Cheers to Lunacy, to Humanity
Even if you downed 12 pints of beer in one sitting, I doubt your world would look as crazy as The World’s End.
The title, a cheeky double entendre describing both the final destination in a fictional pub crawl and the more commonly understood subject of the apocalypse, belongs to the latest directorial effort by Edgar Wright, one loony vessel of a movie that sails on oceans of beer and blue alien-robot goo. You read that right. About a third of the way into the film, what started as a tale of childhood friends reuniting for a night of heavy drinking turns into an all-out brawl against extraterrestrial invaders. With detachable limbs and choppy movements, these things function like glorified action figures, though they appear human on the outside. They don’t die easily, and anyone can be one of them in disguise. Over the course of the next hour, a lot of punches are thrown, a lot of running is done, and a lot of goo is spilled.
If you’ve paid any attention to the movie’s ads, you would’ve seen this plot twist coming. In context, however, it comes as a giddy bolt from the blue. And it comes for no reason other than the fact that it can. That’s the simplicity, and genius, of The World’s End. The first two films in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (a name that stuck after Wright jokingly remarked that the three flavors of Cornetto that appear in each of the movies are a reference to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy) distorted staple Hollywood genres to exuberant comic effect. With The World’s End, all gloves are off. It’s a parody of the sci-fi blockbuster, a joyous slapstick extravaganza, a toast to humanity, and ultimately a fitting summary of Wright’s small but dynamic filmography thus far (the fight scenes have the campy excess of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). The tenacity is absurd, the entertainment value through the roof. Here’s a director who knows how to shake things up while having a blast at the same time.
The fun begins from the get-go, long before any apocalyptic heebie-jeebies have worked their way into the characters’ alcohol-addled brains. None is more gleefully intoxicated than Gary King, proud alcoholic and former high school rock star-type played by a scruffy-looking Simon Pegg. We first meet Gary in a subdued AA meeting after he’s just lovingly recounted the glory days of his delinquent youth. Judging by his jittery legs and impish smirk, we know this little therapy session isn’t going to contain him. And sure enough, he spends the next stretch of the movie bounding after each of his four, grown-up high school friends (Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and a standout Nick Frost) with what he sees as an enticing invitation: the chance to complete The Golden Mile, a legendary 12-pub beer run that the quintet failed to accomplish in their heyday. After much pestering, the five of them finally hit the road, four loaded with skepticism and all unaware that their hometown has been subject to an alien occupation.
For me, this opening segment of the movie is the funniest because it keeps the comedy scaled down to human proportions. Though the epic lunacy of the film’s latter parts achieves its own kind of greatness, nothing quite beats the hilarity of human interaction. The dialogue, for one, is pure bliss, rambling and digressing with little care for punch lines or traditional comic timing. It feels sloppy in the real-world sense, containing the kind of ungraceful remarks and verbal blunders we’d make in real life. This casual, on-the-fly sensibility makes the conversations come across as grounded and believable, except the things the characters say are so awesomely absurd that they must be scripted, at least in part. Coupled with wonderful comic performances from the sterling cast, the dialogue is the comedic acme of The World’s End, slightly diminished but still robust through the movie’s more energetic second and third acts.
But though the film is largely an ensemble piece, the Pegg-Frost partnership remains center-stage, thanks to the duo’s whiplash talent and the legacy they’ve built with the first two Cornetto films. Their rapport has always been one of polar opposites, and here it’s no exception. Pegg’s Gary is a madcap man-child with no concern in the world, while Frost plays Gary’s high school wingman Andy, a serious, working adult who has long outgrown Gary’s puerile antics. Though Pegg’s zany zeal tops off at an all-time high, it’s Frost’s performance that impresses the most because it demands such tactful moderation. Without shattering the film’s comic spirit, Frost brings gravity and poignancy to his role, cementing the troubled emotional tenor between Gary and Andy. Pegg subsequently comes through on his end, and the movie becomes not just about beer or robots but the strength of friendship and camaraderie, which perseveres even despite our flaws and shortcomings as people.
And so, at the close of this apocalyptic story, what we have is not some doomy vision of the world’s end but a wild celebration of all that which makes us alive. It’s love. It’s friendship. It’s a sidesplitting laugh, and the kick one gets from watching alien robots demolished by a band of drunken survivors out to secure another pint. If anything, these robots represent all things fake and artificial, and their beat-down a triumph of humanity. Leave it to Wright to find this much fun on the brink of the abyss. He’s the kind of filmmaker we need more of, the kind that grins in the face of darkness, offers you a drink, and promises a good time.