Is anyone keeping a tally of apocalypse movies this year, comedic or otherwise? Whether or not the disintegration of civilization as we know is box office gold, filmmakers feel our zeitgeist: life is shit when you look at it.
Thusly comes The World's End, the latest from director Edgar Wright and his pair of performing monkeys (not a pejorative) Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The World's End is the last in a loosely themed trilogy of genre parodies that began with Shaun of the Dead (zombies) and continued with Hot Fuzz (buddy cops). This one smooshes those two together, replacing the zombies with replicants, and plopping it all down in the same sort of British small town that gave Hot Fuzz so many opportunities for hilarity. The result is consistently hilarious, even if The World's End feels the most forced in terms of story.
Pegg leads the ensemble as Gary King, a perpetual screw-up who likes to dress in black and listen to industrial and goth and early '90s Brit indie and has been partying since he got out of high school back when that music was new. The old days are ever-present for Gary. He has yet to let go of the time he and his pals attempted to crawl the Golden Mile, a circuitous path leading to twelve different pubs in his hometown. The goal is to have a drink at all of them in the space of one night. The boys crapped out at nine.
With nothing else to do, Gary tries to wrangle the old gang for another go. Twenty years is a long time, though, and the others--played by English stand-bys Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Paddy Considine (Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980, Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), and Frost--have all grown up and have varying degrees of respectable lives. All also have a hard time saying no to Gary, and before they know it, they are back on the crawl.
The World's End plays on the notion that any time you return to your old stomping grounds, things are going to have changed. (Considine calls homogenization and gentrification "Starbuckin'.") Since it's an Edgar Wright movie, this idea is cranked up to 11. Life back home has changed in unforeseen ways. Namely, there has been more than corporate takeovers of small-town businesses; some of the citizenry have also been replaced by highly agreeable, though easy to agitate into violence, robots. Pretty soon, the gang find they aren't merely fighting to recapture who they were, but to preserve who they are.
To complain about the plotline in The World's End seems like sour grapes given how many laughs the team generates. The comedy never really lags, and the cast gives it their all. Long-time fans of the trilogy will appreciate the switcheroo of casting Pegg as the selfish screw-up and Frost as the one who has it together. This allows Pegg to fully unleash his gift for gab and Frost to show off his considerable skill for physical comedy. (In one scene, he proves no one can make an exit quite like he can.) The scenario also allows for Wright's usual kinetic visual style to take over, most notably in a gaggle of chaotic-seeming fight scenes that prove the director's penchant for neatly controlled messes.
Kudos should also be given to the throwback musical soundtrack, which plays like a direct line from my college dorm. The collection of pre-Britpop hits includes Primal Scream, Inspiral Carpets, James, Charlatans, 808 State, Kylie, and an epic use of vintage Suede. The sound design in general is clever and creative, with the audio team using all sorts of antiquated dialtones and telecommunication signals to imbue their robot noises with added meaning.
If there is anything to quibble over here, it's that the genre being skewered is less defined than in its predecessors, which doesn't help to distract from the feeling that maybe we've been here before. The again, if The World's End does cap a trilogy, then there should be some expected summation. Perhaps had the pieces not fit so neatly together, had the emotional lessons not felt so pat, the illusion would have been more complete. Then there would be nothing to quibble about at all.
Thankfully, if there is one genre where imperfection is forgivable, it's comedy. Laugh enough, and narrative nitpicking becomes moot. The World's End has gags to spare. You'll enter laughing and you'll leave the same way. All other concerns can be checked at the door. See it with friends after a few pints for added atmosphere.