Thursday, September 5, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: The World's End

The World's End is directed by Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and is the final leg of their "Cornetto Trilogy." Not to be confused with This Is The End, a somewhat similar apocalyptic movie from earlier this year, or Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End from 2007.

Shaun Of The Dead was of course the first of the Trilogy and in my opinion the best. It's one of my all time favorite movies. Hot Fuzz, the second of the Trilogy, much less so. I've seen it a few times and have tried my best to like it, but it just leaves me cold. The World's End falls somewhere in between.

Each of the three films of the Trilogy is an homage a particular genre. Shaun Of The Dead was of course a love letter to zombie films. Hot Fuzz was a tribute to buddy cop and action movies. The World's End is an ode to British sci-fi films like Day Of The Triffids and Village Of The Damned.

So why's it called the "Cornetto" trilogy? Because each of the three films feature scenes in which the characters eat the British ice cream treat (sort of).

In Shaun Of The Dead they're seen eating a Cornetto with a red wrapper (symbolizing blood), in Hot Fuzz they're eating one with a blue wrapper (symbolizing the police) and in the final moments of The World's End, a green Cornetto wrapper blows by (green symbolizing aliens-- sorry, no pics yet). Because knowing is half the battle!

I'm starting to notice a trend here: In the past, apocalyptic movies featured the heroes saving the world at the end of the film. In recent movies though, the heroes fail and civilization, if not the Earth itself, is destroyed. See The Cabin In The Woods and This Is The End for example. Sign of the times I guess.

WORLD ENDING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Gary King (Simon Pegg) is an aging alcoholic man-child who never quite managed to grow up. He tracks down his former friends Peter Page, Oliver Chamberlain, Steven Prince and Andy Knightley (note all the "royal" last names), who now all have normal lives and jobs. Somehow he convinces them to participate once again in the Golden Mile, a pub crawl consisting of twelve bars, which the group attempted twenty years earlier but failed to complete. Gary is determined to finally succeed.

As the five return to their home town of Newton Haven for the Crawl, they're disappointed that no one recognizes them and the place has become dull and homogenous.

Things take a bizarre turn when it's revealed that most of the population of the small town consists of robotic duplicates that are the vanguard of an alien invasion.

Can Gary and his own crew finish the Golden Mile and save Earth before they themselves become assimilated?

Pros:
• The film features a very good cast of British actors, including many familiar faces for fans of the Trilogy.

• In both Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg played the more responsible character, while Nick Frost was the slacker. They've switched places here, as Pegg's Gary King is an unreliable lout who wants to have a good time at any cost and Frost's Andy Knightley is the levelheaded responsible one.

• The woman who plays Mary, the zombified grocery clerk in Shaun Of The Dead, returns here. You can see her at the very beginning of the film as Gary's in his rehab or AA meeting, sitting just to the left of the screen (sorry, no pics yet).

• Finally! Some well-choreographed fight scenes in which you can actually tell what's going on! What a concept!

There are several big scraps between Gary's gang and the robots, and they're all precisely staged and filmed, as opposed to most fight scenes these days which are filmed in blurry, action-obscuring Shakey-Cam™. 

Of course well-done fight scenes like these have been a trademark of the Trilogy since the beginning.

• The plot of the film is foreshadowed by the names of the twelve pubs (a trick borrowed from Shaun Of The Dead, in which Ed's plans for the evening map out the storyline of that film).

In order, the twelve pubs (and their meanings) are:
The First Post = Where everything begins. 
The Old Familiar = Where the gang notices the pubs have all become the same. 
The Famous Cock = Where Gary runs into Oliver's sister Sam, with whom he once had sex. 
The Cross Hands = Where the group discovers the townspeople are robots and have an epic fight against them in the bathroom. 
The Good Companions = The gang decides to go through with the Pub Crawl so as not to arouse suspicion amongst the robots. 
The Trusty Servant = Gary confronts a former drug dealer from the 1990s who has given up his old "profession" and now works for the robots. 
The Two-Headed Dog = Gary and Sam fight a pair of robotic twins. 
The Mermaid = The gang is seduced by a team of robotic schoolgirls. 
The Beehive = A swarm of robots attacks the gang. 
The King's Head = Gary smashes his head against a wooden beam to prove he's human. 
The Hole In The Wall = Stephen drives a car through the wall to rescue the gang. 
The World's End = I think you can figure out this one yourself.
• As an action figure enthusiast (What? You didn't know there was such a thing?) I enjoyed the look of the alien robots. When they came apart they appeared to be constructed exactly like large action figures!

• The Fence Gag returns in this film-- twice! In each film of the Trilogy a character attempts to leap over a fence-- and fails miserably.

• The Smash Cuts return also. You know, the quick, dramatic cuts depicting seemingly mundane activities, like flushing a toilet, stirring a cup of coffee or as seen in this film, pouring a beer from a tap. 

The smash cuts were used to great effect in Shaun, but here they seemed sort of... perfunctory, like director Wright only included them because he knew the audience expected them.

• The film's soundtrack could have been my own personal playlist from the 1990s, back when I was heavily into indie rock and Brit Pop. The Soup Dragons, Happy Mondays, Suede, James, Teenage Fanclub, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, The Sundays, The Housemartins, and The Charlatans are all represented here. Actually, I'm still listening to most of this music!

• I Iiked the bit about the aliens being responsible for the internet and the seemingly sudden explosion of social media in our society.

• I didn't catch it at first, but at the end of the film, Gary's post-apocalyptic gang was composed of YOUNG robotic versions of his mates.

Cons:
• The Gary character is supposed to be an irresponsible jerk with no redeeming qualities. Pegg may have played him a little too well, as there's very little to like about Gary. He even pisses off our alien overlords and causes the end of the world-- all because, as the Soup Dragons say, he wants to be free to do what he wants, any old time.

• The film took a bit too long to finally get to the plot. Scratch that, it took WAY too long. 

Yeah, yeah, I get that they had to set up the characters and show them interacting and such, but somewhere about forty five minutes in I honestly thought I must have misheard that the film was about an alien invasion. I was beginning to think it was just going to be about binge drinking.

• At one point Oliver's sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) pops up and briefly joins the team. It's too bad though that she's given absolutely nothing to do, as Pike is quite attractive and funny. 

That's pretty much the way all of these movies have been though. They're bromances, not romances (Yes, Shaun's girlfriend Liz and his mum were in Shaun Of The Dead, but they were far from the focus of the movie).

• The alien's motivations seemed a bit murky. At first they say they don't want to conquer us, just blend in. Then they reveal they're here to gently guide us and steer us to better ourselves so we can take our place in some kind of galactic country club. Then when they realize that's impossible (based on the attitudes of one misanthrope) they throw a hissy fit and take their ball and go home, but not before burning down the planet first. 

I'm still not entirely sure why they were here or what they were trying to accomplish.

• At the end of the film the aliens bugger off, but before they go they set off an EM pulse that destroys all technology on Earth. Fair enough. An EM pulse is a real thing and would indeed fry anything digital. 

But afterwards why is everyone shown barely scratching out a living like it's Medieval times? So all our computers and microchips were fried. Did we forget how to build more? 

Sure it might take a few decades to restore our technology to pre-invasion levels, but all this stuff has already been discovered or invented. It shouldn't take nearly as long to build it all the second time around.

Unless the aliens set up some kind of permanent scrambling field I don't see any reason why humanity couldn't just start rebuilding civilization.

• I'm not sure why the aliens left the robotic Blanks lying around after they departed. Or why the Blanks came back to life and lived-- peacefully this time-- among us again.

• As I said, I liked the film OK but thought it didn't live up to Shaun Of The Dead. Something about it just seemed off somehow. 

I'm wondering if my ambivalence is due to the movie itself or the thrice-damned woman who sat directly behind me and giggled, tittered and cackled every five seconds throughout the entire goddamned run time. I missed half the dialog due to her infernal chortling. Thirty seconds in I knew it was gonna be a lonnng two hours. 

Yes, I'm aware I went to a comedy and I didn't expect everyone to sit in absolute silence. But when the person behind me laughs uproariously because a character simply opens a stinkin' door-- that's a bit much. What the hell, did she just come from the dentist? 

I'd kind of like to see the film again but without my own personal laugh track this time.

The Cornetto Trilogy wraps itself up with a film that's not bad, but unfortunately doesn't surpass the first in the series. I give it a B.

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