God, I love it when a movie is exactly as good as I hoped it would be.
Six years after "Hot Fuzz" and almost a decade since "Shaun Of The Dead," actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost once again team with master genre satirist/fetishist Edgar Wright for "The World's End," a result that is quite simply joy incarnate. Laughs roll fast and fierce, Wright keeps the pacing at a steady clip, and to watch it with a receptive audience is to become gradually aware that we're sharing something special and we all know it.
2013 will probably yield better movies. But there won't be another more wholly entertaining. This is a movie not only for people who love movies, but for people who want to love movies.
As the last installment in their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, it's only fitting that "The World's End" concerns a band of old friends getting back together for one last hurrah. Gary King (Pegg) remains obsessed with one of the formative nights of his wayward youth: a 12 stop pub crawl called The Golden Mile, culminating in a visit with the good Dr. Ink at a place called The World's End. Unlike the friends he shared that night of debauchery with, though, Gary never got over the fact that they never finished the crawl. He still rocks the same Sisters Of Mercy tshirt and black overcoat he wore then. Now, a grown man with nowhere to go because he never chose a path, he coerces everyone (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Frost) into giving the epic crawl another go, playing the sympathy card of his recently deceased mother. Almost like a heist movie, if the theft were of their dignity.
Vain attempts to recapture faded glory. A stunted manchild unwilling to accept that his friends moved past him. The danger from living in the past. These are the themes that concern "The World's End," and until the halfway point, Wright plays it mostly straight, his cards close to the chest. Knowing the strokes of a Cornetto movie, we're waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the true nature of the movie to pop its head. Key to its success, though is we're not antsy. You've seen the trailers. You know it's ultimately a send-up of science fiction, with the residents of the gang's old town replaced by pod people. And when Wright fully pulls back the curtain, it doesn't play like a sigh of relief - "Finally, we can get to the good stuff."
That's because Wright's method of satire directs as much inward as it does outward. He's patient. He's careful. In "The World's End," he takes his sweet time to create real human situations that we feel empathy for, so when the movie's gears irrevocably shift to sci-fi, it feels like a logical progression of the plot we're now firmly invested in. Were Pegg and Wright lazy people, they'd just show off their intimate knowledge of a genre they know so well, and "The World's End" would be a fun game of, "Remember when this happened in those older movies?"
Thankfully, ambition is something they don't lack, and "The World's End" warps the familiar tropes of sci-fi to its own purpose. Pod people as they approach them really stand for the disappointment we all feel when we return to a place frozen in our minds - where the pubs had character - then facing the rude awakening that everything's changed and it's all Starbucks-ed (as one character says). It's when you reunite with old friends and assume you can launch into the same conversation as when you left off, only to discover that with years between you, you've both started different sentences.
Gary never gave up on his noble little dream that 12 pints can save his life. And the ultimate greatness of "The World's End" lies in the fact that it kind of believes him. Wright and Pegg might bow before the conventions of genre, but they don't force themselves on character. As their movie builds to its oddly affecting conclusion, there's an audaciousness to this modern comedy about arrested development acknowledging that deep down, human beings really don't grow that much - we just make the same mistakes in different places. Immaturity need not be corrosive. And instead of forcing ourselves to mature, maybe we'd have better luck trying to be happier as we are.
As artists, Pegg and Wright no doubt believe in personal growth and pushing themselves to new heights. That still doesn't give them the right to lecture, and in this tale of "Withnail & Sci," allowing a character who is ultimately pathetic to revel in his patheticness is bold and kinda admirable. For a movie that knows exactly what it wants to say, "The World's End" never gives way to cockiness or self-importance. It simply struts along, knowing the heart sometimes works better on the sleeve.
What sheer, glowing enthusiasm Wright shoots this all with, too. What gleeful kinetics. Roger Ebert was so fond of quoting Francois Truffaut, "I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between." This movie absolutely represents the former. When Wright stages a massive pub fight toward the end, camera darting throughout, characters swigging beer between punches, it's with the same unhinged passion that marked his great "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," and you think here are people who are so incredibly proud to be making movies.
Shooting comedy can be so easy. Take funny people, put them in front of a static camera, and off you go. Is there a better comedic director alive today than Wright, though? Not just in his ability to pace the jokes and present them, but to interpret them? Watching a Wright comedy, you get laughs when the camera cuts just as surely as when the actors land a funny line. Movies are a visual medium, and he wants his camera to play an active role.
I'm just so happy when a movie like this comes along, and I'd endure a dozen "Hangover III"s and "The Internship"s for it. It clicks in the ways you want and in the ways you didn't even expect. It's unrelentingly funny. It exudes complete confidence. It's overall just a great, rowdy affair.
For a movie about people gladly crawling back to the bottom, Wright and Pegg end their trilogy never artistically richer. Kieślowski ain't got nothing on these Three Flavours.