The World’s End is nothing if not the funniest movie Edgar Wright has yet made by a wide margin. It’s also the sloppiest. Though labeled as the third “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” film, it dispenses with more of the common quirks of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz then it maintains, becoming a new sort of movie.
Granted, like all of Wright’s films it centers around a man wrestling with a deeply-set selfishness, and as the film unwinds the gushy genre elements are in keeping with the “Blood & Ice Cream” tradition. There’s also that familiar satirical twinge lashing out at the masses. Like zombies and the NWA before them, ink-filled robots are the latest violent force of conformity in Wright and Pegg’s universe. Stripped down filmmaking, a longer-fused script, and much deeper wounds between characters change things up in a big way though.
With this script the duo have their encroaching middle age on the mind, and Gary King (Pegg) is far and away the most lost of all Wright’s heroes. Introduced in rehab, Gary is a stunted 40-something who hasn’t let go of his debaucherous peak years as a teenager. Where Shaun simply needed to get off the couch and Nicholas Angle needed to spend a bit more time on one –in order for both to open up to other people– Gary is a full-blown alcoholic with a history of fucking over his friends.
It’s a miracle that this deeply unpleasant person is the anchor of such a pleasant film, but it’s a miracle Simon Pegg pulls off with a confident, razor’s edge performance. Gary is every bit the twat his friends remember him as, but Pegg nails the vulnerable recklessness and charm of that magnetic douchebag we’ve all known at some point. Despite their families, successful careers and warranted suspicion of spending time with him, Pegg’s performance makes it clear why these guys would let themselves be sucked into his gravitational pull for one more pub crawl back home.
The rest of leading men and lady fill out the old gang nicely, with Freeman, Marsan, Considine, and Pike quietly ensuring every member of the crew is a rich, three-dimensional part of the whole. While you can say Freeman is “the uptight one” and Marsan is “the meek one,” nobody boils down to a simple stereotype, and together they’re rapport is nothing short of spectacular. The strength of the chemistry between these guys cannot be overstated, and when Rosamund Pike peeks her head in on the action, she fits right in. At the core of them all though, is Nick Frost’s Andrew, the most successful of the bunch, now a teetotaler and a bit of a grump. It’s a transformative, evolving performance from Frost who deftly weaves Andrew through the night’s events with humor and strength.
All this prose and barely a mention of the Body Snatchers-esque scifi identity of the film! That speaks to the restrain with which the script lets these elements leak into the film, represented by the slow creep of familiar blue lens flares into the films photography. Wright and Pegg take their time letting their heroes in on the alien weirdness happening in their home town, and once the blue stuff starts flowing and people’s head start coming off, the film still keeps a lid on things. This dalliance into blockbuster science fiction does bring with it the burden of tons of exposition and convoluted methods of keeping the pub-crawl going. Though never as gracefully integrated as, say, the procedural elements of Hot Fuzz, the script plays with this challenge in fun ways. Most importantly, there is never more than a moment or two without a laugh. The film is just plain fucking hilarious, top-to-bottom. Though never as dense or structurally clever and rarely employing the kind of layered callback humor of Shaun and Fuzz, it nails every gag and is loaded with hilarious exchanges. The World’s End is the funniest film of the trilogy, and the funniest film of the year.
The film’s biggest problems emerge in the last act, where things get the hairiest. There’s a great momentum as things narrow down and barrel towards the inevitable scifi payoff to all of the great setup, but it’s hard to argue the ultimate revelations are truly satisfying. There’s a stretch of the finale filled with revelations and exposition that would be outright interminable, again were there not so many amazing jokes embedded throughout. Thematically though, the payoff is messier. The film’s argument for humanity versus conformity is clear enough, but it’s not as cogently reflected in where each character ends up. Instead, more genre obligations take over and kitchen sinks start landing in the final few minutes. Per usual it’s all quite fun, but it’s unlikely to resonate as strongly and cleanly as the finales of Shaun, Fuzz, and Pilgrim.
Passionate fans of Wright’s work may also find themselves having to recalibrate as the filmmaker has almost entirely dispensed with the kinetic stylings of his previous films. Gone, for the most part, are the whooshing pans, stacked-up crash zooms, and hard edit transitions. There’s still a sophisticated kineticism in the way Wright covers scenes and moves between locations, but it’s numbed to the point of bordering blandness. It doesn’t cross that line, but it’s a distressing development. You could perhaps lump it all in with the film’s vague “growing up” narrative, but that’s not even an idea the script holds onto. More importantly, Wright’s dynamic flourishes have never been mere affectation- from Shaun of the Dead through Scott Pilgrim it has been that magical concoction of movement and sound design and precision that have made his films such masterpieces of tone, pace, and rhythm. Without all of that there are over-extended fights that are a little too chaotic and scenes of dialogue that tread the line of being flat and overlong. The World’s End is hilarious, it’s cool, it’s fun. It just doesn’t get in your blood and make your heart beat faster the way each of his films have to this point. In fact, compared to his most recent and hyper-precise film, this one is downright slovenly. Wright’s filmmaking was always going to have to meet Marvel in the middle for Ant-Man, but it’s a bit surprising his camera has lost some of its steam already. Hopefully it’s not gone forever.
What The World’s End proves more than anything is that the first two “Cornetto” films work better as two sides to a coin, rather than pieces of a retconned trilogy. It’s also a tough trick to maintain the texture and invention of a debut film that is nothing short of sublime- perhaps the best written genre script of the last three decades. When taken as its own thing though, The World’s End is a fantastic genre blast. It’s hilarious and crass with the best of Wright’s work, but packs an unprecedentedly bitter edge. It barely holds everything together, but the highest priorities are maintained: doing (mostly) right by its great characters, and leaving you aching from laughter. You’d have to be a blank not to appreciate the value of that in this or any other year.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars