Movie Review: The World’s End

“We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man! … And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we are gonna do. We are gonna have a good time… We are gonna have a party.” -Heavenly Blues (Wild Angels 1966)

poster the worlds end

I have not wanted to commit my thoughts about The Worlds End into review form, because I don’t want to resign myself to the disappointment that still haunts me when my thoughts turn to the film.  I saw it at the triple feature we had in town and it was a great night.  Even though it was the end of a marathon, past my bedtime, and my expectations were justifiably high, the movie was put together very nicely and managed to make me laugh quite a bit.  The action scenes had a lot of cuts, which I know bothers some people, but I thought they came together well and I really enjoyed watching Nick Frost fight.

For the most part, you could say the film is a success.  Forgiving some minor indulgences, by director Edgar Wright, such as his trademark piss poor toilet aim shot and fence jumping shenanigans (which amount to more of a running joke connecting the Cornetto films than the ice cream actually does), the film was put together very nicely and boasts fine actors with splendid performances.  It looks good, has some great ideas and is genuinely funny, but I felt disappointed when the end credits began to roll and I never shook the feeling.  In fact, as the dust settled, I’ve had to acknowledge that I just didn’t like it.

Firstly, you should not expect to see a group of old chums reminiscing about old times over a few too many pints on the brink of a robot invasion.  That was what the trailer sold me on and what I thought would make a great new effort from the trio behind Shaun of the Dead and the even more triumphant Hot Fuzz.  The film is senselessly dark at heart which becomes a wet blanket in a comedy that already has the added pressure of  an invasion movie twist.  Simon Pegg plays Gary King a recovering (not so much) alcoholic whose life may as well have ended twenty years ago on the one night he remembers as the ultimate experience, a pub crawl left unfinished, but with the promise that life would never be this good.  His friends have not only moved on, they have lost touch and want nothing to do with him.  He only convinces them to once again attempt the “golden mile” by telling them Andy Knightly (Nick Frost) the most slighted of Gary’s school chums has agreed to go, then convincing Andy  by lying about the death of his mother.

Right away you see Gary is in a bad place.  He is sort of pitiful, but moderately entertaining.  As the story wears on his despair becomes clearer, but no possible cause comes up.  They never bother to explore the source of the problem to find means to a resolution.  Rather, they defiantly and joyfully exploit his desperation in a misguided effort to make a statement that is ultimately empty and definitely unsatisfying.

As the reluctant reunion gets underway King is already screwing over his mates.  A cop pulls them over for speeding and they find out King still has the registration under his friend Peter’s name.  The first bar is not as it has been preserved in Kings perfect memory of that fateful night twenty years ago.  The second, oddly is just like the first.  It isn’t long before it is discovered that some of the towns inhabitants are not human and after a violent encounter with some robots, they determine that the best thing to do is carry on with the crawl as though nothing is wrong, an exercise which proves futile.

the statement of the film is somewhat lost in the verbose, not so witty ramblings uttered by King, that could have used another revision, or a cursory glance by Vince Vaughn.  It just felt forced, but that wasn’t the ultimate turn off.  SPOILERS– two things really bothered me about the film:

It ends with a face off between King and the leader of the robot race at The World’s End.  It turns out, it isn’t just the town under attack but the whole world has been gradually assimilating to this “advanced” culture over the last twenty years.  The world takeover is suddenly reversed due to the belligerent rantings of Gary King.  The above quote from Wild Angels is King’s credo and ultimately, it is the speech that sends the aliens packing, uprooting the “Network” and returning Earth to the dark ages.  Far from any catharsis, or healing, or even an intelligent twist that reveals the sanity behind Kings rebellion, the film turns away from more interesting avenues with lots of potential, for a more streamlined action movie with muted purpose.

And what becomes of Gary King after he Stonewalls the “Network” and causes them to disembark after twenty years of taking over?  He roams the land with a band of robot versions of his friends at the age of twenty, picking sword fights with humans that discriminate against them.  Why has he suddenly sided with the enemy?  Why is he looking for a fight?  What is he fighting for?

For all of the great ideas and possibilities that went into The World’s End, the whole point appears to be that it is better to be a hopeless asshole at liberty to be a hopeless asshole than to be governed by something greater.  Granted, the governing force was dark and dangerous in itself, but there is no synthesis, no epiphany, for all of it’s preaching, the film offers no suitable alternative.  Gary King remains as lost as anyone’s interest in him.

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