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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review: The World's End (2013)

* * * 1/2

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

The capper to the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy - the comedic genre sendups from director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost which also includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz - may not be as laugh out loud funny as previous installments, but it makes up for that with its richer (and deeper) thematic roots. A film that plays on the necessity of growing up, the disappointment of life not meeting expectations, and the reality of friendships fading with time, The World's End is one of the better films about friendships between men, with nice little asides about the problems of an increasingly homogenized of culture. And robots. Murderous, alien robots.

The World's End begins with its now middle aged protagonist Gary King (Simon Pegg) reminiscing about the best night of his life, the night he and his teenage friends attempted to complete the "Golden Mile," a 12 stop pub crawl in their hometown. 20 years later, and never having really grown up, Gary decides to attempt to recapture his youth by getting the gang back together and completing the pub crawl. He tracks down his friends - Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) - and convinces them to join him in returning to their hometown to take on the Golden Mile again, a considerable accomplishment considering that his former friends all sort of hate him after years spent enduring his selfishness and immaturity. Andy, in particular, has an ax to grind with Gary and though he's agreed to come along on the adventure (after Gary tells a lie which garners his sympathy), he has no intention of participating in the drinking, which is Gary's raise d'etre. As they begin their journey from pub to pub, Gary drags his companions along, determined to regain his youth and get back to a time when he had everything ahead of him and his future seemed full of possibilities.

The evening takes a turn fairly quickly when Gary gets into a fight in the men's room of one of the pubs and discovers, after accidentally decapitating his opponent, that robots who look exactly like humans have taken up residence in the town. Unsure what to make of this discovery, but certain that they need to carry on as if they know nothing in order to avoid suspicion and reprisal, the gang continues with the pub crawl, trying to look as natural and unassuming as possible. A couple of pubs in they learn that most of the town has been replaced by robots and eventually both Oliver and Peter are killed and replaced with robot versions of themselves. While Andy, Steven and Sam (Rosamund Pike), Oliver's sister and a woman pined for by both Gary and Steven, just want to get out of town, Gary is determined to see the Golden Mile through to the very end, even if it kills him and ends with him being replaced by a robot.

Written by Wright and Pegg, The World's End works on a number of levels. On one level, it's as lovingly genre oriented as the other entries in the trilogy, affectionately sending up science fiction films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. On another level, it's a story about the perils of nostalgia and living in the past. Gary is arguably the saddest of any character in the trilogy, a man who peaked at 18 and has spent his entire adult life (and I use the word "adult" loosely) desperately trying to hold on to those feelings of youth, vitality, and promise. As he carries on through the town, a middle aged man acting like an obnoxious teenage lout, it's a sorry sight. On another level, it's about how all traces of individuality are disappearing as culture becomes more uniform. Throughout the film, the characters comment on the fact that the village is rife with "Starbucking," the series of pubs they visit distinguishable only by the fact that they have different names - in most other respects, each pub looks exactly the same as the last. The robots are merely the human version of Starbucking, which brings us to the other level: the robots object to the fact that human beings are flawed - "You are children and you require guidance. There is no room for imperfection," The Network informs Gary, Andy and Steven - and the film celebrates the inescapably human fact of being flawed. Gary might be a fuck up but, as he so eloquently argues when he finally meets The Network, "It is our basic human right to be fuck ups."

In a more straight forward movie, Gary would come to the end of the story having had either a minor or major epiphany which prompted him to turn his life around. In real life that would be necessary just to make his company tolerable, but movies aren't real life and one of the best things about The World's End is that that doesn't happen. Gary not only gets to defiantly glory in being a fuck up, he's then rewarded with the transformation of the world into the kind of place where someone like him could thrive. He's "the King" once again, but now he's King of a wasteland - and he couldn't be happier. It's kind of brilliant and, to my mind, the perfect way to end the trilogy.

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