The World's End is Heartfelt Drunken Madness
The World’s End is bonkers. And for the most part that’s what makes it work. Everything is just so ridiculous but it’s nailed down with only a few complexities to the story and it’s taken seriously enough to warrant plenty of thrills, laughs, and even heartbreak over what could be described as simply designed characters (but I’d like to think of them as endearing). They are genuine reflections of modernity and conformity who all unwind to varying tunes once the story starts humming. This is the third installment of the Cornetto trilogy, named for an ice cream brand eaten or referenced in three films unrelated in story, but all star Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and are directed by Edgar Wright. The other two films were Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both of which are amazing, easily quotable movies. It’s those easy to love characters combined with an affection for pastiche storytelling that doesn’t hold anything back, even if it occasionally runs a little short, which makes the Cornetto trilogy so great.
Here we have the story of Gary King and his band of miscreants from high school reuniting in their hometown to take a another crack at the Golden Mile, a route taking them through twelve pubs that they were unable to complete as a group in their formidable years. You know the beats of the story before you leave the opening flashback; Gary’s having trouble adjusting to adulthood and getting everyone together to finish something they never finished in their youth is his last attempt to return to glory days and he’s going to have to learn to grow up; while his friends need to learn how to unwind from their strictly regimented lives. You’ll recall I said these movies tend to fiddle with pastiche and this is likely a story you’ve heard, seen, and read a thousand times already. However, what makes this movie so engaging are the interesting characters and a dangerous little secret that’s permeating the town. It’s been invaded by and subsequently had its denizens replaced by robots.
What this movie relies on most is the manic and ever optimistic outbursts of Gary, which almost come off as a play on the mild insanity that permeates Nicolas Cage in everything he’s ever done. As the viewer, you’re like the never mentioned sixth friend who sees how Gary can be a jerk or an idiot but also how he can be a legitimately caring person which is why you’re willing to go along with everything. It’s such a flagrant optimism that you’re just as willing to have a good time as he is, even as his friends remain hesitant about the whole thing. What’s really brilliant about this movie though is that they figured out a simple and elegant way to make the story flow along the direction it put forth. Early on the group figures out that everything in the town isn’t so hunky dory. However, since they are already there, suddenly rushing out might trigger alarm bells so they continue doing what they announced to anyone within earshot they’d do and continue down the Golden Mile, getting drunker all the way. It gives credence to all the poor decision making and more interesting parts of the story because they’re getting more sloshed at a time when they should be clearing their heads. It all culminates in what is likely the best scene of drunken ramblings I’ve seen outside of the occasional drunk uncle sketch on Saturday Night Live during the weeks when the writers of SNL know what they’re doing. Another surprising thing is that the action is actually really good. It’s a cartoonish look at what would happen if you mixed a bar room brawl with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Everyone manages to hold their own and I found them more entertaining and memorable than Hugh Jackman’s generic slash-em-up in The Wolverine.
There’s one thing about this movie though that might leave some people conflicted about the movie. That’s the ending, and I’ll bring it up in spoilers if only to explain what it’s all about. Whether or not you like the film as a whole shouldn’t depend on what you think of the ending, at least circumstantially, so you should have a solid reasoning for those feelings. So…
The world ends. Literally, all electronics shut down and the world tears itself apart unable to sustain itself without power. Also some of the characters become robots. You remember The Beast, Gary King’s car? There’s an old philosophical question about existence and personal value in repairing an old ship. After how many parts are replaced would you consider it a different ship. It raises the question of what makes someone human, and at what point you can stop considering one human. So in the movie, The Beast is a car over twenty years old. King still drives it, but he’s had to get practically everything in it replaced in order to keep it running. Yet he still regards it with the same sentimentality as when it was in true form. At the end of everything, there are likely a couple thousand robots with human consciousness downloaded into them. You may think they really died, but it stands to reason that so long as the people around them offer the same feelings they had originally, because the robots have a direct upload of the person’s character, they are still the same person. I’m not saying you have to agree with the premise, that’s just what the movie puts forward.
Beyond that, the world actually ends! Everyone’s living in train cars and shanties wearing dirty clothes, and growing crops and trying to get by after society made what was probably a very chaotic transformation to what amounts to medieval times. It comes out of nowhere in the last ten minutes, completely jarring the usual “everyone having grown up brings their newfound maturity to the real world.” I personally thought this was the best part of the movie. After all, that transition was a good distraction from the fact that it was a “everyone having grown up brings their newfound maturity to the real world” ending. Everyone got what they needed out of the adventure, even if Martin Freeman’s character came out blind. It actually seems appropriate for the movie to end that way anyway given how Gary in drunken haze communicates with the invaders, presenting humanity as beings of such extreme stubbornness and inability to deviate that they refuse to shake the hand of the universe if it seems to have a tight grip. That’s not to say that the whole “robots” things wasn’t especially nice of them but tact, he had not. So really, wouldn’t all the subsequent destruction really be the aliens fast forwarding our own demise, or another way to put it, wouldn’t getting rid of everything they offered be what humanity needs to start over with a better society, at least by their intergalactic standards? I don’t proclaim to hold all the truth because all this could have just been because they thought it’d be a funny ending. Either way, the point of it all is that like or hate the setting, in the end all the characters go through with their growth and learn from the experience, heading back into their lives with some necessary life lessons to better handle the things they couldn’t before. What does it matter what their surroundings are if it ends the same as it always does with the minor subversion of everyone being a bit dirtier than in the beginning? You can dislike the movie if you want, I personally think it was great, but for those of you who could be on the fence about it, the ending should only be a part of what you disliked it, not the whole reason. Especially considering that a better reason to not like the movie is that for all the build-up of the modern art statue they never actually fought it. That was really disappointing. But I got what I wanted out of the movie with enough laughs and likable characters not to see that as the end of the world.