Movies: The World's End

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Written By: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Lionsgate, 2012
R; 109 min
2.25 stars (out of 5)


Take Shaun of the Dead, marry it to Hot Fuzz, and Doctor Who the whole thing up a bit, and you might get something like The World's End. Maybe. Only, with all that, I feel like The World's End should have been better.

It should have been funnier, at least. I didn't much laugh. All the jokes came across as forced, as if every actor was all too aware of the beats for each line. It made the whole thing seem very inorganic and unnatural.

And maybe that was the point, since the story is about people being taken over by not-robots. Or rather, replaced by these simulations of their selves, mechanical things that break ridiculously easily but also regenerate. Like I said, pretty much a Doctor Who kind of plot, or any old-school sci-fi. Not a bad thing when done well, but it wasn't so different from the zombies in Shaun of the Dead, either. Didn't they hide in a pub, and fight in a pub, in that movie too? And there was some of that in Hot Fuzz—the fighting in the pub, and having to go up against a whole town. Conformity is clearly an ongoing theme in this loose trilogy of films. Here, the insidious nature of being "assimilated" not through a hostile takeover รก la the Borg, but through gentle "merger" . . . Maybe there is a capitalist undertone here as well, a story that mounts against big business in favor of the little, independent endeavors.

Friendship is another theme in these movies, and I think this is perhaps where World's End didn't work for me. Despite the long exposition at the start of the movie (or maybe because of it), I didn't quite feel the bond these men were supposed to have with one another. Pegg plays Gary, one-time leader of this band of misfits, that guy in school who always believed he was cooler than he really was. Now pushing 40, Gary is one of those sad cases whose best years were the ones in school; he spends his time [in rehab] reliving those golden years of his youth. He is the poster child for arrested development.

All of Gary's friends have grown up and moved on, but Gary gets the bright idea of getting them all to go back to their home town for a pub crawl. (Yes, yes, there's this whole story of how they'd tried it once before and failed to finish, but this plot point fell flat even though it was also supposed to be driving the movie.) From the start I was wondering why any of these guys agreed to Gary's plan. Because they feel sorry for him? They seem to hate him a bit, and with reason; he's utterly obnoxious. Not someone you'd bring over for dinner and let meet the wife and kids.

But off they all go . . . And again, the stuff that is clearly supposed to be funny isn't, mostly because it's so obviously supposed to be funny. Truthfully, a lot of the film was boring. And then there was a love triangle that fell apart and lacked any tension. And Martin Freeman playing the same character he always plays (reluctant adventurer, timid voice of reason, severe straight man). And fight scenes cut in such a way they seemed to be hiding an inadequacy of some sort. (But then again, that's how all Edgar Wright's fight scenes look. Still, it worked in Scott Pilgrim. Not so much here.)

The film did pick up a bit once we met the Cybermen simulations, which end up being called "Blanks" when no one in our band of heroes can agree on a term for them. And yet the very fact they continue with the pub crawl, and their extremely flimsy reasoning for doing so, made most of the rest of the film wobbly. I don't demand a huge amount of logic from this kind of movie, but some things one just can't quite get past.

The end, too, was exceedingly weak.

Still, when pulled apart, World's End does at least shine yet another light on the quest for adulthood and the hollow promises therein. What does it mean to be a "grown-up"? Maybe, in a way, it means being replaced by some robotic version of oneself, one with limited memories of happier days. How many people go through the motions in life?

But Gary's life isn't any better. He's stuck in his past and unable to make progress. So the quest must be for a happy medium. Maybe Gary's need to finish the pub crawl is about reaching some threshold so that he can finally break free and move forward. (Except the end of the film negates that take. So maybe Gary is just a lost cause.)

I don't know. I went in wanting to like this movie and wanting to laugh, and I walked out not really having done either. Shame, because Hot Fuzz is one of my all-time favorites. (And Shaun of the Dead is all right, though not one of my all-time favorites.) I guess World's End at least proves you can never really recapture old glory.

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