The World’s End (2013) – Edgar Wright (Dir.), Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, and everybody else ever
Has a beer every been so strong that it burns a hole in a fucking sign?
There are those people in high school. You know the guys. Their acne runs rampant and untamed across their goof-toothed faces, their dentures held tight with more metal than a steel mill, their hair perhaps yanked back into a slick oily ponytail, emphasizing each and every pore oozing shiny fluid in a constant stream of social awkwardness. They spend their days logging out the AV room to watch entire marathons of Tarantino films; they quote both Monty Python and Star Wars in their entireties; they own each and every one of the 151 Pokemon trading cards (NO, I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THAT THERE ARE ANY MORE THAN THAT, YOU WENCHES!). Their soporific disdain for general humanity reaches a level of sociopathy known only to the uni-bomber, thereby seemingly indicating intelligence where it might not perennially reside. They are the few. They are the brave. They are the nerds.
And I was one of them.
Now, usually, these fascinating creatures of obsessive delights and questionable hygiene tend to cultivate quality middle-management and the hellishly titled ‘IT Technician’ positions, their fetishes and dorkish fancies relegated to every other Friday night when crowded about a dimly lit Dungeon Master. But, once in a while, when the stars align just so, that bubbling and roiling pot of pop-culture primodial ooze creates something different…something genius. It was from this pit of eternal virginity and ridiculously bad Sci-Fi fan fiction that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright did crawl, two gentlemen of specific and boundless expertise. Along with their hilarious lady friend Jessica Hynes-Stevenson, they crafted perhaps the greatest and most referential sitcom of all time, Spaced. Oh 1999, a simpler time. A time of a Spice Girls movie. A time before The Phantom Menace. This trio of comedic brilliance introduced us to friends, nay, televised soulmates of all humans lucky enough to watch it, Daisy, Tim, Mike (Nick Frost), an artist who paints with his penis (Brian, oh how I love thee), a drunk land lady (Julia Deakin), a woman named ‘Twist’ and the most perfect dog ever to grace God’s green earth. (Awww, Colin). This mania of a serial nonsense, spanning references to Resident Evil, Damien Hurst, Trainspotting and an impressively long homage to Empire Strikes Back, allowed both our writer (Pegg) and our director (Wright) to cut their teeth better than a fucking orthodontic surgeon with a penchant for vampires. Eventually, once both seasons of the criminally short show (twelve episodes in all) passed the world by, their ball-blazing brilliance lost to the universe, Pegg, Frost and Wright teamed up to create the world’s first feature comedy about zombies, Shaun of the Dead.
He looks like the magician you book you your kid’s birthday party and arrives with his own heroin and enough STDs to share.
Since then, the Cornetto Trilogy, as it is named for their barely-edible eponymous treats omnipresent throughout all three films, has exploded into an international phenomenon. While Shaun of the Dead was a goofy musing on how the British would deal with an onslaught from the living dead (Bill Nighy says after being bitten, “Oh don’t worry, Barbara, I’ve run it under a cold tap!”), it flirted with intelligence by way of it’s exploration of adult male arrested development. Shaun is a man who must grow to fit the adult universe and leave behind his dead weight pal, the noxious and obnoxious Ed, in order to get the girl and a freaking job. Of course, as the film melts into its referential source, devolving into a mostly by-the-numbers zombie chomp fest, all of the supporting characters becoming nothing more than a human stand-ins for an oinky pal in a Luau, the comedy subsides in favor of drama and message. It’s good; it’s funny; but the men are children and the girls are women. The thesis is simple and exhaustive, rarely providing any fascinating realization. You come for the zombies; you stay for the comedy; you suffer the point.
After that, we were treated with the gut-bustingly gigglicious Hot Fuzz. Once again, it was a titter-filled juxtaposition of British mentality and quaintness against the explosive bombast and brutal violence of Michael Bay movies. Unlike Dead, which gets to the funny without delay, Hot Fuzz simmers and matures, warming its subject to a metaphorically and literally incendiary climax, fully equipped with old women getting kicked in the face, a homicidal goose, and Timothy Dalton impaling his chin on a model church steeple. Once again, you came for the laughs, you stayed for the old men pulling uzis from their bicycle baskets, you waited to get through the ‘message’. Unfortunately, Fuzz lost itself. While the buddy cop dynamic of Pegg’s impossibly competent Nick Angel and Frost’s obsessive and regressive Danny Butterman holds the focus for a majority of the runtime, its interest in adult male bonding does little to progress their already stated premise from Dead, this time the roles reversed.
“What happens in the Gents, stays in the Gents, alright?” ~ Boys, experimenting.
Ah, yes, so now we come to The World’s End. It’s pretty much safe to say, this is my favorite fucking movie of the summer. There is no way I’ll accept any bullshit involving flying zombies, half-baked Men of Very Hard Things or the steaming pile of smegma that was Star Trek Into Darkness. This doesn’t just take the cake, it walks into the fucking bakery and shoves its face into every fucking cake it can find declaring, “NA NA NA NA NAH, MY CAKES, ASSHOLES“. Dear Jesus. To say I laughed would be an understatement of such absurd proportions that it is only rivaled by “This Black Death thingy. It’s bad, isn’t it?” (Don’t worry, I would have been fine. I watch House). There are lines forever more ingrained into my sorry fanboy skull (“Fuck off, you big lamp!” and “Smashy, Smashy Egg People” are going on my goddamn gravestone). It’s good. No…maybe it’s great. Now, there are people who might charge into the theater expecting some sort of comedic holy grail. You know, the perfect comedy. And those people are just as stupid as that one Nazi at the end of Last Crusade who chose poorly and turned into what we all know Sharon Stone would become once you turn off her Youth Sucking Device. You know the guy (Side note: I once had an acting class with that man, Julian Glover. He’s fucking old. He prodded me. Not in a sexual way. At least…not that I was aware. Oh god…wait…OH GOD). Now, it probably isn’t quite as testicle-tickling as the previous two installments, but what it lacks in giggle, it makes up for in message. THAT’S RIGHT. YOU DIDN’T EXPECT THAT, YOU BASTARDS. Yes, it seems that the boys have finally grown up, put on their big-boy pants and discovered that they don’t fit anymore. The World’s End is one of the more depressing treatises on bromance I’ve witnessed in the last few years. While Judd Apatow continues to perpetuate his infinite comedic circle jerk, constantly sucking brighter stars into his celestial festival of cyclic self-abuse, Wright and Pegg use this film to ask the question: what does it mean to get stuck in the past? And how do we survive a parasitic friendship?
We have Gary King (Pegg with a dye job worse than a that old woman at the supermarket with a head of purple), the once and future, well, you get it, of his high school cronies. After an innocent inquiry from a gentleman in his support group, King decides he needs to finish a pub crawl he failed to complete back in the nubile days of yore (meaning 1992). To do so, he gathers his court of middle-aged jesters. What seems like an exercise in mild lampooning in order to up the offerings on the ‘sacrificial lamb’ menu, ultimately encourages you to actually care about these sad-sacks. Of course, there’s King, whose indefatigable abstruseness is the cause of almost everybody’s woe, as well as Frost’s recovering alcoholic, Andy. Those two are a given. Who knew that Paddy Considine (Detective Andy from Fuzz, and that guy that gets shot in the face in the third Bourne movie) would turn into the romantic lead? Also, Eddie Marsan is perhaps the most adorable dollop of corporeal pathos ever to open an account at Barclays. Even John Watson joins the fun, on break from foiling cases while Khan blows up Starfleet, to sell real estate and talk on a bluetooth.
All were shocked whenhHis ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ routine suddenly took a dark and homicidal turn…
Yes, we’ve all seen the trailers. The crawl quickly devolves into a eery ode to Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a peculiarly LEGO twist. While logic would dictate that those idiots should get the fuck out of the infectious town, filled with siren-spouting, hand mangling, easily-offended, unkillable blue-raspberry robots, the boys don’t. King lives up to his name, charging the gauntlet one pint at a time, his entourage doing whatever they can to drag him back to safety. It’s been six years since the Wright/Pegg/Frost band played their last gig, all of them going their own way, from duets (Pegg and Frost’s Paul) to solo pieces (Wright’s hilariously misogynistic and delightful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), they have finally reached their acme. Pegg is on fire as King, igniting every scene like a dad covered in silly string; Frost successfully navigates the descent from depressed family man to hulking brawler; and Wright couldn’t be more on top of his game. As I once heard in a Community DVD commentary (yes, I am that fucking nerdy, alright? And yes, losing my virginity was exceedingly difficult. DEAL WITH IT), a director making a joke is like “a llama spinning a web. It’s really cool when it happens but no one expects it”. If that’s true, then Edgar Wright is the fucking Spider-Llama. Every edit is a gag. Even his mis en scene is precise and perfect enough to make Trouffaut weep with inadequacy. Together, this trio isn’t just dynamite, they’re a nuclear core of pure hilarity.
It’s a shame Ms. Hynes-Stevenson didn’t join them after her cameo in Shaun of the Dead. All of their movies suffer a distinct lack of vaginal population. It’s pretty much the boyiest clubs of boys since Boy George opened a buoy shop on Boy Bay. (They are fabulous nautical directional devices. Also terrifying and completely useless). In fact, I’m fairly sure precisely none of their movies pass the Bechdel Test. It’s a shame that boys can only talk about boys in an absence of non-penises. Le sigh.
Oh, yes, and Rosamund Pike is in this. And she kicks a lot of Robo-booty.
Well, while the climax, compared to Hot Fuzz, is little more than a wordy discourse basically stolen from The Day the Earth Stood Still…just with more ‘cunts’ thrown in, the magic of The World’s End is truly in the characters. It gets dark. Like really dark. Nostalgia isn’t simply a way of life for those of us too emotionally screwed up to take a leap out of the shallow end of the pool, it can be lethal. King is perhaps the most pathetic protagonist of the Wright/Pegg universe. In fact, by all definitions, he is both protagonist and antagonist, never really able to earn the title of anti-hero because there is literally nothing heroic about the man. Every choice is an extension of his brutal self-pity and solipsism, each decision dragging his friends further into the liquor-lined rings of Tartarus. Over and over we are reminded he is the King, the pointman, the Jesus to their Apostles. But King of what? His court has diminished to a band of tired middle aged John’s, none of them interested in reliving the former glory. In aging and losing the spark of youth, they’re all invited into the Collective, a world where mediocrity and homogeny aren’t simply encouraged, but essential. Wright and Pegg fear the mass of middle-aged zombism that so easily subsumes the middle class, each of their Trilogy attacking collectivism on opposing fronts. Here the assault has been perfected. The World’s End’s eventual postulation is that imperfection is human and any eradication of those mild maladies would be to fundamentally change what we are. But those errs come at a cost. And that cost is a man such as Gary King.
Finally, we have a tale of male immaturity that doesn’t simply spout, “Women are terrible and we should be able to act like a stoned bags of dicks. Just flopping about. Like a bag of dicks” (full disclosure: this is the second time I’ve incorporated the image of a bag of dicks into my work. I don’t know why. That image is just so tickling. Like…a bag of dildos…that are actually penises. I wonder if there’s a psychological meaning behind that. Huh). This is about growing up. Granted, it ensures that we know immaturity and acting like drunken louts is a cornerstone of human society, but at its core, The World’s End is a goofy cautionary tale. Growing up is terrifying. To be young is to be labeled a courier of potential, a seed shot out into the dusty earth, assumed to blossom into the grand arbor we all expect. But what if we don’t? What if that potential becomes the scars of our personal failure? What then? The pressures of adulthood aren’t simply great, they’re intoxicatingly horrifying. Gary King is the grandest example of what failure looks, tastes, sounds and smells like.
“I wonder if I’m part toaster, part Cylon? Does that make me a Toaster Toaster?” ~Existential Murder Robot is Existential.
Finally, someone understands that childishness isn’t simply a choice. It’s a shelter. And it’s one that will always, always collapse. The question is, will you get out and make your way in time?