Film #101: The World’s End (2013)

the-worlds-end-review-3director: Edgar Wright
language: English
length: 109 minutes
watched on: 19 November 2013

This film is the last in the “Cornetto” series by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, their series of loosely-connected films set in small-town England (the other two are Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). I kept seeing gifs and pictures from it, and eventually decided I just had to watch it.

The World’s End is named after a pub in a town in England where the main characters grew up – having failed to complete a pub crawl of twelve pubs when they were at high school, the main character, Simon Pegg’s Gary, decides to gather up his old mates (pretty much a who’s who of British actors, as is most of the rest of the film) and drag them back for another try – the only problem is they’re all fairly successful and in their late 30s, and don’t know how he managed to persuade them.

Unlike the previous films, where Pegg played the everyman or the clear protagonist, his character in this film is intensely unlikable. Everything about him and the way he acts is stuck in the early 90s, as though he hasn’t grown up even when the others have, and he still thinks himself king of the world. A lot of the film reflects this nostalgia factor, with memorabilia and music from the early 90s (I was surprised and happy that this included a Saint Etienne song in a club scene), and seems to be a muse on what it’s like to grow older and lose touch with one’s childhood.

The film starts out modestly, setting up the characters and situations before really getting underway. The Big Twist comes into play a bit before halfway through, when the film takes a surreal and sci-fi turn: (spoiler alert) the characters find that all the other residents of the town are robots, which spray blue gunk when you destroy them and are regenerated very easily – and are very insistent about not being called robots, so that the characters end up assigning them the name “blanks”. Apparently they’re controlled by aliens and they’re quite scary just for their apparent invincibility, much more so than even the zombies from Shaun of the Dead, which featured a similar theme of running away from pub to pub. Thus ensue some very enjoyable action sequences as the characters run away from the robots.

Perhaps the robots serve to satirize the way in which people in small towns live out their life in a mechanical fashion, but I guess that part was lost on me a little bit, because I don’t live in a small town. I think this is a rather lazy metaphor, in any case.

At the climax of the film, the characters encounter the alien controller of the robots in the form of a big glowy thing that speaks to them. And then all it takes for the aliens to give up is an impassioned speech about what makes us human and what it means to be independent and make one’s own mistakes – if anything, and if the aliens were real, I’d expect for humans not to be so unique, frankly, and I found this ending almost a cop-out. The epilogue was intriguing, especially what apparently finally happens to Simon Pegg’s character – I think it would be more interesting to find out what he does in his new life and why he does it in more detail, because the five second glimpse of it wasn’t really enough.

The film is alright, and there are some funny scenes, but this film lacks the spark of Wright/Pegg/Frost’s previous films. The characterization was alright overall, but the character arcs were not as clear and identifiable as they have been in the other films. The plot felt like a rehash of Shaun of the Dead in its basic form. The exploration of nostalgia and lost childhoods was one that resonated a bit more with me (even though I’m not as old as those characters or actors), and one that they haven’t so much explored before – but then in that sense I’d quite like to see more of that rather than getting distracted by the sci-fi themes. It was fine overall, though. I enjoyed it, but the day after, I rewatched Hot Fuzz just to make sure I was right.

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