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With: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, Bill Nighy (voice)
Written by: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Directed by: Edgar Wright
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references
Running Time: 109
Date: 08/20/2013

The World's End (2013)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Pub Mission

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In The World's End, the new movie by director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, "the world's end" is the name of a pub, though I suppose it's implied that some kind of sci-fi thing happens to send the world spinning into chaos. Many people are going to spend paragraphs talking about whether or not to give away that thing. However, I'm not going to talk about it. I'm going to talk about something more important, which is the human factor of this movie.

In a summer where human beings in movies are growing ever scarcer and more unrecognizable, it's nice -- more than nice -- to see some characters that you can identify with. I suppose just about everyone has a group of best friends, with whom they shared some memorable evenings, and perhaps one evening more memorable than the rest. That's the case with Gary King (Pegg), whose greatest moment was a pub-crawl twenty years ago. Called "The Golden Mile," it consists of twelve pints in twelve pubs. Accompanied by his four best mates, Gary tried it and failed, but still had the best time of his life.

Now, twenty years later, Gary intends to re-create this miraculous evening. Not easy, considering that all his friends have steady jobs, and families, and not to mention that none of them think that Gary is very much fun anymore. They have grown tired of his general irresponsibility, such as the fact that he borrows $200 from three of them to pay back $600 he owes to one of them. But Gary is a natural leader, and a natural BS artist, and he talks all four of them into trying. They are: Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan).

They head back to their small town, where they grew up and which they all left. They run into Oliver's sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), with whom Gary once had a fling and with whom Steven is still in love, as well as an old professor of theirs, Guy Shephard (Pierce Brosnan). But something doesn't seem quite right. They decide on a plan: pretend everything is normal and go on with the pub-crawl. Good plan. (If you don't want to head to a pub after the movie and have a pint of your own, then the movie didn't work.)

At the movie's core, writers Wright and Pegg -- Frost doesn't get credit, but does have a certain amount of input -- create five distinct characters, who have distinct behavior patterns around their friends. Everyone knows that people behave differently with friends than they do with, say, their mother, girlfriend, wife, or children. The filmmakers hit on precisely what this behavior is, without having to define the other. Behavior with friends is more direct, and more primal. Personalities come squirming out all over the place, becoming clearer with the application of more alcohol.

Just a few examples: Andy feels betrayed by a particular event in his and Gary's past, Peter was the victim of bullies while growing up, and Steven never felt like he could compete with the more colorful Gary for a woman's attention. It's amazing how these perceived inadequacies are so universal, and how others' perception of them does not change a thing like friendship.

The World's End would be a terrific movie if it just stopped there. But it goes on, exploring other themes. In two shots, Wright brings up the concept of the corporate "Starbucking" of the world. The first two pubs are no longer dingy hellholes, but rather bright, shiny -- and absolutely identical -- places of soulless, impersonal business transactions. Yet, in Wright's movie, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Certain characters appreciate these improvements.

[POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT] OK. I'm going to mention a movie here for comparison's sake, and it's not meant to give anything away, but merely to illustrate the depth of The World's End. Invasion of the Body Snatchers had a very powerful theme, the idea of individuality versus the collective, which was quite simple. Wright's film takes it one further, asking questions about the nature of responsibility. As children, we are under the care of our responsible parents. Then as teens, we get some control, and we show our irresponsibility. This then generally grows into responsibility. But is it good to give up one for the other? Which one is better? Do we need both? Do we need some help?

Wright explores all these ideas clearly, effortlessly, and smoothly without ever even slightly disturbing the beautiful flow of his movie. Above all, The World's End is an entertainment. It's a very funny movie, with thrills and chases, and a little romance, and characters we love. We get fight scenes that are clearer, faster, and more exciting than any other summer movie (which have been generally focused on hugeness, chaos, and visual effects). I will even suggest that Wright is the only director working that can combine this kind of rich entertainment value, with crisp, clear, energetic filmmaking, emotional content, and a personal stamp.

But I would also suggest that it's Pegg and Frost that round out the team. Wright's work without them on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) was great looking, and just as funny, but lacked the same kind of emotional weight. And upon close examination, you might not think that Pegg and Frost are exceptional thespians, but I would argue that they are. They're not playing Ghandi or a U.S. president or a stuttering king, but I would argue that they are both worthy of Oscar consideration for the way that they create fully-fleshed out characters that are vulnerable, strong, funny, and sad at the same time. It's so painfully rare to get characters of this kind of quality in a comedy.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) had its moments, most notably the scene in which Shaun's mum turns into a zombie and must be dispatched. And whereas Hot Fuzz (2007) was a more polished production, The World's End combines the best of both movies. It has been a long time since I've seen a movie so completely fulfilling on emotional, intellectual, and primal levels. I'm lifting my pint to Wright, Pegg, and Frost for their achievement. May they work together again soon.

For one of the year's best movies, Universal has also released one of the year's best Blu-rays. It begins with three commentary tracks, one with director Wright and co-writer/star Pegg, one with Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope, and one with Pegg and actors Nick Frost and Paddy Considine. We also get storyboards, a 48-minute making-of documentary, and more than a dozen shorter featurettes (behind the scenes, rehearsals, outtakes, trailers, galleries, and a "trivia track"). As with most newer, effects-heavy movies, this one is spectacular in terms of sound and picture.

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