Friday, August 23, 2013

The World's End concludes The Cornetto Trilogy in fantastic fashion

If there's one word that could be used to describe Edgar Wright's films, it would probably be "kinetic."  There's a real madcap energy to his work, and part of the reason why his movies have such a cult following is because they feel like they're made by one of us gleeful geeks on the other side of the screen.  It's a quality that he's honed over the years, using increasingly tight editing to reign in all of the springs and gears on display.  Shaun of the Dead has a little bit of that -- though at times its comedy had a laidback vibe endemic of its slacker protagonists -- but Hot Fuzz ramped things up appropriately for its buddy cop spoofing.  If there's one fault in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it's that it was almost too energetic.  Its A.D.D. energy makes sense, accurately reflecting the generation that the film serves as a love letter to, but by the end you start to become numb to the experience, and the story can fall by the wayside due to its relentless forward progress.  Momentum-wise, The World's End perfects the formula, blazing along at a brisk pace and making the cuts between shots the punchline to jokes.

This sense of kineticism translates to the dialogue, which comes at a mile a minute.  Wright has a great ear for patter, and watching his conversational scenes can be just as exciting as an action setpiece in his hands, as characters ping lines back and forth to one another.  There's a bit of a Who's on First? feeling to many of the best exchanges, and the script manages to derive big laughs from this circular dialogue, peppered with all kinds of verbal curlicues.  The film's stellar cast also helps the sparkling dialogue.  We already know that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are pros when it comes to Wright's material, but Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan round out the main cast and they're all fantastic too.  Of course, Simon Pegg is the MVP here, managing to make Gary's high-energy manchild demeanor slightly endearing instead of grating.

World's End is kinetic in the more traditional sense too.  I try to avoid trailers as much as possible in the months and weeks leading up to a film I already know that I want to see, so I knew very little about the film's plot aside from assumptions made from the title.  I knew that it film veered in an interesting way, due to some rumblings from people who saw it early in the UK, but not exactly how it would do so.  So when the gang's quest to recreate The Golden Mile -- drinking 12 pints of beer spread across 12 pubs in town -- takes a turn, it's a real surprise to behold.  The film's second act, when it transforms into a full-on action comedy, is the best part of the film because it keeps up the pace of the jokes while also delivering thrillingly staged action beats.  Going into it, you wouldn't think that this would have the best action sequences of the year so far, but it's certainly in the running.  They're inventive, funny, and energetic; maximizing the potential of Wright's kineticism, as the camera whips across the room from character to character.

Many films with this level of vigor do so at the expensive of story and character, but The World's End doesn't cut any corners.  Like Scott Pilgrim, the film has a level-based structure, with 12 pubs taking the place of 7 evil ex-boyfriends, but the table-turning 2nd act saves this construction from being repetitive and exhausting.  At its core, the movie is all about growing up and maturing.  Shaun of the Dead also had similar themes, and it's easy to see why Wright keeps returning to these ideas, because they make for a compelling backbone when telling a story about protagonist suddenly being called to action.  Gary King (Pegg) is caught in a state of arrested adolescence, stuck remembering the glory days of his youth, and desperate to relive them.  Meanwhile, the rest of his friends have embraced adulthood, getting married and having kids in the years since their first attempt at the Golden Mile many years ago.  Their tailored suits provide a stark contrast to Gary's loose black duster, and this maturity gap is the impetus behind the character drama in the film.  It's no coincidence, then, that the twist that kicks off the second half also ties into the theme of whether it's best to stay the same or move on with your life.

So if there are any faults to found in the film, it's that that theme gets so muddled near the end of the film.  In general, the third act loses a bit of energy in dealing with a large info-dump about the circumstances of the twist, but that'd be easier to overlook if the story didn't completely contradict the message that had been so carefully construction in the previous two acts.  I appreciate the ending's goal, concluding that whether you choose to revel in the past or look towards the future, the freedom to do either is what's important, but ultimately there's no growth for Pegg's character.  Aside from that, The World's End is an entertaining and thoughtful film, one that deserves its placement next to the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

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