While this weekly column is a space I try to devote to comic books and the graphic arts, I’ve noticed that some of you share my love of science fiction and British comedy and so this Wednesday I thought I’d tell you a bit about a film I saw today, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s latest offering – The World’s End.
First of all, you need to know that I’m not a fan of spoilers. In fact, I despise them with a fiery passion and so I sympathize with those of you who feel similarly and I’ll do my best not to spoil this film for you. There will be no description or synopsis of the story, since that would definitely spoil it for you (but here’s a link to the movie site if you want to spoil it for yourself). Realistically there are some major plot points that must be discussed, even vaguely, which might spoil surprises for you. So please take this as your warning.
Due to the fact that I follow Simon Pegg on twitter, I was forewarned that this would be a film following in the footsteps of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. That didn’t spoil it for me in the least, in fact it lowered my expectations and I was pleasantly surprised. The cast is incredible (if you like those sort of people) and the budget is clearly higher. If you enjoyed those other films, then you’ll probably like this one. I grew up loving films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and shows like The Invaders (and it wasn’t just the fantastic title graphics which grabbed me). There’s something about that era of paranoia and the lone wolf attitude that appeals to that classic outsider teen mentality. What Shaun of the Dead did for zombie films, and Hot Fuzz did for cop movies, The World’s End does for alien conspiracy films and it is fun… but not all at once.
Despite employing a lot of the same great cast from the previous films, this is a much denser film. To begin with, the cast are older, and with the whole alien conspiracy to wrangle the atmosphere is bleak. Thankfully Wright and Pegg’s script doesn’t try to fight that, but works with these as strengths by building around a major mid-life crisis. It was brutally miserable and so plausible that I halfway expected them to ditch the entire alien conspiracy aspect and just go into a full-on intervention (and honestly, I think this team could make a pretty good go of that sort of film too, if they ever decide to make something unrelentingly grown-up). But instead, just as our “hero” (Pegg’s Gary King is a depressed junkie of a man-child) seems to be experiencing some personal remorse and insight, he encounters something not of this world and from that point on the pace takes an extremely dramatic surge in a very different direction.
In true Stepford Wife fashion, the paranoia builds to it’s inevitable conclusion, with chases, fight scenes and much destruction of pubs. Have I talked about the action? There really was an impressive amount of fighting and running, especially from Nick Frost who hulked out very convincingly a number of times. I suppose there was a lot of training involved, since these were much faster, more fight-ey fights than the simple hitting-with-cricket-bats of Shaun of the Dead, or shooting-everything of Hot Fuzz. Effect-wise there were some particularly nasty effects with body parts, but I won’t belabor the point lest I spoil too much.
Overall, there is something very charming about seeing such a fantastic collection of British comedians and character actors creating something as British as a film about a pub crawl. So many great voices and characters are present, even in the very smallest of roles, adding to the tapestry of this creepy little film. It’s not exactly going to pass the “Bechdel test” (i.e. are there two women in the film and do they talk to each other about something other than a man), there’s really only one human female character; Sam (Rosamund Pike). However, that one female character pulls out some great fighting moves in a very tight spot and is a bit of a life-saver in general, so it would definitely pass Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Sexy Lamp Test” (i.e. can you remove the female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp without impacting the story?).
It seems to be a facet of this trilogy that Simon Pegg’s character is always a loser, but in The World’s End he takes it to a new level. This works on many levels, partly because it is plausible that he’d purposely lead his oldest friends into dangerous situations, but mostly because his death wish makes him take risks which express his humanity (and that’s key). It’s not fun to watch the friends’ sadness towards their depressed, addicted friend, but this worked within the context of an older group dynamic and gave the story a stronger structure to hang on. It was meatier and darker than I expected and it beefed up the finale of these parodies. In many ways this was a classic science fiction movie, right down the ending (which i won’t spoil for you, but was just right within the context). I enjoyed it.
The World’s End is in theaters on August 23rd.