Review: The World's End
Edgar Wright specializes in amiably hectic fanboy cinema. The British filmmaker's superlative handling of zombies (Shaun of the Dead, 04), mid-Twenties directionlessness (the cult TV series Spaced), and bromantic cops (Hot Fuzz, 07) has translated well across the pond, making him (for better or worse) part of the nerd culture that has turned into a cash cow. His latest film, The World’s End, continues the rapidly edited, beer-soaked, goopy geekery, but this war between blokes and robots fizzles.
Once again, Wright brothers-in-arms Simon Pegg and Nick Frost find themselves in a series of fine messes: sloshed hipster Gary King (Pegg, at his most juvenile) rounds up his old mates for a night out in their dull hometown for the Golden Mile—12 pints, 12 pubs. This pub crawl reprises the one that the group made 23 years ago, but it seems like just yesterday for Gary, who still sports the same coat and Sisters of Mercy shirt (and carries the same mix tape) from that very night. His friends Andy, Peter, Steven, and Oliver (Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman, respectively) grew up and “got boring,” but they half-humor Gary, agreeing to go along but criticizing and complaining about the outing every chance they get. Along the way, old fling Sam (Rosamund Pike) avoids Gary’s adolescent-horndog advances for as long as she can. Aside from provide the film with a forced love interest for Considine, she’s merely the Token Lady Sidekick.
Eventually, as per the previous two films in the Cornetto Trilogy, something very shifty is happening with the townspeople. Their emotionally frozen demeanor and inky blood suggest otherworldly shenanigans are afoot. Not zombies, nor murderous defenders of the status quo, but robots with sweet karate moves and blue lasers that shoot out of their mouths! The fight scenes, choreographed by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World battle wizard Brad Allen, are flawlessly executed, exemplifying both Wright’s gleefully frantic visual sensibility and his action-director chops.
While Wright enjoys a larger budget and fancier special effects, the human element is in short supply. What made Shaun of the Dead (and, to a lesser extent, Hot Fuzz) compelling was the firm and focused establishment of central characters and their relationships with each other. The Pegg/Frost bromance, the glue holding these films together, is half-realized here, and comes too late for anyone to care. With the unwieldy cast focusing too heavily on Pegg, nobody ever becomes multidimensional.
Greg Mottola’s Pegg/Frost film, Paul (11), actually thrived in its own geekery, and succeeded in making the core relationship believable. Here, Wright & Co.’s customary science fiction homages are lacking: references to The Stepford Wives and other human/robot flicks are tossed around, but not with the heroes-on-their-sleeve fanaticism that lent an adolescent charm to Wright’s previous films.
There are plenty of laughs to be had, but a sizeable portion of the jokes don’t land. Catch phrases, usually an endearing portion of Wright’s films, are lazily executed here. (Repetition does not improve a very vanilla yuppie saying “WTF.”) Pegg’s obnoxious man-child quickly becomes one-note and stale, but Frost gets in some punches when he breaks his teetotaling streak. As an audience, we can’t enjoy the time the cast spends together as much as they evidently do. Regrettably, the Cornetto Trilogy goes out with a whimper. “Cock it,” as Ed would say.