Sean K. Cureton

Sci-Fi Ribbing, Without a Lack of Substance

In Movie Reviews: 2013 on August 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Theatrical Poster

The World’s End
Directed by Edgar Wright
3 ½ out of 4 stars

The World’s End is the third film to be released in what has come to be known as the “Cornetto Trilogy,” a series of comedic genre films created collaboratively between director Edgar Wright, actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and British television and film producer Nira Park. What began in 2004 with the now seminal classic romantic comedy/zombie picture Shaun of the Dead, and continued in the 2007 action spoof Hot Fuzz, is now concluded with this summer’s The World’s End, which pays tribute to the legacy of science-fiction motion pictures, most notably Invasion of the Body Snatchers, á la the 1978 release starring Donald Sutherland. What’s more though, and keeping in line with the intelligence and range of the previous films in the series, Wright’s new film is not only a tongue-in-cheek ribbing of sci-fi, pop cultural references, but is also a wonderful portraiture of contemporary consciousness, informed, and at times stunted, by the very same sort of self-aware satire which the film itself is an example of. Where Shaun of the Dead was a critique of the malaise and apathetic resignation of young adulthood, The World’s End is an approach at understanding nostalgia for one’s youth, something which is both intimately human and necessary, as well as potentially dangerous and encumbering. The World’s End is hysterically brilliant, pointedly satirical, and heartwarming, making it one of the best films to come out so far this year, as well as a more than worthy conclusion to the now much beloved “Cornetto Trilogy.”

Much of the brilliance of Wright’s new film centers upon the humanity and charming appeal of the film’s protagonist, Gary King (Simon Pegg). In the film, Gary is an alcoholic who we meet in an AA meeting at the beginning of the film, where he is seen regaling an audience of not-so-eager listeners to a tale of his exploits as a youth, when he and his four best friends attempted the “Golden Mile,” wherein one drinks twelve pints of beer in one night, one coming from each of the twelve pubs located in Gary’s hometown. After engaging in this reminiscence of what to Gary was the best time of his life, Gary decides to harangue his old school friends, all of them married and settled down at this point, into attempting the “Golden Mile” once again. What becomes increasingly clear though, if it weren’t already from the shock of seeing the stark juxtaposition of a young and vibrant Gary of yesteryear with the grimy and defeated looking Gary of today, is the fact that Gary’s idealized youth was not quiet as cheery as he has remembered. Where Gary’s old friends are constantly reminded of the ways in which Gary used and abused each of them for his own gains, Gary willfully chooses to paint a romanticized picture of the actual nature of their long history together, in order to prolong his own recklessness and selfish hedonism.

In wrapping a story of moral platitudes and perennial life lessons into a big budget comedic genre film, Wright and company have made their mark as truly gifted filmmakers. Instead of sticking to the more obvious pop cultural references, which abound in each of the installments in their “Cornetto Trilogy,” as be-all, end-all aesthetic flourishes, all sound and fury while signifying nothing, Wright, Pegg, and Frost aim higher. Whether it’s over the top, George A. Romero zombie gore, Bad Boys style action-comedy, or over the top sci-fi theatrics, each of the films in the “Cornetto Trilogy” utilize film genre elements as a means by which the film’s characters may become more relatable and fallibly human. In The World’s End, the audience gets a kick out of seeing an entire town turn into pod people, and witnessing a large scale alien invasion generated by a contemporary dependence upon the clean efficiency of digital technology, but the film’s focus and drawing power resides principally in Gary King’s engagement with an infantilizing obsession over a nostalgia for one’s youth. While you might be able to get by watching The World’s End based purely on its elements of superficial genre ribbing, it would ultimately leave you feeling empty, and you wouldn’t have engaged the film to its full psychologically human capacity.

Edgar Wright’s The World’s End just might be one of the best movies of the year, and deservedly so. Supported by a brilliantly witty and clever script, an exemplary cast, and filmed by one of the best directors currently working, Wright’s final film in the “Cornetto Trilogy” boasts all of the humor and humanity of its predecessors, while upping the ante a little in terms of blockbuster level theatricality. Not only is the film an expert level satire of science fiction genre fare, but it also keeps its pop cultural references in check, using them as aesthetic flourishes rater than substitutes for actual dramatic substance. After the tepid offering of Pegg and Frost’s co-written sci-fi romp Paul, The World’s End will allow Pegg and Frost fans a sigh of relief, offering proof that the duo still has it in them to make a quality comedic genre picture. The “Cornetto Trilogy” may have come to end, but here’s to hoping that Wright, Pegg, and Frost still have a few more tricks up their sleeves, collaboratively or not.

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