August has been a particularly rich month for movies that fall between the mindless, overblown summer superhero blockbusters and the polished prestige of the super-serious Oscar brigade to come.
The film finds the director collaborating again with
The reunion behind the camera is apt as the new film concerns a group of five old friends who are brought back together. Gary King (Pegg) has never moved on to a proper adulthood even as his former friends (played by Frost,
If the '90s are a hot decade right now for fashion revival and cultural appropriation, Wright and Pegg smartly come at it from the wrong way round, not as retro looking back but through someone who never left: Gary still dresses as he did then and even has the same old cassette tape (cassette tape!) in his car's player. This also allows Wright to pepper the film with now-classic songs from the era of high Brit-pop, including tracks from Blur, Pulp, the Stone Roses and
As the group makes their way from pub to pub, they come to realize that first of all Gary has lured them there under false pretense and second that something has gone very wrong with their town. Come to find out, many of the residents have been replaced by robot versions of themselves. Or, not robots, as there are numerous conversations on the origin and meaning of the word, but rather replacements made from original DNA. Either way, it's weird, it's wrong, and things turn very, very bad.
Amid the action-comedy trappings emerges a sharp story on self-centered nostalgia and personal growth. A sub-story regarding whether Gary is grappling with alcoholism, however, feels crammed in and underserved. Actress
The film feels at times like a greatest hits compilation, with jokes that call back to the earlier Wright/Pegg/Frost movies, as well as again exploring ideas of modern small-town Englishness and the sense of the everyday being invaded by something extraordinary. Add the countdown structure of "Scott Pilgrim" and you're somewhere near the basic outline of "World's End." Yet somehow the sureness of Wright's filmmaking sees it through.
Yes, there are arguably a few bars too many on the way to the World's End, not just for the characters but for viewers as well, as the film lags a bit before arriving late at two bold storytelling strokes. One reveals just who is in charge of the replacement people that have taken over the town and the other pushes things even further forward from there.
Wright's style is infectious, such as when the friends walk in choreographed unison about the town, weaving past others in syncopation to the dark jaunt of the Doors' reading of "Alabama Song." As things ramp up, the effects work is dazzling for its seamlessness, with the cinematography by Bill Pope and editing by Paul Machliss capturing the elastic snap of Wright's sensibility. At times, gags whiz by with such speed it can almost be easy to miss something as delightful as Pegg desperately trying to finish a glass of beer as an artfully bonkers Bugs Bunny/Jackie Chan fight erupts all around him.
Few filmmakers working today make movies with quite the same enthusiasm as Wright does. His work is vivid and exuberant, as if he is having fun doing it and more than anything wants to share that feeling, from one fan to another.
Audacious and witty, "The World's End" is a strange brew. It is debatable whether this is Wright's best film — like a favorite band whose best albums can shift about, the list changes based on time and mood — but it is likely the most Edgar Wright of Edgar Wright's films. Neither a full-fledged new beginning but also far from treading water, the movie feels like a celebration, of friendship, collaboration and all that is silly and glorious in the human spirit. We could all do worse.
'The World's End'
MPAA rating: R for for pervasive language including sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: In wide release