Monday, August 18, 2014

#1,463. The World's End (2013)

Directed By: Edgar Wright

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman

Tag line: "One Night. Six Friends. Twelve Pubs. Total Annihilation"

Trivia: The movie began as a screenplay titled Crawl about a group of teenagers on a pub crawl (Edgar Wright wrote it when he was 21 years old)

The final chapter in director Edgar Wright’s unofficial “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy (following 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s Hot Fuzz), The World’s End closes out the "series" in spectacular fashion.

It was June of 1990, the last day of school, when a teenage Gary King and his four best friends tried to tackle Newton Haven’s “Golden Mile”, drinking 12 pints of beer in 12 different pubs before the sun came up the next morning. Despite having had the time of their lives, the pals never made it as far as the final pub, “The World’s End”. Over twenty years have passed since that fateful night, and Gary King (played as an adult by Simon Pegg) hasn’t forgotten that they failed to complete their mission. To put everything right, Gary pays a visit to his former buddies Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Andy (Nick Frost) to convince them to once again attempt to conquer the Golden Mile. Despite the fact they’ve all moved on with their lives, the four agree to tag along, and set out to finish what they started so many years ago. But as the evening drags on, the five pals can’t shake the feeling that something very strange is happening in their old hometown. It isn’t until they hit the fourth pub, however, that they realize just how “different” things are. All at once, finishing their pub crawl means more than simply completing their journey; it’s become a matter of life and death!

The World’s End changes things up a bit by making Simon Pegg’s character, Gary King, the loud, obnoxious loser, while Nick Frost, who played a lovable buffoon in both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is a well-respected lawyer, a professional who, unlike his childhood best friend, has left the past behind him. It’s to the credit of both actors that they make this role reversal as seamless and believable as it is (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi tried the same thing in 1981’s Neighbors, with less-than-stellar results). On top of this, the movie also features strong performers in key supporting roles. Freeman (who appeared in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series as Bilbo Baggins), Considine (among many other fine performances, he shined in director Jim Sheridan’s 2003 drama In America), and Marsan (every time I see him, I’m reminded of his extraordinary turn in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky) have a great rapport with each other, as well as with Pegg and Frost, giving us characters so well-rounded that any one of them could be the lead in their own film. Rosamond Pike, who plays Oliver’s sister Sam, shows up halfway through, yet still makes her presence known, and ex-Bond Pierce Brosnan has a small but memorable role as the pals’ former teacher, Mr. Shepherd. I so enjoyed watching these characters interact at the start of the movie that, for a while, I completely forgot The World’s End is also a sci-fi / action flick!

My reminder came by way of an awesome scene set in a barroom lavatory, where the five face off against a particularly bizarre gang of youths, a sequence so unusual that it leaves us as stunned and confused as Gary and his compatriots. It isn’t long before we realize the citizens of Newton Haven aren’t exactly “normal”, and that many of them are intently watching the friends as they make their way around town. To avoid drawing attention to themselves, Gary and the others decide to continue their pub crawl, during which they (and we) figure out just how dire the situation has become in Newton Haven. Watching these five buddies try to deal with it all is a hell of a lot of fun (the laughs come even quicker later on, at which point the majority of them are stinking drunk). The special effects in The World’s End are solid, but never once overpower the story (unlike most movies released in the summer months, this one remains character driven at all times), and there are moments when the “people” following the boys around look pretty damn creepy. Topping it all off is a grand finale that, while certainly not upbeat, is entirely satisfying.

Being a big fan of both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I was glad to see Wright and Pegg (who, as with the previous two movies, also co-wrote the script) close the trilogy out with a film that’s every bit as entertaining as its predecessors.

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