When it comes to promising British directors, Edgar Wright is definitely one that a lot of people have become fans of in recent years. Two of his previous films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, utilized the comic acting pair of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg to great success, and his previous film, the decidedly more American and geek-oriented Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, may have been my favorite film of 2010.
Now, Wright returns to his original pairing of Frost and Pegg, who have continued to pair up for other recent films like Paul and voice work in The Adventures of Tintin, to create The World's End, another clever, engaging, and even touching film that, while not the director's absolute best, definitely succeeds at its number one goal of providing a lot of laughs.
The story centers on Gary King (Pegg), who details some of his past at the beginning via flashback, establishing that he used to be at the top of the social ladder in high school back in 1991 with his four best friends, with the highlight of his young life being their failed attempt at the Golden Mile, a pub crawl meant to hit 12 different pubs for 12 different pints of beer in their hometown. Now, in an attempt to recapture the glory days of his youth, he gets back in touch with all four friends (Played by Frost, The Hobbit's Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) and puts together a plan to retry and properly finish the walk.
A wrench is thrown into the plan when Gary accidentally uncovers a terrifying secret, namely that the town's population has been replaced with robots identical to the past inhabitants. While most of the group's initial reaction is to attempt an escape, Gary convinces them that the safest thing to do is finish the Golden Mile, so that none of the robots catch on that the friends have discovered the truth.
What follows is essentially a series of set pieces, as each pub tends to introduce with it a new story element that mixes things up a bit more each time, be it changes and additions to the cast, or different methods used by the robots. All of this culminates in an exciting and surprisingly emotional climax, as well as an unconventional ending that I bet most audiences won't see coming.
Where this movie shines the brightest for me is the dialog. There are a lot of funny and natural-sounding jokes thrown out there, and while I didn't find the cast to be particularly deep or memorable characters outside of Gary and Frost's character Andy, they did a great job of delivering the humorous quips and exchanges they were given. When the film decides to throw in some action, mostly in the form of hand-to-hand combat between the leads and the robots, it's well-shot and easy to follow, which is a problem I have with many movies that actually revolve around action.
I should note that while I've liked all of Wright's past theatrical work, Shaun of the Dead is my least favorite of the four, mainly due to the fact that I felt that the more serious and emotional tone of its last act felt sort of out of nowhere and sudden. Maybe it was because I was more prepared to expect it this time, but the emotional high point of the film that takes place in the final bar really worked. I can't go into details about why without spoiling the whole scene, but the actions of both of the characters involved in it felt genuine, along with the actor's performances.
If I had to rank Wright's films, I'd put this above Shaun of the Dead, but due to its lack of a compelling main cast, below Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim. Though that may not sound like much of a compliment, the fact that I consider all four of his movies worth watching definitely means I enthusiastically recommend The World's End, especially to fans of British comedy. The audience I saw it with laughed both frequently and hard, and when it comes to comedy, that's the most important thing a director needs to pull off. Luckily, Wright has proven many times that he can, and this is no exception.