Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The World's End Review

I left The World's End slightly disappointed. But, mainly, I was disappointed in myself - for feeling disappointed.
This is a very good, very funny, very clever film that trounces most other films on all three of those levels. There is nothing to be disappointed about, at all, but I still felt it. Which is disappointing.

The World's End is the final part of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's loose trilogy, rounding out Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The trilogy, which has gone by many names but finally seems to have settled on "The Cornetto Trilogy", are all entirely separate films sharing only their director (Wright), their actors (Pegg and Frost), a recurring theme of individuality vs. conformity, the appearance of at least one Wall's Cornetto (hence the name), and a deep sense of Britishness. One thing that exemplifies that Britishness is that they all heavily involve pubs. Not "bars", as The World's End's US trailers painfully called them; definitely pubs.
The World's End actually has twelve of them - six times as many as the other two films combined - as a group of five friends attempt to recreate (and maybe this time even finish) the epic pub-crawl they started as teenagers. Dragged back together by perpetual man-child Gary, the disparate group slowly discover, one pub at a time, that their hometown is not what it once was, and that something sinister and unearthly is afoot. This would pose a challenge in itself, of course, but by this point they're already four pints in and Gary's still determined to drink the other eight.

What's interesting here is that Pegg is the one playing Gary - a character that the others pretty much can't stand, but tag along with out of pity and a sense of obligation. Nick Frost's Andy, in particular, has a longstanding grudge against Gary which keeps the two at odds for much of the movie. It's an unusual change from the easy friendship we're used to seeing from the pair, but this new dynamic supplies a lot of the film's heart and provides both actors with challenging roles we've not really seen from them before.
The rest of the performances are impressive across the board. Eddie Marsan, Paddy Constantine and Martin Freeman are hilariously great as the rest of the childhood gang, and Rosamund Pike stands out as the one remaining voice of sobriety.

While Frost and Pegg push their acting, Wright is also pushing his craft. His direction and editing are, if anything, even tighter than they were on the first two films. The sharp, hyperactive style of Scott Pilgrim, his last film, seems to inform this one in more ways than one - not least in the choreographed fight scenes. Where Shaun had blunt-force-trauma, and Hot Fuzz had gunplay, this one (naturally) has pub-brawls. They're intense, well planned and brilliantly shot - and they're even injected with a helping of decent slapstick.
Sadly, where the other films were pretty gory, the violence here is essentially bloodless. My favourite name for this series - the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy - no longer fits. Nothing is really lost by this; the fights are as visceral and personal as ever. It just seems a bit of a shame. What it loses in this department, though, it makes up for with clever laughs.

The humour in all Wright's projects - the drama and emotion too in some cases - is built upon self-reference and repetition, with the same lines and events reappearing in different contexts with very different meanings. This film continues that tradition but takes it even further. The World's End is not only constantly referencing earlier events from this film, but also from the other two Cornetto movies and, on top of that, the events also reference the names of the pubs where they happen, and the entire plot mirrors the events of the prologue!
All these references are clever and funny and they all land exactly as they should (as with Shaun and Fuzz, they will almost certainly get funnier on repeat viewing too) but there's so much of it here that it almost feels like it's trying too hard. Worse, it's drawing attention to itself in a way that the other two didn't. Take the Cornetto moment. The first two films didn't have Cornetto moments - there were just scenes that happened to contain a Cornetto at some point - but this time there's a big, knowing, winking moment dedicated purely to the Cornetto. This is the last one so I suppose they've earnt it, and it certainly plays to the fans (it got a pretty big cheer in our cinema), but it's worrying that the whole movie feels a bit like that. The trilogy was always meta - but this is the first time it's been so obvious about it.
This carries on right to the end - at the titular World's End pub - where the finale isn't exactly anticlimactic, but seems to subvert our expectations just because that's what it knows we're expecting. To be fair, it's likely a perfect portrayal of how a bunch of drunks would cope with this situation, but it still feels off. If feels small.

Weirdly, considering that it has the biggest budget by far, that's a feeling that persists. The World's End often feels like the smallest film of the trilogy. It's also the only one of the three that I'm not sure would work without the jokes. Shaun could be played as straight horror, and Fuzz as straight action, and the stories are still strong enough to hold the films together. I'm not sure that's true of this one - there's honestly not much to it beyond the enormous web of interrelated references holding it together.
But, here's the thing, those references are all shockingly clever and incredibly funny. It's a great film - it really is! It has complicated characters played by actors doing their best work, fantastic filmmaking, excellent and surprising set-pieces, and the same mischievous tone that we love about the other two. There is, as I said at the start, nothing to be disappointed about. And yet...

I would absolutely recommend seeing The World's End. I'm truly annoyed at myself for not enjoying it as much as I know it deserved. Frankly, I think this is one that'll really come alive with a rewatch.