Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The World’s End (2013) – Review

Review: The World’s End is a very entertaining and funny action-comedy. The film is about five friends, led by Gary King, who return to their hometown of Newton Haven to try and complete an epic pub crawl that eluded them twenty years earlier. However, as they make their way from bar to bar, they start to notice that there is something off about the town’s people.

The film completes writer-director Edgar Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy. Like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End succeeds chiefly as a comedy. Wright and his cast have good command of both physical and verbal jokes. To some extent, the film’s physical comedy and stylistic aspects play a bit like a cartoon – but given the heightened sense of fun that the film’s prologue and tone create, this cartoony feel works very well. And, it also opens the narrative up to go in ridiculous directions (which it does).

The action in the film works as well. It is entertaining and holds the attention of the audience, but it is also subservient to the comedy. Everything about the staging and follow through suggests that the fight scenes are being played for comedic effect. Yet, what is interesting (and consistent with Wright’s other films in the trilogy) is that the stakes in this film are much graver than typical action comedies. The character’s lives are actually at risk here. But, at the same time, what could be used for great dramatic tension and emotionally compelling scenes falls a bit flat because the film has already fully committed to being silly. Thus, to some degree, dramatically, the film works against itself a bit. The tone remains that of an exaggerated comedy and never fully shifts into that of a more gripping action thriller type film (that is still funny – an example is the Wright produced horror comedy Attack the Block; it is a horror thriller with palpable stakes that is also really funny).

The strongest aspect of the film is probably its characters (particularly Gary King and Andy Knightley) and their comedic portrayals. As funny and entertaining as the film is what makes it great is its characters. They pull the audience into the story. Regardless of where the story takes the audience, the characters still ground the narrative because the audience wants to see them finish the pub crawl and survive. It is somewhat surprising that Wright could get an audience to care about a group of men finishing a pub crawl on more than a superficial level, but that is the brilliance of his script, the characters, and performances. Gary is an antihero, and not really likable, but his charisma is infective and his drive to find something of meaning in his life is something the audience can really grab onto and get behind.

While the film is structured very well and the pacing moves briskly, the third act of the film sort of putters out, holding the film back. The first two acts build all this great anticipation and tension leading up to what seems like an epic conclusion, but instead Wright undercuts all that with a reversal of expectations. It does work well in terms of comedy and does make sense on a character level, but dramatically is causes the film to stall and feel incomplete and maybe even unsatisfying on some level. It is a brave choice, from a storytelling perspective (and sort of reminds me of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and maybe it works better upon multiple viewings, but that said the loss of all the dramatic tension and anticipation almost derails the film because the audience feels let down as nothing pays off emotionally. However, Wright does temper this somewhat by including a final action/chase sequence to end the film on an emotional high note (leading into the epilogue).

Much like Wright’s other films, small flaws hold The World’s End back a bit, but it is still a great comedy. One that is well worth seeing both for fans of Wright’s work and those who enjoy fun action comedies.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Edgar Wright has a wonderful cult following, as his films have an auteur-like pop style and are soaked through with cinematic, comic book, and popular culture references. It is a shame really that his films have never really found a mainstream audience. With The World’s End, I think Wright and Pegg have created maybe their most compelling lead character in Gary King. He is hysterically funny and incredibly charming (but more because he is on the verge of complete catastrophe and the audience cannot look away than in the classical sense of the word). In terms of The World’s End place in Wright’s filmography. Personally, it is my second favorite of his films behind Shaun of the Dead (and just ahead of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). I am looking forward to seeing what Wright does with Ant Man (there is a rumor that Pegg might play Hank Pym).

Composer Steven Price’s score and cinematographer Bill Pope’s strong photography give the film a great action vibe, while production designer Marcus Rowland’s design plays more towards the comedic aspects of the film, as there are a number of fun sight gags. Price’s score musically elevates the expectations and anticipation of the audience by feeling like a score that would normally accompany a big action film. Pope is one of the best action genre D.P.s working in cinema right now. His work seems to add an extra level of excitement to the action set pieces, which the film greatly benefits from. Rowland’s design work is subtle at first, and Newton Haven looks like a typical boring English small town, but he sneaks in jokes here and there that really work well. Plus, the design of each pub and its masthead is fantastic.

The entire cast gives great comedic performances. Pierce Brosnan and David Bradley each provide funny moments in their small supporting roles. Rosamund Pike plays Sam, the romantic interest of two of the friends and the sister of another. She has great chemistry with Simon Pegg and their scenes are fantastic (something to remember for Ant Man maybe… hopefully). She has good comedic timing and plays off the ridiculousness of the narrative well. Eddie Marsan plays Peter, the dope of the group. He has some great moments, which he takes full comedic advantage of. Martin Freeman plays Oliver, a lightweight when it comes to drinking and Sam’s brother. Freeman really does good work when his personality suddenly changes. Paddy Considine plays Steven, a man who seems to always be second fiddle to Gary. He is at his best when he overplays the dramatic ups and downs of the night. Nick Frost plays Andy, Gary’s former best friend and heavy drinker who has reformed. Frost very nearly steals the film (and for some probably does). He is brilliantly funny. And Pegg plays Gary, the rebel who has just become sad. Pegg revels in the character, playing him big and it works wonderfully.

Summary & score: The World’s End is a fitting end to the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, as it encompasses the same style and tone as the other films, managing to be very funny with engaging action scenes. 8/10

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