dir: Edgar Wright
Now that’s how the World Ends in The World’s End, not with a bang, but with a pub crawl.
Yes, I know I’ve been lamenting the absolute locust plague of films and movies ending the world, despoiling the world, rebuilding it and then ruining it all over again, that have been coming out with metronomic regularity. And the last one I saw of this ilk was the despicable This Is The End, whereby my full throated lament of this apocalyptically overabundant genre made it sound like I never wanted to see any of them ever again. At the very least, Wright shows that a film about immature adults (and the potential end of the world) doesn’t itself have to be embarrassingly immature.
Mostly, I hated how the execrable This Is The End spoiled the chances of this ever being a hit. Would it have been a hit for Edgar Wright if there wasn’t title confusion in the minds of non-existent audiences everywhere, thinking that they had possibly already seen the film they hadn’t already seen just because the titles were similar?
Possibly not. Perhaps. It’s unlikely, as theories go. Perhaps it’s more likely that people weren’t as keen to go see another world ending extravaganza only a few weeks after the last one. Maybe they need a few months between apocalypses.
Or maybe they just didn’t want to watch it done with style, with great humour, and with all the human feelings and ideas that were completely lacking for the last fourteen versions of this claptrap. If they watched it done properly, then they’d be spoiled, wouldn’t they?
Edgar Wright is such a good director that it hurts me that this tumbled and petered out for him. I might not have loved Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, in fact it makes me look away and glow with embarrassment for him whenever it comes up in conversation, but I can and do easily watch any of either Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and probably now The World’s End, once it comes onto Blu-Ray. Which I will certainly buy.
They’re not all the same film, but they do share the obvious comedic sensibilities and many of the same actors, the most prominent being Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Simon Pegg, as in the other flicks, plays the lead, but this is probably the saddest character he’s played in the trilogy or in any film he’s ever done. The apocalyptic stuff aside, the true horror is the idea that someone would be living contemporarily and yet stuck 23 years or so in the past. Yep, you guessed it, the early 90s.
Now, the thing about the 1990s is, I was there, I was the same age as the protagonists in the flick, and every song from the era, and some of the behaviour, was behaviour that I’m proud and ashamed to say was identical to my own. Now, truth be told, even as Gary King (Pegg) is depicted as a completely irresponsible booze-and-drug hound with no consideration for others and with a completely deranged sense of entitlement, which might be relatable, I never had a crew of buddies to use, abuse and get maggoted with. At least, the friends I did that stuff with were mostly female.
But the black coats, the silver jewellery, the outdated and tired references? The goth pretentions, and the being wrong about almost everything? It’s like I was looking into a ravaged, haggard mirror, much like what an actual mirror would show.
Gary is relating a tale of heroism and debauchery to a group of people, telling tales of yore when he was a star, a king, just like his surname, and his mates were with him as they ever once more went into the breach of decency and commonsense. He speaks of a pub crawl that he and his merry men were meant to complete through their home town of Newtown Haven, covering The Golden Mile, end-to-end, between the twelve pubs.
Gary, of course, is relating this tale of old joys and noble failure, to what looks like either a group therapy session or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. As the early 90s music starts up, Primal Scream at that, the creepy expression on Gary’s face indicates that he’s not exactly going to quit drinking now. Not with the thirst we can see on his wizened face.
Somehow, despite the fact that he’s not seen any of his former ‘crew’ in twenty years, and they all seem to still despise him, he somehow convinces everyone that they should complete the divine task they set for themselves, that he set for the rest of them, way back when. The rest of them are responsible, mature, decent folks with families and careers. What inspires them is possibly nostalgia for their wild and wicked days, but in Andy’s case (Nick Frost), since he clearly loathes Gary, he is emotionally blackmailed into it.
I guess if everyone reasonably and more probably knocked Gary back, it would have been a very short flick. A sad old goth wants to go on a pub crawl, but no-one else wants to, because he smells funny and acts like a teenager in his 40s, so he just goes down the pub on his own and drowns his sorrows, occasionally boring whoever sits near enough to him to regret it with his rambling tale of being Somebody 20 years ago. The End.
They return to their old stomping grounds, and marvel at how shitty the town is. They say that, but the town looked pretty nice to me. I guess I didn’t grow up there, so I don’t have the lingering feelings of disappointment and failure that arise from looking at it, versus looking at the suburb I grew up in, as a contrast.
Really, the town looks quite nice, perhaps too quaint, but nice. Perhaps too nice.
I might marvel that any of these chaps would want to spend any time with Gary for any reason, but perhaps we can assume that one of the reasons for why they’re still grudgingly going along with him is because Gary possessed or possesses some quality that always and still makes them do what he wants. After all, he’s Gary King. Andy is Andy Knightley. Steven (Paddy Considine) is Steven Prince, Oliver (Martin Freeman and his sister Sam (Rosamund Frost) share the surname Chamberlain, and Peter (Eddie Marsan) is Peter Page. What’s with all these royal titles and surnames?
No idea. It possibly means something, but only Edgar Wright could tell you, unless it’s really obvious, and I’m just a complete doofus, which is more than likely. Still, annoying, irritating, aggravating Gary is the King, and where he leads, the others follows.
The twelve pubs they must have at least one pint at have the classic English pub style names beloved throughout Ol’ Blighty and copied around the world: Two Headed Dog, The Mermaid, The Famous Cock. The names of the pubs, as well, often mimic or presage what is about to happen to our erstwhile drinkers as they wend their merry way through the past, present, and an increasingly terrifying yet comforting future.
The lads begin to notice that there’s something… suspiciously bland about their town, and the pubs they’re visiting, that they don’t remember at all. The first pub, which has been Starbucked, in a way, is exactly the same as the next pub they go to. They notice it at first, but then shrug their shoulders and keep drinking like champions. That, coupled with the fact that no-one seems to remember them, portends ill-times ahead for our royal crew, perhaps, or at least a severe hangover for humanity the next day.
I have to say I had a ball watching this flick. It’s probably one of my favourite flicks of the year, and it worked on such an abundance of levels. The idiots behind other films tell you, if you listen to them in interviews on the telly or on podcasts, that they’ve made and are promoting a film that has romance, that has comedy, that has action, that has everything including a tarantula having sex with the kitchen sink. They all do it. It’s the way of homogenising screenplays so they’re all familiar and safe to executives and audiences. Edgar and his crew actually deliver a flick that mashes together a whole bunch of genres, as well as remaining dramatically and comedically complex enough to also make me care (a little) about the characters and why they do the things they do, and what’s going to happen to them.
Almost everything that comes out of Gary’s mouth shows how clueless and selfish he is, but it’s done in such a way where he’s still contemptible, but he doesn’t make you want to kill him as much as his friends might. He’s awful, but he’s not horribly irritating, which is the key here. The other friends can’t stand out as much, but they’re there to be stand-ins for us, because all of us have had those friends whose obliviousness and self-centredness have made us want to strangle them, even if we still care about them.
Or, on the other hand, we’re the Gary in their lives, and we’re eternally grateful for their forbearance and forgiveness. I swear I’ll get you that 200 pounds I owe you, uh, next Friday. Fortnight, at the latest, swear.
It’s funny, all right, but the action in this flick really elevates it when stuff goes berserk. There are fight scenes in this better than anything I’ve seen since the Hong Kong flicks of the early, uh, 1990s, all of which are done with guys not known for their martial arts skills. Watching Nick Frost beat the shit out of a bunch of people is an unalloyed joy that all must see before dying. They’re so well done that I’m starting to think that even if Scott Pilgrim made me cry with its tediousness and its horrible main character, at least Edgar Wright got to learn how to stage and film decent fight scenes. That almost makes up for it. Or at least it taught him who to hire to do it right.
The fights here, the pub brawls, let’s say, are no more realistic in the main that the ones from the earlier flick, but they’re pretty well done. A particular favourite scene had Gary trying to fight multiple assailants and protect his pint at the same time, which had me laughing out loud with the sheer joy of it. Yes, I know I’ve seen the same thing in a bunch of flicks, especially one of the Drunken Master flicks, but it was brilliantly done all the same.
Yes, there’s a plot I haven’t really talked about, and I don’t think it’s necessary to go into it, because it would constitute one massive, continuous spoiler, but I can say that it leads to a beautiful ending, one that made me appreciate the different approach Wright takes with the End of the World scenario even as I indulgently rolled my eyes and chuckled. What I most appreciated is the reason for the ‘end’, dubious as it may be, which comes from humanity sticking up for humanity, trying to preserve our freedom, our God-given right to be messy, terrible people.
Who would have thought Freedom, and our over-reliance on our smart phones would destroy the world? Not me, and probably not you.
The World’s End: The best pre- and post- apocalyptic comedy flick of this or any other year.
8 reasons I will not continue to dress or look like Gary, or any other refugee from the early 90s anymore out of 10
“Think you bit off more than you can chew with Earth, mate.”
- “Yeah, because we're more belligerent, more stubborn and more idiotic than you could ever imagine.” – we’ll always have the Disableds – The World’s End