The World’s End (UK/USA, 2013)

7558931.3Directed by: Edgar Wright. This is the third in a loosely-defined “trilogy” (surrounding the mysterious British foodstuff the cornetto, what we in Canada call an ice cream drumstick), and even though I didn’t like the second—Hot Fuzz—very much at all, I loved the first—the near-perfect high water mark for modern comedy for me, Shaun of the Dead—so much that I thought it might rub off on this film, leapfrogging the disappointment of the middle instalment.  I was half right: I liked this one a lot more than Hot Fuzz, but it’s still a pale comparison to Shaun of the Dead, and in hindsight, it’s probably about the same as Hot Fuzz. Here’s the thing: I think I like Edgar Wright (the only other one of his I’ve seen, the Scott Pilgrim movie, was sans Simon Pegg, and had the same cutesy, nerdy, Scorsese-via-comic-books editing style that worked so well in S of the D), and I thought that I liked Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but I think I was mistaking the collective strength of their performances in Shaun of the Dead, and the overall superior quality of that film, its economy of narrative, its lightning-fast dialogue, Python-like interweaving of fast jokes and recalls, its deft, expertly crafted weaving of two disparate genres in a way that provides a great example of both simultaneously, for an inherent talent in the two of them. I used to call this Robert Carlyle Syndrome based on the discrepancy I felt between the amazing performance from Trainspotting and the flat, meandering nonsense of Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, and the great lesson I learned: an actor is only as great as the role they’re playing, the dialogue they’re speaking, and the editing, lighting, etc, all of the choices that the filmmaker makes, in other words—an actor can only be actually great if they’re in a great film, and a so-so actor can appear great in the hands of a great director placing them in a great film. And really, to be fair, I could have called it Jonny Lee Miller syndrome, or Ewan MacGregor syndrome (although his batting average is pretty good). Anyway, the point is, that my sense of disappointment in the latter two of the “cornetto trilogy”, comes from the fact that they’re simply not nearly as good as Shaun of the Dead: I found them incoherent, plodding, absurdist to an alienating degree (even to someone as prone to indulge nerdy, meandering sci-fi as me), and just plain not that funny.  As a thought-experiment, I can look to the Pegg and Frost-free Edgar Wright film Scott Pilgrim mentioned above, and also to the Edgar Wright-free Pegg and Frost film Paul, in which I found Pegg and Frost to be the only saving grace in the midst of Seth Rogen’s voicing for the sassy CGI alien. That film, and the Scott Pilgrim film, and both of these other “cornetto” films, are all trying to bank on recapturing the magic of Wright, Pegg and Frost in Shaun of the Dead, and by the looks of it, Wright is having a better time of defining a career beyond that than his pals Pegg and Frost are (and of course, Pegg is doing fine with Star Trek and Mission Impossible, leaving poor Frosty). Anyway, overall I did enjoy this film a bit, and its incoherence and absurdity were also major factors in how unique and enjoyable it was. The film starts as a cautionary tale about a sad, underachieving loser, basking in the leftover glory of high school, having a rude awakening in the midst of his successful adult friends about how meaningless that glory is when you’re in your thirties and forties. Just at the point where the drama comes to a head, and you’re not sure what they could possibly do to keep it going for the other hour and a bit of screentime, the film turns into a sci-fi caper about a town infiltrated by alien robots, in a Doctor Who-ish allegory for gentrification, and another case of the loser’s shortcomings turning out to be a strength in the new, warped, sci-fi context that follows. I’m not sure how much I liked the ending, mostly because I’m not sure how much I like the main character turning into a leather trenchcoat and fedora wearing ding-dong roaming from town to town with a sword killing people, in a state of eternal stunted adolescence, roaming the post-apocalyptic landscape. That’s the ending? Mind you, after the absurdity that preceded it (similar to the absurdity of Hot Fuzz, complete with an underground bunker for the bad guys), I guess it’s fine. And this movie gets big points for jamming Pegg, Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Pierce Brosnan in one film. Rosamund Pike does a good job with the light-comedy here, although it’s obviously no heavy lifting after seeing her in Gone Girl (and still no Pride and Prejudice). But this movie definitely has more laughs than I remember from Hot Fuzz, and that’s the important part. Pegg’s vision isn’t always coherent, isn’t always mature, and isn’t always super funny, but it’s always uniquely bizarre, and in the sea of cookie-cutter movies out there, that counts for something I guess.

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One response to “The World’s End (UK/USA, 2013)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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