Sunday, August 25, 2013
The World's End
It would be easy to confuse this movie with this summers earlier "This is the End". Both of them feature a group of friends who party too hard and end up facing an unexpected Apocalypse. "The World's End" builds up to the fireworks more slowly and it has a much stronger sense of character. The actors here are not playing thinly veiled versions of themselves, they are characters in a story. There is some background established and we are not reliant on our knowledge of other movies to make sense of who each one is. Bits and pieces of the back story emerge as the film goes forward, revealing some surprises but mostly confirming our fears and expectations about these friends. Most of us have a friend like Gary, a guy who was full of himself once upon a time and has the same party hardy attitude that got us in trouble when we were kids. That Gary is able to wrangle up his four best mates twenty years after they fell out of contact is not a surprise. Even though people do change, relational dynamics often follow built in patterns long after they have worn out any sense of purpose. Four successful guys get wrangled into doing a pub crawl they all failed to finish twenty years earlier because the one friend who needs to fulfill this wish still has the same ability to push their buttons and exploit their weak spots. Gary is not even smart about it, he is simply following programming.
Everything in this opening section worked for me. The awkward re-connections, the "white" lies, the sense of guilt and obligation are all exploited in very funny ways. We discover that Gary has been exploiting some of his old friends for years and they did not know it. Gary is a force of nature, not automatically for good, but one that anyone in his path will have to deal with. Pegg delivers his lines like the cocksure, cheery, a hole he is playing. Timing is essential for a comedy and he has perfect timing for the comebacks, asides and outrageous arguments he spouts off on. Most of this gets even better when we get to the actual pub crawl and the alcohol starts taking effect. In the second act the other characters start to step forward and make their own comic contributions. They stop being foils for Gary's character and develop their own personality quirks that are just as amusing. Nick Frost, Pegg's partner in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", finally comes alive with some self righteous attitude and serious ass kicking skills playing Andy, Gary's closest friend in their youth. In the off the wall third act he is the main focus of the humor and he comes through just like Pegg does in the clinches.
The slow burning second act cheerfully breaks down what sense of normalcy there was for these friends. There are a couple of life lessons and sad stories injected to add a bit more meaning to the proceedings, but everything continues to be funny. The pacing of this film is a lot like "Hot Fuzz" because once we hit the third act all hell breaks loose and any sense that this movie was going to be about the bonds of friendship gets lost in a completely creative yet oddly derivative story. Look, this is a Mash up of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Night of the Living Dead", so how is it creative? All those parts come two thirds of the way in and they speed the film along to it's conclusion so fast that it is hard to know exactly where we left the tracks of sanity, and who cares anyway? So it makes no sense that a bunch of middle aged men are suddenly mixed martial artists, or that an alien invasion is confronted with a hysterical reductionist Star Trek type alien computer meltdown. It is done in a silly and entertaining way. The creativity here comes from taking the absurdity of the plot twist and having a damn fun time with it.