The World’s End brings back the crew that watched every action movie ever made and then made Hot Fuzz. Pegg/Frost/Wright are back together for another pub-of-destiny action comedy.
Gary King (Pegg) is the guy who still drives his high school car like it’s a hot rod, lives in a studio that looks like it smells like a bowling alley, still brags about high school conquests, and who, twenty years after graduation, is still very much living in high school.
Desperate to relive the day he’s been stuck in for decades, Gary is determined to finish what he and his four friends began on graduation day. The “Golden Mile” is a walk down memory lane through twelve pubs, one pint per pub per man through their hometown, a quaint suburb that’s quiet… too quiet. Twenty years ago, Gary was just three pubs short of a completed mile, and feels the need to bring closure on the best day of his life.
As they return the sleepy old town, things seem different. Perhaps it’s the perfectly manicured lawns or the small town charm gone from many of the pubs after being bought up by a nameless franchise. It could be aliens have abducted humans and replicated them as blue-blooded robots. As the afternoon passes into evening and the sober regress into inebriation, the natives become increasingly rigid, monitoring Gary King and company.
Gary learns that “they” came not long after he left the town and slowly took over the people. “They” don’t like to be called robots, and the best handle the intoxicated gang of five could come up with was “empties.” The “empties” are a literal and figurative shell of the people whose DNA they had copied, and they’re out to save the human species from themselves, “I, Robot” style. The only sad bunch that haven’t been copied and recycled into human mulch are the five drunks stumbling among the streets, playing stupid – which comes quite easily for them.
For fans of Pegg/Frost/Wright , the movie delivers. There are plenty of nods to the past movies and lots of easter eggs which include a portrait of Simon Pegg in royal wig and gown as the sign post of the King’s pub and several shots very much in the style of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz; not to mention centering the plot around the pubs themselves.
Comedies these days tend to be the worst in terms of language; where humor once came through conflicting characters sharing the same space and exchanging well-delivered lines, it seems writers have forgotten that comedy loves tension, and humor today has regressed into shock value.
By comparison, the cuss words are on par with The World’s End, but the dialogue is actually witty. It would have been more enjoyable if it had just cut back on the expletives, which were mostly concentrated to a few scenes.
Also, the end of the movie hobbles along after loose ends had already been tied up, as if trying to out-do the elliptical style of their previous movies. The result is a twist which feels like something that could have been tagged on after the credits. The movie would have done better to start rolling the end credits about two minutes sooner.
What works for the movie is that it pits the protagonist against his own weaknesses. Gary loves his freedom, claims he’s not “tied down” to a wife or a career or children like the rest of his chums who’ve settled down and seem to be enjoying the structured life on a superficial level.
The story is paced well, utilizing great comedic timing and a quick introduction to all the main characters which develop through subtle reveals brought through conflict, and Gary is given enough time on screen to be funny, but not so much time that he gets too annoying to laugh at. After all, he’s not meant to be very likable – a womanizing alcoholic with stunted emotional growth. The problem is that, as far as the story is concerned, Gary’s inability to change is exactly what the world needs.
The telling conversation between Gary and a disembodied voice which resonates through a cosmic light, which Gary calls a “lamp” argues around purpose. While Gary reminds the lamp in less than subtle dialogue that nobody is in charge of Gary but Gary, the lamp argues that Gary wastes his life.
While the story is ridiculous, only meant for a good laugh, which it does accomplish, it’s frustrating that, unlike the previous movies, this character only regresses. That might be forgivable, but it seems the result of the storytellers not knowing which direction to go with the character arc, which is also probably why the ending itself is fumbled.
Granted, the character arc was only a foil for the jokes, but that’s exactly what’s missing in comedy these days. Given character development is exactly what separates the filmmakers’ other works from the rest, it’s reasonable to expect the protagonist can finally admit to himself that he doesn’t believe he has anything to live for, until he recognizes that his friends still care about him. Instead, the either/or remains intact: either Gary has purpose in his life, or he enjoys his life. No middle ground.
The lingering choice before Gary does well enough to carry the narrative through… almost to the end.