The World’s End is the summer’s second special effects comedy about the apocalypse-coming-during-a-party, the first being This is the End. What’s with that? Why are we obsessed with the world ending? And why during parties? Is Hollywood suddenly buying into the whole ‘Obama’s going to destroy us’ narrative? Are they mocking that narrative? Or was this just a thing where two different actor/screenwriters came up with the same (to them) hilarious idea?
The World’s End was written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, directed by Wright, and co-starred Pegg and his bestie, Nick Frost. The previous collaborations of this team were Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both of which were way over-the-top and hilarious. If these three films make a zombie/cop movie/sci-fi trilogy, this one’s the weakest of the three, however, because it doesn’t make sense narratively, and the other two did, sort of. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, or that I didn’t laugh quite a bit. But the Wright/Pegg/Frost lunacy felt simultaneously less and more grounded, if that makes sense. That is to say, the story this time didn’t really work at all, and tried to make up for it by having the characters shout loudly ‘this doesn’t make sense, but we’re doing it anyway.’ At the same time, Gary King, the character played by Pegg, is the worst kind of delusional alcoholic, a character that became increasingly difficult to laugh at as the movie went on.
So it’s about five friends: Gary (Pegg), Andy, an attorney (Frost), Steven, a dot.com millionaire (Paddy Considine), Peter, an upscale car dealer (Eddie Marsan), and Oliver (Martin Freeman), a realtor. Four successful men, in other words, and pathetic Gary. And Gary is, as he repeatedly tells us, a perennial adolescent, a wild and funny guy, a party animal, a free spirit. In short, he’s an an alcoholic, a drunken liar, a moocher, a complete failure at life. Which he won’t admit, to them or himself. Anyway, he’s the leader of the group, the animating spirit behind a final weekend blowout, a trip back to their home town and a pub crawl through the town’s twelve bars. The others don’t really want to go, and Andy doesn’t even drink anymore. But out of a sense of misplaced loyalty (and perhaps sense of fleeting youth), they all, reluctantly, make the trip. Along the way, we also meet Oliver’s sister, Sam, (Rosamund Pike), who Gary has had a life-long crush on, blocking the romantic path of Steven, who really does love her. And she him, turns out.
So, five friends, on a trek to have a pint at each of twelve bars. And then, somehow along the way, they learn that their home town is mostly populated by evil alien robots, with blue ink instead of blood. The robots chase them around, and fight them, but in fact, aren’t terribly good at fighting–the lads are able to defeat them, mostly by ripping off their heads and/or limbs. Nick Frost proves an especially deft robot-dismantler, while Eddie Marsan’s Peter gets the movie’s one genuinely tender moment of discovery, when he sees his childhood bully (now turned robot/clone), and memories of abuse come flooding back. And Peter’s revenge was, for me, the one absolutely satisfying moment in the movie.
Five friends on a pub crawl. Then, this alien robot discovery. To which they respond by . . . continuing the pub crawl? By going to another bar, and having five more beers? And then, on to the next bar, and five more? And then yet another bar?
Okay, granted that it’s implausible that these five friends would agree to hang out together at all. Four successful guys, and one alcoholic loser? I can maybe barely accept that Steven and Oliver et al might have some lingering fondness for Gary, and some lingering affection for past antics. But once the blue-ink alien robot things show up? You’d keep drinking? You wouldn’t, you know, get in your car and head back to London? And to have them say ‘we know it doesn’t make sense, we’re doing it anyway’ doesn’t really help much.
It just got in the way. It made a pretty antic movie seem so dumb it was difficult to keep laughing. And the ending of the movie, in which ‘The World’s End’ became something more than the name of a pub in an English village, but an actual thing, well, it didn’t really work either.
The movie concludes with a long scene in which Gary (!), defends all of humanity against the main alien dude (wonderfully voiced by Bill Nighy). Gary defends us on the grounds of humanity’s yearning for unfettered independence, even when we make a mess of things. I suppose there’s some nobility in that. But Gary isn’t, actually, independent at all. He’s an alcoholic. Mostly, I kinda felt sad for him.
Its funny bits are very funny. Some of the aliens are loopily menacing, and it’s always fun to see a headless robot keep on mindlessly (and sightlessly) attacking. So there’s much to admire. But the Wright/Pegg/Frost team had raised expectations with two previously smart and funny movies. This one’s dumber, and less funny. Shame that.