6 August 2013

Review: The World's End

(Dir: Edgar Wright, 2013)

Is the reverence towards Edgar Wright justified? He stands in the intriguing position of being worshiped in geek circles, whilst being considered a writer / director worthy of affection by the mainstream media. The fact that his career is intrinsically linked to current filmic national treasures Simon Pegg and Nick Frost does him no harm. Spaced with its quirky late nineties / early noughties out-there-comedy says yes it is justified, as does the clever but not quite as amazing as some make out Shaun of the Dead. Scott Pilgrim vs the World certainly makes the case for yes, but Hot Fuzz has always been the weak link here, stretching a somewhat forced, thin idea far too far. That film could've been considered an anomaly, but the release of The World's End throws that theory up in the air.

The final part of the so-called "Cornetto trilogy", The World's End sees Pegg and Frost reuniting yet again, but this time in a slightly less buddy buddy manner. The film is about a gathering of former friends who have not seen each other since school days, returning to a home town they've almost all escaped from to complete a pub crawl that defeated them at age eighteen. But in typical Wright fashion all in Newton Haven is not as it seems.

As a set-up this falls on the unexciting side of adequate. The return to ones roots after many years apart always has the potential to be interesting, but to truly work it relies solely on decent characterisation, which unfortunately is something seriously lacking here. The cast of actors assembled is typically impressive, however when your group of friends consists of Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan, it's criminal to under-use them. Marsan at least gets a couple of decent scenes, but generally they're all a bit bland and faceless. Frost's Andrew is the most well rounded character, a very satisfying change from both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz where he is the annoying / slightly lacking sidekick. We get more background and a sense of him being a decent man; someone worthy to root for whom for the most part makes logical sense as logic escapes their situation.

For a change Pegg plays a character, Gary King, who is the complete antithesis - an extremely unlikable and irritating character without a single redeeming quality. His arrogance, narcissism and childlike obsession with recreating what transpired twenty years ago is left unexplained. He hasn't changed in that time, but we don't know why he was like that to start with and why intervening life has done nothing to alter his path. This raging ego means he continues to not give a damn about his so called friends, who themselves remain sceptical about why they even listened to him again. They don't like him and there's clearly no way the audience can either, so how do we root for him or the group to succeed? Attack the Block, another British film with this exact primary failing, comes to mind - that's a film that's impossible to like to due to detestable characters you desperately want to see lose. Pegg plays King really well, embodying his chaos and arrogance, but that's meaningless when the character is awful. And within this, sight of the deeper questions of where life has or hasn't taken you whilst reimagining your childhood aspirations, is lost in a reminiscence of the joy of getting pissed with your mates.

The film does have some interesting visual ideas as it takes its turn into sci-fi weirdness, such as the strange blue light emitted from the towns residents when they're displeased, but it's pure Invasion of the Body Snatchers homage, just with a Stepford twist. It's a shame that there's nothing more original to this aspect of the story, as the pub crawl surface layer is desperately crying for a more interesting story beneath it. This is supposed to be a comedy but there's precious little to laugh at - a handful of mildly amusing chuckles do crop up, but there's nothing to elicit an actual proper laugh. The previous films in this "trilogy" offer many more occasions to laugh, as well as more enjoyable silliness.

The World's End is a thoroughly disappointing film. There is some potential somewhere in there, if not from the blandly unoriginal story and poor characterisation, then from the decent cast. But a chief protagonist who remains detestable for the duration of the film, alongside a lack of laughs or even any sense of fun, leave an unappetising experience. In fact it's a boring film that seems to drag on interminably, and Frost is the only one to escape positively. This is easily the worst film Wright has made. Considering the quality and enjoyability of Scott Pilgrim vs the World, hands down Wright's best film and the only one without his usual cast of friends, it's positive that his next project, Ant-Man, is likewise based on a comic, suggesting there's still something curious to come from him. The World's End doesn't make it easy, but for now at least I still believe in Wright.

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