Film Review: THE WORLD’S END (directed by Edgar Wright)

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by Kevin Bowen on August 23, 2013

in Film


In college more so than high school, I dressed like that: Black trench coat (but mine was brown).  Black slacks.  Doc Martens.  I never owned that Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, but I did own the album with that cover.  That was Gary King’s wardrobe on the last day of high school in 1990, the day when he and four friends started (but didn’t finish) a legendary 12-pub crawl in their English hometown.  It’s still what he wears 23 years later as he rounds up his old gang to go back and complete the mission.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema film review of "The World's End."

Such is the simple but unusual set-up for The World’s End, the third Simon Pegg / Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) fanboy satire of the genre films they grew up with.  Then the robots show up.  If you don’t like the plot in a Pegg-Wright movie, don’t worry – give it 15 minutes and it will change.  The Big Chill, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Trainspotting are among the loose ends that tie together at The World’s End.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema film review of "The World's End."

In one way, this film is right up the alley of those around forty.  Although my CDs need dusting, I own a lot of the 90s British alternative music (Sisters of Mercy, Stone Roses, Soup Blur) that sets the nostalgic tone.  While the characters are clichés, they’re my clichés.  Wright has called the film an “anti-nostalgia” movie – essentially that you can’t go home again because of the killer robots.  But in reality, it’s more effective than a lost Zima bottle of 90s goodness.

Can anyone besides Generation Xers appreciate this film?  Perhaps.  Are the end-of-his-rope antics of the addict Gary King, for today’s youngsters, like watching the hippie teacher in Heathers 25 years ago?  Still, the movie does seem focused on its base demographic.

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema film review of "The World's End."

There’s a David Lynch attitude to Wright and Pegg’s comic doodles.  Hot Fuzz and The World’s End are both set in small towns that look like small towns in studio pictures from the 40s.  The familiar homilies are then smashed against a spooky movie-plot underbelly to small town life.  Is this an artistic statement, a social observation, or only a convenient alchemy for making comedy?

Kevin Bowen's Stage and Cinema film review of "The World's End."

The film’s humor has sent many critics into an arms race of synonyms for hilarious.  However, there is an itch of hollowness to it that I could never scratch.  Shouldn’t the characters be less cartoonish, the situations a little more substantive, its’ “importance of friendship” message much less forced?  Like a weekend away with old friends, it’s a fun lap through old times.  Well, there’s always real life afterwards; until then, The World’s End is ultimately a refreshing fiction.

photos Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

The World’s End
Focus Features
rated R / running time 1 hour 49 minutes
in wide release August 23, 2013

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