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The World’s End: Beautiful. Sad. Hilarious.

August 23, 2013

I will lay this card on table right now: I was long awaiting the release of The World’s End. Since the first time I saw Shaun of the Dead to the fourth or fifth time I marathoned Spaced, I’ve been an Edgar Wright fan. I’m still upset that Ant-Man has been delayed for years (it was announced shortly after Iron Man), though I suppose if it means I get movies like Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, I’m pretty ok with it.

Edgar Wright is a solid screenwriter and director who doesn’t waste space or film on one off gags. His visual style is fairly straightforward, most notable for his sequences of quick cuts and overemphasized sound effects to quickly explain things or showcase mundane occurrences. On top of this, his dialogue is sharp, witty, and able to marry both immaturity and maturity into something really wonderful and oft hilarious.

The World’s End does not disappoint.  In fact, I would say it actually shows a maturation of his work.

The film casts Simon Pegg as Gary King, formerly a rebellious carouser in his youth who seems to have never outgrown it. Around him is his cast of friends Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), Steven Prince (Paddy Consindine), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), and of course his best friend Andy Knightley (Nick Frost). All of who long ago outgrew their drunken youths and transitioned into mature roles as fathers and husbands and people with careers.

Gary convinces them all to join him on a pub crawl they never finished, largely by lying to them. Thus begins a night that further showcases the fact that they’ve all grown apart, and also that their hometown has gone on without them. This beginning section really does touch on some clearly raw issues amongst the characters while still managing to be funny. In fact, the reveal of the alien invasion merges so seamlessly with the natural progression of the night you’ll forget that the movie has suddenly shifted from gallows humor to science fiction.

The shift into alien invasion film and paranoia only serves to exacerbate the issues amongst the five friends. Old arguments and feelings come out, often in really great performances by the cast, all while Gary desperately tries to continue to cling to the notion that finishing the pub crawl is their best chance at survival.

In addition to the fun plot, Edgar Wright gives us expertly choreographed fight sequences that remind me of classic Jackie Chan fights. The movement is fluid, the interaction with the environment is top notch, and there’s often quick injections of humor. Best of all, there’s none of the modern techniques that have come to plague action scenes like shakey cameras, bullet time, or strange editing. The action is sensible, interesting, and never feels like filler.

I think this brings me to one of my favorite points about Edgar Wright. As I say above, Wright doesn’t waste space or film. Every joke is set up, and every set up has a pay off. This is not just with jokes, but every plot point. Nothing gets mentioned if it won’t help to further the film in some way. On the other hand, he doesn’t hide information from us either. There’s no attempt to dress up his movie and create ‘twists,’ that wouldn’t be twists if the movie hadn’t chosen to not show us a scene. He achieves all the emotions you should be feeling, even a scene where we question whether or not some or all of the main characters might be aliens, solely through what’s presented on the screen.

The only reason to not see this movie is if you just don’t watch movies. It’s funny, it’s emotional, it’s exciting. All I can really hope is that Wright and Company will continue to work hard and bring us more great films.

Read on for spoilers. I would say if you have any interest in ever seeing this movie, don’t read further.

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Chariots, chariots, fellow movie lovers!

 

 

 

 

 

Gary King is probably one of the saddest characters I’ve ever experienced. I don’t mean to say that I pity him, though there is something distinctly pitiable about the character, I simply mean he is sad. The opening monologue is a really great start to the story, and it sets everything up while evoking a youthful zeal and happiness. The fact that it’s the story he’s sharing in group therapy instantly shatters all of the joy. This is furthered by the fact that the plot gets kicked off by one of his groupmates asking if he regrets not finishing the Golden Mile. Watching Pegg’s face we realize it’s the first moment where Gary has actually had to admit that he might be a failure.

The thread of Gary King always being right, and his growth through the film of admitting his faults, is really important. He goes on this journey to recapture something that doesn’t exist, and his attempt to lighten it up as just a ‘reunion,’ continues to be beaten down by the fact that it clearly isn’t. His arguments with Andy (Frost) just go on to further highlight this, especially since Andy no longer drinks because of some mysterious accident in their past connected to Gary (which is revealed in a really great scene and fantastic monologue by Frost).

In fact, the seamless transition into the alien invasion movie occurs at one of Gary’s saddest moments. Following an argument where Andy accuses this of being a trip for them to simply enable Gary’s obvious alcoholism and inability to leave their rebellious years behind, Gary goes off to stew in the bathroom. While there, he almost punches the same wall in the same spot that he did on their first attempt at the pub crawl, suddenly realizing he doesn’t remember why he punched it so many years ago. He then attempts to sound cool in front of a teenager he had passed on the street earlier, detailing his youthful exploits, referring to himself as a legend, and offering to let the teen and his friends ‘tag along,’ on his pub crawl. His anger over the kid ignoring him is one of his lowest points in the film (if not the lowest), and it sparks the fight that leads to them learning about the alien invasion.

Even the invasion is seen by Gary as a chance to continue the night. The insistence that its their best chance to come out of this alive, coupled with the fact that everyone is now getting progressively drunker, does serve to enable him. We only realize how truly insane Gary’s attachment to the pub crawl is when everything goes entirely tits up, with two of their friends dying and being replaced by alien imposters, and Andy literally having to knock him out so they can try to escape. Gary comes to though, in the tenth pub that they’re cutting through, and pours himself a beer.

All of this leads to the climax of the film, where Gary and Andy outrun the horde of aliens to get to the titular bar. Andy and Gary brawl as Gary tries to have his last beer, with Andy trying to convince him that the entire situation is ruinous. Here Gary finally breaks down and admits that he has problems, and he doesn’t want to ever be sober. It’s heartbreaking, and Frost and Pegg are amazing in this scene. Their reaffirmation of their love for each other is what makes the following defiant speech to the alien overlords so uplifting with its focus on the idea that, “To err is human.”

By the end of the film, Gary has made tremendous steps forward, and come to accept that he is able to make mistakes. More importantly, he’s realized that being able to make mistakes is ok because everyone does it. His journey does have a bittersweet note though, as Nick Frost provides the epilogue, we learn that following the departure of the aliens there was a worldwide technological crash. The last moment where we see Gary, he is flanked by the alien-robotic recreations of his friends when they were teenagers. While he’s clearly given up alcohol, and now has a noble cause that he fights for, it’s still sad to realize that he prefers the teenage versions of his friends to the actual ones.

Yet, Andy doesn’t seem upset that he and his friend plunged the world into a second dark age. Of course, since Wright wastes nothing, one must note that the sign behind Andy reads, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” The epilogue also being told to a circle of people makes for a wonderful mirror to the beginning of the film.

There’s a lot more I could say about this film. The rapid-fire jokes are amazing. The journeys of the other characters while not necessarily equal to Gary’s are still powerful at times, and still allow us a look into the worlds they occupy. I will say that the speech Pete (Marsan) gives after encountering his former school bully who doesn’t recognize him, is really poignant and beautiful.

It’s strange to me to think that beautifully sad is the way I would ultimately choose to describe this film. I was expecting to use words like, ‘awesome,’ a lot in reference to The World’s End. Hilarious was another one I expected to use, and while it definitely still applies (laughter filled the theater many times), it’s not as pertinent as beautifully sad.

So, here’s to Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and everyone else involved in the film. You guys made something really great.

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