Steadily improving with each film since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright was bound to regress eventually. The third film in his Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End shows frequent flashes of the smart humor and energetic filmmaking that have defined Wright’s work, but is stunted by a surprising sloppiness. Whereas Hot Fuzz’s concept of sleepy townfolk who’ll murder to keep their idyllic reputation intact or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s broad fantasy of confronting a new love’s baggage by literally fighting them to the death were delivered smoothly, the theme at hand of maintaining individuality in the face of homogenizing aliens comes off clunky and preachy. The British comedy is still a mostly enjoyable film, but after such thoughtful highs it’s a definite step back.
Shortcomings aside, The World’s End nonetheless gets off to a strong start. Humorous introductions of a teenage Gary King and his four best mates are bolstered by Wright’s distinct use of people or a vehicle moving across a frame to segue to the next scene. Chronicling their riotous failed attempt at The Golden Mile, in which a pint must be downed at each of Newton Haven’s dozen pubs (finishing at the titular establishment), quick editing and a brilliant soundtrack ramp up the story’s energy without sacrificing clarity. Spirits remain high as, 20 years later, a stuck-in-the-past Gary (Simon Pegg) convinces Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Andy (Nick Frost) to give the pub crawl another go. In these modern times, Gary’s immaturity contrasts well with the firmly adult lives of his childhood pals, and though no compelling evidence is presented as to why they’d even consider joining in, they comply anyway.
Similar to Hot Fuzz’s pub scenes, early events faithfully capture the joy of beer and general pub culture. As the night wears on, however, the shenanigans become far less fun, and not just because circumstances have changed and the lads are more intoxicated. At least as presented here, the evolving friendship theme is fairly incongruous with the “Starbucking” alien invasion one. It’s also unclear just how powerful or fallible the aliens are, and while fight scenes with these entities are fun and well-staged, they’re a bit confusing in regard to the level of danger. All is eventually revealed to mostly satisfying ends, but the lack of information in these intense encounters doesn’t serve the story well.
More troubling for The World’s End is the lack of subtlety in setting forth its “We’re humans: we’ll do as we please” message. Resorting to the surviving characters literally shouting summary phrases in the film’s climax, the film displays an unsophistication hitherto unseen in Wright and Pegg’s writing. Yet even in this thickheaded moment, the gang continues to toss in zingers, producing quality laughs despite the story falling apart. For these and other gradually evaporating charms, the adventure is worth a look, but as with last year’s Django Unchained, the sudden drop off in quality from a top cinematic voice is jarring.
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references.
The World’s End is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.