A perfect blend of comedy, sentiment, action, effects and performances The World’s End delivers the goods in spades and is easily my favorite film of the summer.
Looking back on the past, Gary King (Simon Pegg) makes the sad realization that the best night of his life was one night 20 years ago when he and his friends attempted the Golden Mile, a 12-pub crawl in his home town. In a desperate bid to reclaim glory and relevance, Gary enlists his former mates to try take one more crack at the tour. It isn’t easy as Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) have all moved on with their lives and offer up varying levels of resistance to Gary’s proposal and varying levels of resentment for Gary himself. Once on the Golden Mile they start to notice some weirdness going on around them before all hell breaks loose and they find themselves in a life or death struggle they never counted on.
Before we get too deep into this I have to make my bias clear. I love writer/director Edgar Wright, co-writer and star Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost. I have enjoyed their individual work to varying degrees but their collaborations have never disappointed me. They hit my entertainment sweet spot dead center and never fail to satisfy. This being the case, the World’s End is solidly in my wheelhouse and hits pretty much everything that I enjoy about movies and hits it dead on. So when I say that the only flaws I find in it is that it eventually had to end and not everyone from Spaced is in it you know that this is deep fan talk and the deck was always stacked in this movie’s favor. That being said, had it disappointed you would be reading a deeply bitter and sad review. As it happens, it did not.
The end to the spiritual Blood and Ice Cream trilogy (aka Cornetto trilogy), the World’s End does not share characters or narrative from previous films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz but does again deliver sturdy comedy meditation on a popular genre and does so with heart and emotion. Shaun of the Dead looked at romantic relationships in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, Hot Fuzz examined the search for self and purpose against the backdrop of a buddy cop action movie/murder mystery and now The World’s End delves into free will and friendship in the midst of sci-fi shenanigans. The one throughline, aside from Cornetto ice cream, is that in each the characters struggle to find themselves and do it in the midst of incredible situations that they are not prepared to deal with.
That all sounds pretty heavy but the movie is also hilarious from small chuckles to big laughs. The comedy here is precise and plays across visual gags that recall the timing based slapstick of Chaplin, the Marx Bros and the Three Stooges as well as incredibly snappy and well written dialogue that plays on some of those same timing conventions as often as it delivers a funny punchline. The precision of a lot of this speaks to the strength of the writing but also speaks volumes about the tight direction and razor sharp performances.
This extends to the action scenes which are exciting and enormously well choreographed. Wright has brought some of the martial arts flavor of Scott Pilgrim over but dropped the overly stylized flare for more grounded action that is an absolute joy to watch. These scenes play out like a Rube Goldberg device with the pieces triggering the next phase while at the same time moving around each other like an intricate dance. Enough cannot be said for these sequences and I was very surprised by them in this context. Certainly Wright has shown he can do it with Scott Pilgrim and Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were not slouches in the action department but there is a beauty of motion going on here that I found breath taking and exhilarating. It sounds like hyperbole but I adored these sequences both for the action itself but also for the comedy pieces woven in all through it.
Because of this added emphasis on action the performances play across several levels in that it required comedy timing, action timing and emotional depth and timing that makes the whole thing feel complete and very satisfying. Everyone in the cast is on point here and it is really fun watching them nail it so completely. Pegg brings a deep sadness to his character even as he manages to be hilarious the entire film. Likewise, Frost steps away from being the silly buffoon he normally plays to offer up a thoughtful and occasionally heartbreaking character. When he comes into his own in the story, it is just as much his movie as it is Pegg’s, an equity that hasn’t been this even in the past. Martin Freeman is excellent as always and has some extra burdens in the film that he tackles with perfect skill. Paddy Considine is terrific here as well and his character definitely comes into his own throughout the course of the picture and Eddie Marsan, an actor of whom I was unfamiliar, impressed me quite a bit as well. Rosamund Pike is a great counterbalance for Gary and does a terrific job in what would otherwise be a sausage party. It was also nice to see Mark Heap show up even in a small role.
The film is very even handed with the characters and no one feels insignificant or also-ran. The characters themselves are all very well drawn and you feel like you know them right away. When things start to go bad there are real emotional consequences because the characters are not just stand ins but feel like real people who the audience cares about.
It should also be mentioned that if the Doctor had shown up and there was less use of profanity, this could have been a Doctor Who episode. The feel of the story, the arc it takes and even some of the effects and designs are very much in line with Doctor Who. If you are a fan of that show then you will find a lot to like here and if you have never seen it then you may want to check it out if you dig this movie.
Conclusion [10 out of 10]
Now again, I have a positive bias going into this movie but I have a hard time imagining people not liking it. There is a perfect blend of action, comedy and drama and while I hesitate to say it is the funniest movie of the year it is definitely one of the best and is my current favorite (with all respect to Much Ado About Nothing which is also amazing) of the year. The only people I would hesitate to recommend this to are people who are uncomfortable with profanity and people who hate awesome things that are hilarious. Everyone else should be sound as a pound.