During a summer when seemingly every week at the cinema brought us dour visions of mass destruction and planetary annihilation meant to thrill us, it’s oddly gratifying that two of this summer’s best, Evan Goldberg’s and Seth Rogen’s This is the End, which opened the summer, and now Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, which closes the summer, view the Apocalypse as an occurrence that, given the current state of humanity, might not be such a bad thing.
The World’s End, the final installment in the Cornetto Trilogy (which is the most arbitrary device from which to hang a trilogy, but I think that’s the point… aren’t most trilogies completely arbitrary?) is the story of five childhood friends (co-writer Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Martin Freeman… all brilliant) who are brought together by Pegg to recreate and actually complete a pub crawl they tried but failed to conquer back when they were in school a couple of decades prior. Like many of our species, Pegg reached his apex of happiness and self-importance during adolescence, and his life since has been spent wallowing in the pond sludge of nostalgia turned to regret.
He’s tried to hang on to what he can (he wears the same black Sisters of Mercy t-shirt/black coat ensemble he wore in school) and he drives the same car. And he’s positive this one night of nostalgic hedonism will somehow give his life the meaning it’s been lacking since that first failed venture into pickling his liver at twelve different pubs in one night, the last of which is called The World’s End.
His friends have moved on, and though they’re level of personal satisfaction can be debated, they don’t feel the need to re-live the night, especially the Frost character, for reasons which will not be documented here. But they are persuaded into partaking into this pub crawl, perhaps so that they will never have to hear from Pegg again.
But as they begin their jaunt, they notice something peculiar about their old haunts. The pubs have become homogenized. And most of the people are lacking in any real spirit or personality (one of the brilliant ideas of the movie is having the characters try to figure out what’s going on as they’re becoming more intoxicated.) And after they finally comprehend the totality of their predicament, they decide that the best way to escape would be to continue and complete the pub crawl, thus not calling undue attention to themselves (a plan which only makes sense to people who’ve been getting their drink on for a while.)
Wright and Pegg (along with Cornetto Trilogy co-star Frost) are just working on a different level than most other filmmakers. There’s a level of intelligence and craft on display that is astonishing. You sense that every detail has been thought out and every shot has been thoroughly planned, and yet there’s a still a feeling of airiness and freedom in their work that you don’t sense in the works of other obsessive over-planners like the Coen Brothers or David Fincher (now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE their work, but the way they seem to pick over every detail becomes stifling at times.) No, their work feels like Danny Boyle’s, at least in terms of visual invention and sheer “movie love.” But I don’t understand how Wright/Pegg/Frost achieve that same sense of freedom as Boyle, since Boyle works spontaneously; he just gets on the set and lets his right brain emerge like some kind of creative Hulk.
But what really sets them apart is their ability to make really personal movies about friendship and relationships without sacrificing the visceral and giddy thrills of the genres they so gloriously honor. One doesn’t overwhelm the other, and that’s because these guys aren’t just movie-geek technocrats, but they’re also humanists. They actually love people! They’re interested in the way people bond and screw up and, ultimately, forgive each other. That’s why the opening acts of the Cornetto movies have little to do with genre at all. They just enjoy watching their characters interact, which have been realized with the same love and care they bring to the genre tropes they simultaneously send up and praise in the second and third acts.
And when those genre elements kick in, do they deliver! Without giving too much away, there’s a fight scene in a bathroom that ignites all the mayhem, and by the time it’s over, you’ll want to applaud. It’s a brilliantly choreographed sequence, but it’s also perfectly awkward; none of these characters want to get into a fight, they just want to get wasted. They fight like people who haven’t been to “movie-fighting school” and automatically know how to engage an enemy combatant mano-a-mano.
One of themes of The World’s End is progress, both personal and technological; it’s very leery of the latter. As technology becomes more advanced, the people have become more withdrawn, trying to become part of a collective of other people they’ve never met and without any idea of their real intentions, and doing so at the risk of sacrificing connection with the people right in front of them. What the movie suggests is that maybe, in order to reach our full potential not as leaders in technology but as fully realized human beings, we may have to do away with it. Maybe the end of civilization as we know it would be a good thing, like a forest fire that wipes out everything in its path but allows for new growth that never would’ve happened without it. And maybe that new growth will facilitate that final step that will force us to become more thoughtful of our fellow man. It’s sort of like the ending of Terry Giliam’s Brazil, in which the “bleak” ending is actually the happy ending.
Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it. But it’s so awesome to have a comedy that allows for this sort of analysis and interpretation. And Wright should always work with Pegg. When Wright works without him, as he did on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, all of Wright’s visual pyrotechnics were on display, but it lacked any soul whatsoever. It was the worst case of style over substance in which the style itself became tedious. But when Wright and Pegg work together… wow! The World’s End is a triumph, and it’s a shame this marks the end of the Cornetto Trilogy.
Might I suggest a Cornetto Quadrilogy, perhaps?Follow @filmbyfelix