How fitting it is that a film about the end of the world should so thoroughly fall to pieces during its last two minutes. Just as any civilization has to reach a moment of near apotheosis before finally succumbing to the decadent decline, so too did you have to come so close to perfection before ultimately disintegrating under the weight of one final, poorly thought-out narrative blunder.
Oh but it didn’t have to be so, The World’s End. Between your game cast, your flawless writing, and the innate cleverness of your central narrative conceit, you were primed to be the comedic action spectacle of the summer. You operated with so much confidence and daring and joy that by the end I was absolutely sure that you could not be stopped. I was prepared to love you, had almost given my heart to you completely.
Let’s linger then in those golden times before the ugly fall, shall we? You open with a viciously paced montage that fills us in on the boyhood histories of our core group of drunken wanderers. This scene might move just a little bit too fast – names and events fly by with such velocity that even when we get to the present and become reacquainted with our cast as middle-aged men it takes a quarter of the film to really find one’s bearings – but the voiceover is energetic and full of feeling. In a way, the whole scene serves more as a character foundation for Gary King (Simon Pegg) than as an actual course in narrative history.
After he finishes telling the tale of the failed attempt he and his friends made at conquering the 12-pub marathon known as the Golden Mile, Gary is suffuse with a kind of manic energy, hopping from mate to mate (Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman) to try and get the band back together for one final go at their childhood objective. These scenes, which show the way in which Gary can fast-talk and undermine his friends so readily are great at establishing the relationships between the characters, while also setting up future gags and jokes. You are a film that truly understands the beats and measures of a classic comedy setup, and for that alone you should be lauded in this age of mindless riffing and pop-culture referencing.
Back in their old hometown it is hard to shake the feeling that something is just a touch off. No one is recognizing Gary, as he assumed they would, and the whole population and culture seems to have become a bit more homogenized. But all of this unease is overshadowed by his friends’ growing consciousness of the fact that Gary is still very much the same damaged, manic, and ultimately dangerous young man he had always been, but now with a healthy dose of arrested development added on top.
If it weren’t for the fact that the town had been taken over by malevolent androids, I have no doubt that Gary would find himself as your story’s greatest monster. Lucky for him, though, the town has been taken over by androids. Too drunk to drive and too drunk to come up with a better idea, the guys decide the best thing to do is continue with their plan as quickly as possible, so as not to arouse suspicion from their android enemies.
Here the physical comedy mixed headily with the zip-flash wit of the dialogue to create a comedic concoction as potent as it is vibrant. Your director, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of the Dead), knows not only how to shoot and edit a crackling dialogue scene, but also has a real feel for geography and tangibility in action scenes. The actors – who do all of their own stunts, save for one scene – are likewise full-tilt committed to the raucous violence and choreography, and their spirited performances bring their own emotional and cultural nuances to their fighting style.
No aspect of your story is without weight on all the others. Your characters are fully imbued with their own selves, a compliment that may seem slight until you realize just how often movie protagonists shed their skin to reveal their inner Stock Hero. At the same time, the way that the body-snatcher-style concept meets perfectly with the can’t-go-home-again sense of unease we all get when returning to our childhood homes is inspired. This completeness of vision, mingled with the real emotional core of your story, creates a compelling tale and joyfully unerring vision and style.
So how, I ask, could you manage to screw it all up so thoroughly at the end? For one, you could take the only feint toward earnest character growth and completely undermine it. You could take whatever moral or message you were building toward and tear it to shreds. You could reward behaviors which are clearly rooted in the kinds of psychological problems that would fetch a therapist a mint. You could alter established lines of conflict in a way that attempts to rewire our allegiances yet only leads to a subversion of our moral compass that results in emotional whiplash.
Or you could do all of these things at once, all in the space of maybe two minutes, and treat everything as though it were just a lengthy way of saying “happily ever after,” even though that particular happy ending makes no sense given the context of what we just spent an hour and forty minutes experiencing.
Great work, The World’s End. You maintained a high-wire act the likes of which I had never seen, expertly balancing comedy and heart and wit and action. All you had to do was stick the landing. Not even stick it. Just get off the wire without killing everyone in the big top. But then you pulled out a grenade and jumped into the audience.
Still… the first 99% is very much worth the price of admission from a point of view of visceral fun. But that final iota completely poisons the greater impact and worth you might have had, which tinges everything that came before with a metallic tang of regret. Not enough to kill you completely, but enough to cripple you dreadfully.
Truly a shame,
Brian J. Roan