Friday, September 13, 2013

The World's End

I have a confession to make:  lately going to the movies just hasn't been much fun.  This is not to say that I'm growing weary of my hobby of watching films and reviewing them here on this blog, but rather for the last few months I have been struck by what has to be the worst run of bad luck I've ever experienced.  When was the last time I walked into a movie theater, bought tickets, watched the film, and actually enjoyed what I saw?  Two months ago - in July.  "Despicable Me 2" was the last movie I could say was worth the time and money I spent on it*.  Otherwise its been bland disappointments like "Elysium" or "The Butler" or movies that looked so mediocre that could not even gain the charm of being a disappointment like "City of Bones" or "The Wolverine".

So thank God for Edgar Wright, who has literally made movies fun again.  I don't think I've ever quite appreciated Edgar Wright and how this man makes the world better for everybody.  Which is funny because Wright directed "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World", a film I named the best movie of 2010 awhile back.  Along with his writing partner/star, Simon Pegg, Wright created "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", two of the best comedies of the last decade.  "The World's End" marks the conclusion to an informal trilogy of films including the aforementioned two, which has been dubbed the "Three Flavours Conetto Trilogy".  In some way Simon Pegg and his best friend Nick Frost must deal with adulthood, friendship, love, and some kind of freaky over-the-top genre invasion.  So where "Shaun of the Dead" is a zombie film, "Hot Fuzz" is an American action fest, "The World's End" is a SciFi invasion of the body snatchers film.

Now does "The World's End" live up to its spiritual pedigree?  You bet your drunken ass.  I am basically left largely without a single complaint for this film, I was utterly satisfied and entertained by every character, plot twist, and story direction.  "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" both are really well-made movies, but I can't say they've quite warmed my heart as much as "The World's End" has done.  Its easily the darkest film of the three, featuring the most fundamentally broken people, and probably has the least laughs in total.  But let's face facts:  we are rubbing up against genius here.

Edgar Wright described his movie as 'a drunken Doctor Who episode', thus robbing me of a great insightful comparison, the brilliant bastard.  Pretty much its plot is exactly that, a seemingly quiet British countryside town is hiding a dark and terrible secret involving a most-terrible alien invasion.  However, "The World's End" is actually a significantly less satirical movie than "Hot Fuzz" or "Shaun".  Those were steeped in the cliches and trends of the genre, while "The World's End" basically just has the bodysnatching aliens because they fit within the story, not because its turning that genre on its head.  Simon Pegg isn't playing a drunken foolish Doctor or Jeff Goldblum, he's playing a much more damaged and human person.

The next paragraph is going to make "The World's End" seem very un-funny.  The hero this time is named "Gary King", a man who peaked in high school, and has been on a decline ever since.  He had a gang of best friends in a small British town that they briefly "ruled" (at least according to their high school minds), and never managed to get anywhere past that singular mediocre glory.  His highest achievement in life was his graduation day party, a pub crawl across twelve bars in his hometown, which he never even finished.  While his friends moved on to get careers and jobs and wives and meaning in their lives, Gary King still wears the same black coat, the same beaten old car, listens to the same tape deck, and acts like a typical high school douche bag.  If you've reached college age, I'm sure you already know a guy exactly like this, completely immature and loud and grandiose, the kind of person that can only succeed in an environment as entirely egotistical and full of shit as a high school.  Some grow up to be stock brokers, others fizzle and burn and are stuck perpetually in 1990, like Simon Pegg's poor character here.  Feeling that he's truly reached bottom, Gary King manipulates his four old mates into going back home to complete the pub crawl, "the Golden Mile", in order to find again what he lost over the years**.

Its an easy thing to have a lovable slacker like Simon Pegg's Shaun, who only needed to fight zombies.  But Gary King is actually a much more complex and difficult character to portray, especially in a comedy, and even more so in a comedy that needs to lighthearted and fun.  He's a modern translation of a tragic character, the kind of delusional failure that would normally populate a depressing 1940s stage drama***.  Yet Gary King has to be charming enough to be likable, while still entirely egotistical, a near-sociopath, and basically awful in every way.  They had to make him a total loser or else he would be entirely hateful.  That Simon Pegg makes this work, is something of a triumph.  Worse, when it comes to the alien invasion, the bar crawling mates could basically leave at any time, and the only thing that really keeps the movie moving at all is Gary King's suicidal need to finish at least those twelve pints of beer, the alien-infested pubs being just another self-destructive addiction.

Supporting Gary's antics is his crew of four friends, who together have a nice chemistry of old chums.  I like how Nick Frost, who previously was the dumb sidekick, suddenly has become the voice of reason.  And in a reversal of "Hot Fuzz", he's the most effective fighter, slamming robots together like a huge fat ball of badass.  Each of the five are well-supported characters with their own personalities, their own issues, and are all well-written.  The dialog is witty, occasionally brilliant, and very funny.  Even with Gary King's clear deficiencies as a person, you can almost see how these five could be friends.  Everything about this movie simply works.

The best part about "The World's End" is that it is so well-done, but it also carries itself with such ease.  There are certain movies whose greatness is so obvious its heavy, its weighty, when you come into contact with it you feel like its something overwhelming.  "The World's End" is just fun, its a relatively small movie with strong characters and sharp wit that keep it running.  Even its action scenes are breezy, fast, well-shot, but they are never so long or dangerous that it breaks the speedy light pace.  Edgar Wright, by the way, has lost none of the talent for action that he showed while making "Scott Pilgrim".  You don't even realize how genius "The World's End" is as great as it is until you sit back and think, and realize just how impressive this movie is.  It even manages to tie together the alien invasion symbolically with the characters' deep problems, it all fits.  I loved this movie.  It was exactly what I needed.

* To be fair, in that time I also saw "Wolf Children" and "Before Midnight", two very profound and extremely well-made movies, but I didn't see those in theaters.

** Its occurred to me that the plot of this movie is basically the same as that of "21 & Over", with Gary King being the douchy lead character just twice the age.

*** Somebody should do a sociological study examining suicide rates amongst audience members of showings of "Long Day's Journey into Night", or anything by Anton Chekhov.

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