Well thank God for Working Title Films and Focus Features (a collaboration which, more and more, has become responsible for my recent favorites). I had a feeling I would enjoy Edgar Wright's "The World's End". After all, Wright was responsible for "Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz", "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and (praise Bog) will be working on the upcoming "Ant-Man" film. Life is good and I came out of "The World's End" with a much needed smile on my face.
Wright has demonstrated a lovely talent for setting up situations involving people who might seem outwardly ordinary, but who possess at least some sort of drive or quirk. It is this drive or quirk which will cause his characters to encounter circumstances removed just far enough from the tracks to hold the interest of the audience. Sort of like Hitchcock having dropped serious acid in the 60s before picking up a camera.
So it is with "The World's End". Here Simon Pegg (who also wrote the story with Wright) plays Gary King. Gary is the sort of person who, back in high school, was the ultra-hip cool-o-rama daredevil. He and his gang could always be counted on to party and party Hard!
(Those of you who saw Kevin Reynolds' 1985 film "Fandango" will immediately know what I'm talking about here. Gary and his gang are the British version of the Groovers.)
Unfortunately for Gary it's years later and he is now a burnt-out yet hedonistic alcoholic. But does this stop Our Hero? Heck no, and one day he decides to gather the old gang back together again. His mission is to go back to their old home town of Newton Haven and complete the "Golden Mile": a pub crawl through twelve different local pubs, finishing up at one called The World's End.
(Y'see, back in their teenage days, the gang attempted the Golden Mile but failed to complete the circuit.)
Simon Pegg is wonderful here, sort of looking and sounding like Hugh Laurie after being fired out of a jet engine. Early on you get the impression that he's held together with spit and a prayer, but he's got the drive and he's determined to Booze It Big even if it kills him. Hold that thought.
(Plus he wears a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt. If you don't understand the bond shared by Sisters of Mercy fans then I'm afraid it'd be sort of pointless to try and explain.)
Unlike Gary his old mates (Peter, Oliver, Steven and Andy) have rather settled into adult routines, having taken on responsibilities and being played in the movie by Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Nick Frost in various flavors of anal retention. The last thing these guys need is Gary acting like a rock thrown through the glass window of their lives, but they allow themselves to be cadged (or outright lied to) into reluctantly joining Gary on his quest. This opens the door for some of the best "buddy film" dialogue I've heard in quite a while; all the lines delivered with machine gun smoothness. So good is the back and forth between the characters that even the few times you know the line that's coming you still smile at the way it's played.
So Our Heroes reach Newton Haven and begin their pub to pub travels, being occasionally joined by Rosamund Pike (who I haven't seen since "Die Another Day") as Oliver's sister Samantha (for which both Gary and Steven had and still harbor a Serious Thing for). So far so good. But by the time the boys reach the third pub it begins to sink in on both them and the audience that there is Something Definitely Weird Going On! The suspicion takes wing as Gary gets into a bathroom fight with a local and things get rather . . . outer-worldly!
Remember Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk till Dawn"? A really great heist/kidnapping film which suddenly turned into a really great vampire movie? Here we have something along the same lines. "The World's End" starts out as a great buddy picture and then suddenly turns into an episode of "Doctor Who". I swear, all the film lacks is a blue police box. The menace here could come straight out of any of the episodes produced since 2005.
But there's no Time Lord to save the day here, and the boys (plus Samantha) soon realize they're surrounded by danger on all side and conclude that the safest course of action is to avoid suspicion by continuing on their pub crawl (resulting in, among other things, some really great dialogue involving how to properly identify an unearthly menace). Their lives are in serious danger and yet the audience is giggling (this movie generated the most laughs I've heard in an entire theater in some time). Edgar Wright and his cinematographer Bill Pope earn their money here, keeping everything moving sharp and fast, and the actors mesh like precision machinery. Especially good are Francesca and Charlotte Reidie as a particularly creepy pair of twins who interrogate Samantha on What She Knows.
Throughout the film the characters spend time in growing spiritually. Here Nick Frost particularly shines as the most reluctant member of the group. At least in the beginning. But by the time the action gets hot and heavy he becomes a juggernaut: literally pounding his way through streetloads of glowing weirdies. As for Simon Pegg, he doesn't exactly grow so much as he finally discovers a situation where being a down-in-the-gutter drunk loser can actually be something of an advantage. In the world where his friends have ended up he was at the end of his rope. But in this movie he learns (as perhaps we all do) that there's more than one rope to grab for.
If "The World's End" can be said to have a flaw it's that the resolution of the situation is a bit too neatly wrapped up. Here the film could've used a bit of the grittiness of, say, Joe Cornish's "Attack the Block", or a touch of the subtlety found in either Don Siegel or Philip Kaufman's version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". But it's a minor point and, for the most part, "The World's End" turned out to be the most fun I've had at a movie all year. Perhaps buddy films or "Doctor Who" episodes aren't your pint of lager, but go see this anyway for an honest laugh.
If for anything else, go for the Sisters of Mercy.