The World’s End
Edgar Wright has made a few movies about immature men learning to growing up; his latest is about what would've happened if they hadn't.
"The World's End," starring regular collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is very much of a piece with their prior works, "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." Yet there's a pervading darkness that was lacking from those pictures, as well as from Wright's "Scott Pilgrim." "Shaun" and "Fuzz" and "Scott" reveled hilariously in juvenile characterizations. With "The World's End," it's not so funny anymore.
Wright's left the lighthearted frivolity behind -- and for the first 40 or so minutes of "World's End," you'd think he'd left genre concerns behind, too. Pegg features as Gary King, dressed up evocatively in a 90s goth trench coat and a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt. We meet him recounting a gloriously drunken pub-crawl he made with his friends as a teenager; he's regaling the story from the comfort of an AA circle. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the character right there. (Now that's economic storytelling.)
King is aiming to get the band back together for a return tour of the town they grew up in, Newton Haven - for another go at the infamous pub crawl. Though it was a night of triumph, the teenaged versions of our heroes never made it to the 12th pub, the titular World's End, and Mr. King is determined to fix that. So he rounds up the crew -- British comedic stalwarts all, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Nick Frost, which gives the 'reunion' themes a nationalistic, borderline-meta feel -- and drags them back home for another go.
Unfortunately, the home they find hardly resembles the home they remember. Those familiar with the gang's other films likely already know that there's a fantastical element lying in wait buried in the plot here somewhere, and while I won't reveal it entirely, I think it's needless to say that the Newton Haven of 2013 is fraught with many more perils than the small town they grew up in during the early 90's.
Pegg's juvenile resignation is a standout among a cast full of them. Trolling around the town he grew up in with a sloshed-out melancholy, he's the living embodiment of regression, the end result of a culture that can't help but celebrate the irresponsibility and carefree vigor of youth. He's the man-children in Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow movies, only there's no Katherine Heigl to bail him out. Pegg brings such gravitas to the role that when the sci-fi elements intrude on the drama, our focus is left on his plight, instead of on the glowing lights and extraterrestrial twists. It's a hell of a balancing act.
I've been tempted to call Wright the most exciting filmmaker of his generation; "World's End" only bolsters my suspicions. His pictures are downright invigorating. They feel like Brian De Palma directed them after a wicked cocaine bender. Much like the "Carrie" director, his compositions are meticulous; he rarely, if ever, leaves the master shot, and his work is consistently informed by cinema's past without ever being defined by it. But unlike De Palma, his editing is lightning fast, with repeated images that become gags unto themselves. The sheer kinetic energy of his movies is nearly unrivaled.
Not to overdo it with the cinematic comparisons, but his writing recalls Preston Sturges while his camerawork is screaming "Goodfellas," and the dissonance that produces gives off a singular effect. It's not just mastery of tone, or the confident, literary storytelling, although those qualities are quite pronounced. What's incredible is that Wright's work is cinematic in the truest sense: He's not merely telling jokes, but utilizing the set design (the way the bars all have the same faux-handwritten menu), the editing (more inserts than a Wes Anderson movie), the lighting (one of the pubs is hosting a school dance; Wright bathes the sequence with reds and blues, giving it a hallucinatory fervor,) and every other element of the form. He's one of the few English-language filmmakers working today truly deserving of the designation "artist." Yes, his movies may be about people who need to grow up. But the films that frame them are startlingly mature.