Sunday, August 25, 2013

The World's End (2013) Movie Thoughts

One time would-be high school legend, Gary King hasn't changed.

A relic of the late 1980s-early 1990s, a near-mid-life King is suddenly infused with a zealous passion to seek out his long-since distanced buddies in hopes of "getting the band back together", and traveling away from London, to quiet Newton Haven. The mission: finishing an epic-sized pub crawl with minds(and perhaps bladders) intact. Problem? Unlike his more successful friends, Gary is seen to have quite a problem with not only addiction, but an almost toxic reliance on nostalgia to fuel him on. Still donning black clothes, as well as his old Sisters Of Mercy regalia, his life has seemingly been on pause for more than two decades. Now more invested in reliving the past than ever, things take a sinister turn when not only have the once lived-in comforts of Newton Haven given way to a homogenized shell of its former self, but the locals seem to be acting more than a little..well,..mechanical. Nothing ever stays, which seems to be high on the minds of older cineaste comrades, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost as they bring their so-called Cornettos Saga full circle.

Fair warning, unlike the style and gag heavy openings of both Shaun Of The Dead, and Hot Fuzz, The World's End takes on what many might consider to be something of a methodical departure. Gone from the film's prologue sequences are the rapid fire editing, as well as a frenetic energy that punctuated those previous. And what comes about in its stead, is more akin to a truly squirm heavy setup involving Gary's drive toward rallying up the boys for this singular night of liver devastation. From seeking out his mousy, unusual buddy/ son of a car dealer, Pete(Eddie Marsan), to digging up his old musician buddy in arms, Steven(Paddy Considine), signals immediately fly above that things had long been buried in the past, with the hopes that they would stay as such. This is made even moreso upon his visit to his nervous, dressed to sell real estate pal, Oliver (Martin Freeman), where the tension begins to reach taut proportion. The back and forth between Gary and his long lost mates paints a troubling picture of his relationship to the man he most perceived to be his best..Andrew. So when time finally comes for Gary and Andy (Frost, now a corporate lawyer) to catch up, it's pretty solid that a rift between them has festered for some time. There's no doubt here that this once stalwart partner has now seen life well beyond that of Gary's incessant need for near infantile notions of freedom, and will hear of none of these impulses anymore. The rhythm of these scenes whilst still funny and observant, contain with them a queasy quality that has up until now been in carefully patched corners of the previous films.

 It is as if there is a deep need for Pegg, Frost, and Wright to look into a darker abyss than they had been privy to before. In fact, the one most likely culprit for this stylistic feint is to capture the vibe of oh so many popular UK films of the 1990s centering on elder men reaching into the past to feel vibrant once again. So when it comes to the boys here, and the legendary Golden Mile gone awry, it all feels natural.

And yet, despite the weirdness that welcomes them on their alcohol-laden quest, this only seems to bolster Gary's drive to complete it, all the way to the eighteenth local bar known only as The World's End(because after a sudden altercation with the machine-like humanoids, perspective must chime in). Dragging Andy, Peter, Oliver, and Steven along the way in hopes of not looking too conspicuous, the fights and chases begin coupling one upon another until either these once good friends are assimilated, or just plain torn apart.  It is roughly around this section of the piece, that the recognizable Edgar Wright signatures begin in true earnest. His flare for symbolic, stealthy comedy, and blistering action (largely courtesy of choreographer, Brad Allen who also worked with Wright on Scott Pilgrim) is in full force as the crew takes on a familiar looking run across town in hopes of surviving the night. And all the while, Andy (now a water-drinking teatotaler) fumes at what has become of his one-time friend. This is made all the more complicated as we come to learn of how matters had come to such a sorry state. Soon, it becomes a dual race of sorts; one between our protagonists, and the town, and the other between Andy versus Gary's fleeting sobriety.

And if this isn't enough, matters are tangled even further when Oliver's sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike) visits the boys, only for us to discover that old feelings truly die hard. (And with our lead finding himself unable to shift out of high school mode, matters are made marginally more awkward.) With the introduction of Sam, we are now witness to greater examinations of Gary's stunted nature. When she delivers what is some of the film's most telling dialogue to the face of a man so desperate to hold on to what has clearly past, it's both funny and unquestionably painful. Akin to growing pains long avoided.

All part of a buildup to a finale that may come as a shock to some ready for more of the same zaniness we have come to expect from these movies. When everything comes to a head here, it truly does come out swinging, bloody knuckles and all. And it's especially tricky to pull such a thing off when considering that all three films exist in completely unique universes. We have grown to laugh and love the two main stars, and do not wish for something like this to happen between them. And that is exactly what Wright is going for, as it becomes more and more apparent, that this is possibly the most personal of the three films. That this is about the worst parts of our current generation of adults, and how susceptible this perhaps makes us unto almost Starbucks-sipping pod-people living in a dot-commified Appleverse.

Perfect for a finale involving the nature of temporal shifting, the robot-like villains of the piece represent another form of extreme that the previous movies had yet to explore. Unlike the hyperviolent armies of zombies, and rabid conservatives of the last two, there is an eerie prescience to all that are these mysterious, blue-blooded automatons. An obvious jab at the recent spate of globalized lifestyle marketing and architecture, it makes for the perfect adversary for everything that Gary stands for, even if he had never considered it in any real sense before. This stabs at the heart of all three films, as they are bound by viewing growth as something that can so easily go off the rails if bound by any extreme amount of activity/inactivity. It seems that in the years since SPACED!, and near nine years since Shaun (Hard to believe that as fact at this point), Wright & Pegg specifically seem particularly alarmed at an England that is being lost in a cacophony of cultureless artifice, often in the guise of a benevolent new infrastructure. Almost a modern spin on the Body Snatchers mythos, while the most ordinary of us both ready for change, but not enough to warrant facile, cattle-like servitude.

But the film's biggest, most effective weapon is in its cast, and how well everyone handles the madness from slow-burn to full tilt apocalypse. The most potent surprises being Marsan and Considine, who embody both classic chum archetypes, and infuse them with a sensitivity and sense of real longing that only gives the whole chase a great amount of juice. Marsan's Peter is a quintessential underdog, teeming with his life long written in for him, and an unexpected amount of trauma that sneaks out in even the most absurd sequences. And Considine's Steven, while having something of a more relaxed life, is one of unrequited feelings, and a chance to seal something that has long been neglected while Freeman's Oliver, is a great parody of the definitive modern man, complete with earpiece,perfect hair, and a strange utterance to all the weird that surrounds them. And when Pike comes along for the ride, she becomes something of a center for the bunch, a character that could be more on the page, but is just enough to deliver some great emotional weight for the other.

And all of this is great backup band work for what is easily the most challenging work Pegg and Frost have done on film thus far. One of the most unique phenomena surrounding the films they have made with Wright, is how they can wildly juggle wild, referential farce, and still find room for human drama and thematic density. And this is largely due to the natural chemistry that so many have grown to appreciate over the years. So when the two decide to play characters that are easily the most empathy-challenged they have played to date, it becomes crucial that there is a careful set of reveals throughout the running time in order to pull everything off. It has to be virtually mathematical, and somehow, Wright has done justice to these performers by creating something that is not only funny, and energizing, it is also appropriately moving. It's a long friendship taken to an illogical edge, and it is terrific work.

Taking a close look at what director Edgar Wright has been slowly constructing over his last decade plus worth of film and television work, one might see the vision of an individual not merely caught up in the minutiae of popular culture. His films are not mere exercises in pop culture revelry. Even as a lot of what led to what we know of him though his films seem littered with reverence to genre works of a specific generation, there is also a great amount of effort made to best understand the things that make this generation tick, for better or for worse. Especially in the works he has written along with Pegg, it tends to seek this wild balance between knowing the landscape, and questioning what allowed it to shape in the first place. And with World's End, we are host to the most harrowing side of this conundrum. Where a yearning for balance is prime, and that perhaps a small manner of sloth may well be the key to figuring out more colorful solutions. With the tale of Gary & friends in Newton Haven, matters are drawn to a close in a mostly sure-handed manner. If it finds itself in any trouble, it is in the final reel, where it becomes unclear as to where the ideas might just be coming from outside the personal.

And while this means the Three Flavor Cornettos has come to an emotionally satisfying, often deeply funny close, something tells me that the trio of Wright, Pegg, and Frost will have plenty more to share with us in due enough time. There seems to be far too much creative juice left in these guys to stop now. If anything, The World's End feels like a herald to a whole new stage in the careers of these three, and I can't wait to see what's to come.

(Oh, and one more thing. Pub names as chapter stops is a pretty fun idea. Should make for another terrific easter egg for when the Blu-ray comes around.)

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