Everyone I know has a friend like Gary King. He's a mix of the total anarchist and peace-loving hippie, willing to engage in all manner of property destruction and chemical consumption in an eternal search for the party where he is free to love all and be loved in return. The appeal of the King's of the world is easy, they seem to float through the most troubling years of our lives with a resolute sense of self. The tragedy of the King's is that they run the risk of never evolving beyond those years and become a pitiful shell of shattered confidence.
The World's End keeps this duality firmly in the center of yet another excellent genre homage from the trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. This time the apocalypse is on tap, as well as the careful illusion of arrested adolescence for Gary King, whose world may end if it crumbles once again. It's a comedy, but a sobering one willing to examine the self-destruction behind the impulse to live in those teenage years for the rest of our lives.
For Wright, it's a concentrated return to form after the manic, if fun, pandering of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. For Pegg, it's a reminder that he can work the dark line between comedy and drama better than anyone since Dennis Hopper passed away. For Nick Frost, it's a showcase that proves he is not just the laughable best friend, but a performer with his own surprising depths. Finally, for us, it's a frequently hilarious if brutal reminder that our adolescence is best left in the chaotic years that spawned it.
King rushes us into the universe of The World's End in the film's most braggadocio sequence, a dizzying introduction to the memory of Gary King (Pegg) and the night he and his friends almost became small town legends. Wright, who always has a flair for the tactile possibilities of rapid editing, zooms through one epic drunken night with the reckless abandon of someone recalling the highlights of epic debauchery. Key in this rapid montage are the details King fails to exaggerate in voice-over but we see in the less glamorous periphery. While the young King is recalling the good times, his friends grow wearier looks, girls with smiles start to frown, and the glow of the new morning is still gray with the hangover to come.
Even before King begins to justify his irresponsibility to his more stable friends, the unreliability of emotional memory is upfront for us to see. Throughout the film Wright will remind us, gradually more so through the dialogue than sequences like this, that the bright lights of our individual memory gloss over the pain that we have had visited on us and inflicted on others. In that way this is a fitting follow-up to Scott Pilgrim, whose narrative explodes with the emotional vitality of those living it, as opposed to revisiting the sober reality years later.
So the King's court reunites for one last epic pub crawl with his various companions, played by other Wright staples like Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Frost, and joined by Martin Freeman. Before the apocalyptic shenanigans begin their court has turned a critical eye on the once powerful King. They remember the good old days with a shade of pain and resentment with each overdose or loan long forgotten by King. But they still nurse their own pains and forgotten dreams from their hometown, which has been taken over by an assortment of blue-blooded robots in trying to make the world perfect and uniform.
It's in this apocalyptic scenario that The World's End performs a precarious balancing act. The costuming and performances all enforce the idea that we sometimes have to put on respectful "adult" airs to live and function in the world, but still need to remember that those rugged nights help shape who we are. Pegg's hair for the King is perfect for this, recently dyed black to go with the coat he got out of storage, as he tries to play up the man he thought he was instead of putting up a new persona. By contrast his friends all try to keep their suits and straight-laced appearances on when what would make them happiest is just to cut loose for this one night.
In this way, The World's End is terribly sad with its honesty. The only reason we survive to adulthood is because we learn the best way to lie to ourselves, and one another. Sometimes this is hilariously portrayed, like when Pierce Brosnan delivers a too-crisp rant about the importance of conforming. Other times its painful, like when we find out why King wants to finish this crawl so badly while making sure his arms stay covered up. The World's End hurts like the best comedies sometimes do, switching from hilarious moments about what pronoun to use for the invading robots, and ending with tearful revelations that the fun is over.
Once again, the genre pastiche of the invading Other is lovingly done with Wright constantly interjecting that, you know, the aliens may be onto something. They may glow with eyes that recall the poster from The Thing, look like they belong to a Stepford club, and hope for indoctrination on the level of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But they aren't entirely wrong. The World's End is where Wright's characters finally mature, with all the hurt and laughs that come from those growing pains.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Screenplay written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.
Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.