2013, Edgar Wright - in theatre & blu-ray
Yep, I'm finally getting to this review... it's almost like I didn't want to write it.
IT'S BEEN about 4 months since the wife and I went to see The World's End on opening weekend at the cinema, and I knew the further away from the film I got the less inclined I'd be to write it. It was a weird night when we went to see it. We had babysitting for the kids, I had spent a good 10+ hours on my feet working at Fan Expo (for a second day in a row), and it was our anniversary so we had dinner an a bit (oh, just a bit) of wine. So I was physically wiped, the euphoria of an honest to gosh night out was overwhelming, and yeah, some drink. By the time the film started I was fighting to stay awake.
I should confess that I love Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, from Big Train and Spaced onward, so I'm already a receptive audience for whatever they're peddling, so going into The World's End I was predisposed to liking it. I wanted to like it and have a good time, and by gum I did. Having heard Pegg, Frost and Wright on the podcast circuit, I already knew what the film was about, what the themes were, what the character arc would be... there wasn't much discovery for me to have beyond actually experiencing the film. However, even as I was laughing and clapping, I did get the sensation that I was, perhaps, just a little, forcing my enjoyment of it, perhaps to validate my built-up enthusiasm, or perhaps to force myself to stay awake. By the end of the film I was calling into to question the authenticity of my experience, and whether my slight inebriation, post-fatigue and prejudicial attitude had greatly skewed my feelings about the movie.
That's why I didn't want to review the film all these months, because while I said I liked the film, I couldn't validate whether I actually felt like I liked the film. My wife was a lot less critical of her enjoyment of it and had lobbied for a copy for Xmas, which, alongside a copy of This Is The End, were simple buys on my part. We re-watched The World's End on Boxing day (or, the day after Christmas, as it's known in the USofA) and I was pleased to have any festering doubt of my enjoyment of the film wiped away. I was questioning whether the film was actually any good the past three months (wondering if, perhaps, it's very British, patently ridiculous fantastical ending sullied any honesty the film had generated) but I came out the other side of a second viewing thinking it's honestly brilliant. Low-luster brilliant, but brilliant nonetheless.
The World's End completes the loosely tied "Cornetto Trilogy" that started with Shaun Of The Dead, and centered by Hot Fuzz, all grounded in relationships -- friends, family, romances -- but also about growing up. In Shaun, it was Frost's character pulling Pegg's character down, remaining juvenile, irresponsible and unable to move forward in life. In Fuzz, it was Pegg's character pulling Frost's character up, teaching him to be responsible. In World's End, it's Frost's character that's the responsible one, but he's failed in bringing Pegg with him into responsible adulthood, and it's just one of the many things that have left their friendship noticeably damaged.
Shaun was an ingenious mash of romantic comedy and horror that was grounded in only thematic truths, but the film (as Wright and Pegg's first big outing) never fully escaped it's swirling blender of cinematic tropes. Fuzz even more traded heavily in genre cliches, particularly cop dramas and buddy comedies, but also a loving homage esoteric 70's small town conspiracy films like the Wicker Man. The World's End seems like the first film from Wright and Pegg that is looking to stand on its own merits, without looking to other influences as a crutch.
Wright, having detoured with Scott Pilgrim, comes back to Pegg and Frost with a whole new arsenal of shooting techniques, as well a phenomenal confidence in both storytelling and action sequencing that permits him to downplay the knowing nods to other movies and make his own feature. At the same time, his script with Pegg is more narrowly focused on character than any of the previous films. Pegg's Gary King, while often hilarious, is equally tragic, and all-too-believable, even amid the fantastical sharp right turn that occurs.
It was Pegg's portrayal of King that I focused on in second viewing and was even more impressed with the depth of the character. Beneath every quip and jape is a sharp spike of pain. He's a lost soul, all his potential having dissipated over two decades before into drugs and drink. His friends --or once friends, as it were-- that he reunites to relive a glory day from their youth have long ago given up on him, but they give him a moment, a moment to prove that he's still got a glimmer of that potential he once had, and failing in that moment.
It's an inventive science-fiction action comedy with a dark, personal underbelly that shows how good these filmmakers are at crafting multi-tiered entertainment. More importantly it elevates Edgar Wright as an action director, whereas, the impression always was that he was more of a comedy director, even after Scott Pilgrim. Beyond that, Wright puts Frost in the light of an unlikely, burly action action star, becoming the real centerpiece of the action sequences, even beyond the blue ink-blooded Blanks they're fighting against. It would be truly interesting to see Frost in a more traditional action movie.
I still have a sweet spot for Hot Fuzz, but without a doubt The World's End is the best film of the Cornetto trilogy, odd ending and all.