THE WORLD’S END is the latest from director Edgar Wright, and his cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It serves as the last entry of the trio’s unofficial “Cornetto Trilogy,” composing of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. Each film dealt with a specific genre: zombies, action thrillers, and now, the apocalypse. And each film also showcased very human characters in very intimate relationships, this film being no different.
Edgar Wright has concocted a comedy/action/sci-fi/horror — let me start over. Edgar Wright is a genre in and unto himself. Rapid-fire cuts, sly references, extremely energetic performances bordering on hyper. Having seen each of his films in theaters, the man has been a personal hero of mine with a 1-2-3 punch of the two aforementioned Cornetto flicks and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. So, it’s with a weighted heart that I say The World’s End is solidly good, not great.
It’s an odd feeling to walk out of a theater only moderately pleased, especially from what was supposed to be a classic. Wright and his crew are some of cinema’s finest; geeks made good, surpassing expectations at each turn at bat. And yes, this film has a great cast, great visuals, and great moments. But great moments do not a great film make. It’s a shame really, because it’s two movies in one; one that gets really good, followed by one that ultimately deflates everything before it.
Pegg and Frost are joined by some of the UK’s best: Paddy Considine (IN AMERICA), Eddie Marsan (SHERLOCK HOLMES), Martin Freeman (SHERLOCK, the good one), and Rosamund Pike (DIE ANOTHER DAY) in a mind-bending, indescribable pub crawl gone wrong. And the film is old-fashioned in taking its time to set up the characters and their relationships, how they’ve grown apart, and what returning to their hometown means to them. The stakes are high, because of the emotional groundwork laid down in the first half. These are the best characters Pegg and Frost have played, in the weakest story they’ve come up with.
The themes in this movie are heavy, dealing with the dangers of extended adolescence, personal freedom vs. conformity, reaching out for past and unobtained glories, and the illusory nature of nostalgia. With material like that, it’s miraculous the movie gets as many laughs as it does. I think I would have preferred the version without the genre elements, as if a great film was interrupted somehow. SUPER 8 and THE TREE OF LIFE come to mind, decent character pieces juxtaposed with supernatural elements that didn’t necessarily help the material in the end.
It’s important to look at society through a genre’s lens to make topics and issues more palatable. There are few ways to make a film with directly blunt messages without rampant eye-rolling, and the three Cornetto films each pull it off thanks to their wit, cleverness and mastery of tone. The World’s End is less successful because the interpersonal material is so rich and nuanced, that dealing with the rest of it in terms of science-fiction becomes unnecessary. Wright, Pegg and Frost have matured to the point that they no longer need to pay homage to genre. They simply do because they wanna. But that comes at a cost.
The sci-fi/action stuff is cool, don’t get me wrong. But they’ve done it before, with more panache and variety. I still recommend seeing it; Pegg and Frost have matured as performers, and Wright has applied his lessons from previous films well here. And although it’s a very British movie (basic knowledge of pub culture helps a couple of jokes land), stateside audiences can thoroughly enjoy this. I wanted a perfect capstone for the Cornetto Trilogy, but at least we got a capstone, and a solid one at that. I’d go so far as to say if you’ve never seen any of Edgar Wright’s films, you’ll enjoy this even more with fresher eyes.