12 bars on the Golden Mile of their hometown of Newton Haven, where The World's End is the final pub on the map. They did not finish, given the amount of alcohol—not to mention marijuana—they consumed, but even so, Gary, while sitting on a hill watching the sunrise, decided that things would never get better than that moment of camaraderie and freedom.

"They never did," he tells a support group (The reason he's participating is unclear until much later in the film—a moment in which everything about his story becomes tragic on the surface), and one of the other members asks if he regrets not finishing the pub crawl. After a denial and a long beat, his downtrodden face turns to a determined grin. All he needs to do is get his friends together for a weekend in Newton Haven, home of such exciting things as the first roundabout in England and pubs that once had personality but now have become franchises.

Despite being removed from regular contact for 20 years, it's much easier for Gary than one might anticipate, although he does have to lie a bit—and more than that in one instance—to pull off the sell. All of his friends have moved on to better—in Gary's mind, more boring—things. Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Oliver (Martin Freeman) have jobs and families or significant others. Gary is single, still drives the car he had in high school, and apparently has retained his wardrobe from the same time—leaving behind the tracksuit he wears in the opening scene to don a trench coat and slick back his hair to even try to look as he did when he was 17.

Of the four, Andy is hardest to convince, having never forgiven Gary for an accident many years ago and—much to Gary's horror—having sobered up in the intervening years. Gary tries to make amends by paying back money he owes Andy and informing his old friend that his mother died a few weeks earlier. When it turns out he got the money through questionable means, it becomes clear that we can't really trust Gary about anything he might say.

The four friends left Newton Haven for a reason, but Gary returns with an overinflated ego—clearly born of his true feelings about himself—that expects everyone in town should remember him and bask in his stories about the past and his prepared speeches for the momentous occasion of his return. In putting up with Gary's personality and his non sequitur analogies that don't even make sense in context for as long as they do, we know that Andy, Steven, Peter, and Oliver are the best kind of friends.

They have their own issues, too. Andy is busy at work to the point of neglecting his family. Peter is confronted with memories of a bully who tormented him. Steven sees Oliver's sister Sam and is immediately reminded of his old feelings for her because she's played by Rosamund Pike (Sam was part of Gary's memorable night, too, having "bumped into her" twice, if you catch the pun), and Oliver is holding his alcohol a little better than he did as a teenager.

The palpable tension between Gary and his quartet of friends, which—despite sounding somber—achieves plenty of humor in a continuous string of passive-aggressive clashes that Gary never comprehends (He even forgets that his buddies have said he has a "selective memory," and when they tell him he never accepts that he's wrong, he takes it as a compliment), comes to a head just as the film reveals the sinister workings of the sleepy little town. Gary's only response to having just uncovered a terrifying secret (in an energetic one-take brawl in a bar bathroom) is to continue with the pub crawl.

The only adjustment—other than drinking their beers a lot faster—is that their conversations turn from stories of the past to debates about what exactly they should call the things that have taken over Newton Haven. The "blanks," as the increasingly inebriated heroes decide to call them, are much better at adapting to these intruders, throwing temptations and greater-good philosophy at them in an attempt to convince them to join the cause.

It's imaginative and very funny, (The climax, which pits Gary in a battle of wits with a self-proclaimed supreme intelligence, is especially ingenious in the way it turns Gary's flaws into an unexpected strength), but the real surprise of The World's End is the wounded heart beating underneath the gags. It becomes an exceedingly sympathetic character study of a man whose mad dash for The World's End, as what could be the world's end unfolds around him, is a kind of self-destructive liberation—the only freedom he's ever known.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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