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A Brilliant Tragic Comedy: Just Go See The World's End

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film Reviews | August 23, 2013 | Comments ()


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The World’s End is a surprising movie. See, it starts out as straight comedy, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost inverting their typical division of labor on straight versus funny. And Pegg is absolutely brilliant playing a forty year old obnoxious alcoholic burnout. But as the movie moves towards the absurd, with the reveal of aliens, the deterioration into flights and fights, the film also ramps up the pathos.

The appeal of genre movies comes not just from a love of the gilded wrapping, the rocket ships and broadswords, the aliens and monsters, but because of how that level of the story can act as a metaphor for other emotional triggers. And so pod people are scary not just in a literal reading of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but become forces of terror when a cultural context of paranoia is poured like rocket fuel into a camp fire.

The World’s End takes four strands that intertwine with each other. At a structural level, it’s an alien invasion movie that riffs on the old standard of pod people and the Stepford Wives. On a metaphor level, it’s deftly playing those themes against the creeping generic chain stores and franchises, the beige sameness annihilating places that used to be unique. And then it runs a third strand on top of that, making it a classic Edgar Wright comedy to top it off. So far so good, we’re looking at Shaun of the Dead still.

But what takes the film over the top, and makes it a much better movie than Shaun of the Dead is the layering of a fourth strand into that rope. It takes a very sad and dark story about addiction, the betrayal of friends, and being unable to grow up and let go of the glory days of eighteen, and then wraps that around the comedy and pod people set up. And so the pod people take on a second more melancholy meaning: they do not change. And so even while they represent this gentrified destruction of the past from one point of view, they also provide an opposite foil for Pegg’s character: they are the unchanging eternal youth that has been both his aspiration and the destruction of his adult life.

And the ending of this film does not shy away from this. Most movies that aspire to comedy overlaid on genre tend to shy away in the final act. There is a solution that essentially allows the sitcom reset to happen. Whatever bad happened gets wiped away. Remember the beautiful final scene of Shaun of the Dead in which Shaun is caring for Nick Frost’s zombiefied character? The World’s End takes that same melancholy, adds a fully formed epilogue based on the same logic of consequence, and in retrospect the tendrils leading up to that consequence twine back through the entire movie.

The nuance of the story sneaks up on you. The film starts as a straight comedy, and maintains it all the way up until the first reveal of the aliens. The comedy continues throughout to be sure, it’s a damned funny movie right until the end, but it’s only after the film has finished that you start to appreciate that the darkness of the film really is present from the beginning. It’s just that Wright throws jokes at you so that you don’t realize that you’re watching a tragedy until the final act.

The bottom line is that this movie is fantastic. It is a combination of funny and tragic in a way that reminds me of what might be the result if Joss Whedon tried his hand at making a comedy instead of an adventure.

I expected a quality entertaining movie given the cast and director. It never occurred to me that it would also be something to make one ponder.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Jaime Birren

    I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, having loved the other two of the Cornettos so deeply. I *appreciated* it, but I didn't *enjoy* it. It had a lot of undeniably funny bits but mostly this was just more tragic than comic for me. Perhaps knowing people like this "forty year old obnoxious alcoholic burnout" or not is the key here; watching him sink deeper and get more desperate just made me cringe as I recognized the habits and actions of friends and family I've known.

    So yes - see it by all means, it's a worthy effort by an amazing director and fantastic actors - but don't go looking for a Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead experience. I did, and it definitely marred the experience.

  • Hallsy

    This flick was ok. Absolutely hilarious for the first hour but extremely tedious for the second half. On par with hot fuzz in other words.

  • Space Ace

    I found the ending sad. It was kinda sad throughout as you watch this loser. Have friends like him.

  • Pants_are_a_must

    It's very much Wright and Pegg's answer to Cabin In The Woods, I think. Same thread of wrongness that follows a fantastic genre movie that doesn't shy from the consequences.

  • TheEverGuest

    That was a really interesting review. I really like how you presented the idea of the strands, that's really how the movie felt to me. And then, of-fucking-course, I want to felate Joss Whedon! He totes could have made this moovy lolz. No he couldn't, or else he would have. He only ever makes comedies. Just because it's not as funny doesn't mean he's not trying to be as funny. And Shaun, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End are all adventure movies. Just give EW his due, his movies and "Spaced" are much better than any of Joss's efforts. WE ALL SAW AVENGERS, NOW HE'S SILLY RICH. There's no need to insist on his prowess any more. Your reviews are my favorite SLW (minus that typical all too familiar Pajiba fad-buzz-word-nonsense-shit).

  • CosmoNewanda

    Rewatched the first two now in the theater waiting for World's End. Also a couple beers in (thank you movie tie in beer sale). Really wish I had a Cornetto right now.

  • John G.
    and makes it a much better movie than Shaun of the Dead

    That is the craziest fucking sentence you've ever uttered, Steven.

  • CarlosDangermouse

    Me to popcorn/ticket seller girl: "Which one is the movie with Simon Pegg in it"
    Girl: (very confidently) "This is the End" (I knew it had 'end' in it)
    Me: "Great - one ticket for that please" (sad I know but wife currently overseas).

    Kill 20 minutes sitting in an empty theatre by myself until finally joined by 3 others......starting to think I was the only one relishing a big serve of Pegg (not to mention a side of Rosamund). Movie starts and I realise I am in a Seth Rogen crapfest - WHAT! Realise i have missed the start of my film. Try to endure. Finally get up and walk out ( I think it was sometime after the Battle of the Franco Semen.)

    Search in vain for Pegg as the Aussie Multiplex has conveniently listed no movie titles outside each theatre. Finally give up on the third try and sit and watch the tail-end of some lengthy Jennifer Anniston SNL skit.

    Walk home cursing my pop culture ignorance. Vow to read Pajiba more often.......

  • GDI

    Or google.

  • CarlosDangermouse

    Yeah - well if I owned a smartphone I'd probably have killed time by doing just that, but not all of us are slaves to portable technology. I much preferred being able to sit there alone and twiddle my thumbs for 20+ mins, sniffing down on that bracing aroma of poorly maintained air con, lost buttery popcorn and suggestion of BO, thank you very much......

  • It was so good. I think I had a smile on my face through the whole damned thing, because everyone in it seemed to be having the time of their lives. That shit is so infectious!

    Simon Pegg is fucking brilliant in this. He just lights up the damned screen and has the greatest damned faces and line readings and goddamn I love that guy.

    It was just so much damn fun. I'd watch it again in a heartbeat.

  • idiosynchronic

    I'd desperately love to see this. As I am Married With Young Child and No Grandparents in babysitting shape, my life sucks.

  • Ninja_Toes

    Saw this here in Oz a couple of weeks ago, and I definitely agree with Steven Lloyd Wilson - this is the best film of the trilogy. It isn't quite as funny as the previous two (just barely), but it sticks with you afterwards for much, much longer, and I think that is the mark of a truly great film.
    There's also a ton of weird little one liners and quotable lines throughout. I won't spoil any of them, but I guarantee a few of them will become commonplace soon enough

  • theotherboo

    Can I enjoy this movie if I haven't seen the other two or should I wait and do them in order?

  • You can see this one. While the three movies are referred to loosely as a trilogy, it's in spirit, not in story or character. I can't imagine any way in which the order of viewing would make any difference.

  • Meli_V

    I'm super excited for this movie. :)

  • Modernlove

    I saw the trilogy last night with the husband and I thought TWE held up so well against the others. I've read a lot of comments here and there saying it's the weakest, but I just don't agree. The writing has gotten sharper, I think, and the themes threading through the film were so well done. I didn't go into the movie expecting to cry, but at one point I had tears in my eyes. It really hits home in an unexpected way and was just such an excellent film. I plan on seeing it again, hopefully this weekend.

  • fluff_fluff

    Everyone's predictably great, but Eddie "That 5th Guy Nobody Knows" Marsan and his kicked-puppy face were really killing it.

  • He was the best drunk.

  • Three_nineteen

    It starts in an hour. I'll read the review when I get back.

  • Maizella

    Saw the entire Cornetto trilogy last night, and The World's End was brilliant. Absolutely nothing like the first two. Pegg and Frost both had very strong performances, and I had a lot of fun looking for those who were in previous Cornetto movies.

  • Pants_are_a_must

    Agreed. Pegg and Frost really grew into their talents, which is a condescending thing to say, considering they've been consistently great in the previous Cornetto movies, but it's true. They've put in very strong dramatic performances in this one.

  • Arran

    Let's name the actors who were in all three! (I guess MINOR SPOILERS?)

    Simon Pegg
    Nick Frost
    Julia Deakin
    Rafe Spall
    Martin Freeman
    Bill Nighy

    Is there anyone else? I'm probably missing someone who was standing in the background at some point.

  • Kim Voeks

    Loved it! It was the best movie going experience of the summer and possibly the whole year, so far.

  • BendinIntheWind

    No disrespect to SLW, but I didn't read anything after "Just Go See The World's End" - I want to go in as blind as possible, and watch the whole thing with just a stupid satisfied grin on my face. So excited for this movie.

  • Yep. I hadn't even seen the trailer. I knew the basic premise, but I loved going into it blind.

  • BendinIntheWind

    Lucky! The trailer didn't ruin anything for me, but all I really needed was a 30 second title card saying "Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright made a movie together", and I'm there.

  • Bedewcrock

    Me too! Me too! Me too! :D so excited

  • Tinkerville

    I'm spending a good portion of tomorrow marathoning Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before going to see this in theaters. Can't. Friggin. Wait. Feels like I've been waiting for this movie for a decade.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    My friends had been hoping to do an at home viewing of the first two films before going to the theater to see this one, but with work and travel and travel for work, I think I'm just going to have to see who can catch this on Weds night, or I won't get to see it until late September. stupid grown up life.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Every review I've read so far is absolutely GLOWING. Might have to actually go see this in the theater.

  • spottyboy

    So excited for this.

    My friend saw the trilogy last night, and according to him this was the weakest of the three. Looks like there could be a serious debate in our future.

  • Arran

    Tough to say. I loved the pants off it, but my first instinct is that it IS the weakest of the three—that said, I saw it less than twelve hours ago. It'll take a bit of time to really figure it out.

    But it seems almost silly ranking them anyway. All three are A+ quality, so arranging them in order of amazingness borders on futile.

  • fluff_fluff

    I saw the triple-feature, too, and I might recommend against doing that? I'm struggling to describe this one to people without sounding disappointed (which I'm really really not, even though I'd agree it's the weakest) because it's sort of a strange fit coming straight on from Hot Fuzz's joyful blood spurts. EDIT: I really don't mean this to sound like a downer, I LIKED IT A LOT.

  • spottyboy

    You know, i had this exact thought when we were discussing it via text last night. When I see it (hopefully soon), I won't be viewing it right after the previous two movies, so my perception is going to be totally different than his was at the time. Maybe it is a good thing as you say.

    He also said pretty much verbatim what you say above, that it was still great, just not as great as the other two. In any case, I can't wait for a night off so I can finally see this.

  • fluff_fluff

    I think it's Hot Fuzz specifically that threw me off--a double feature of Shaun/World's End might flow much better? And now I will shut up because most people are still waiting to see this.

  • lowercase_see

    Seeing this tonight at DFW's newly-opened Alamo Drafthouse. It'll pair nicely with a spiked milkshake for dinner and sangria for dessert.

    Edit: I think I've discovered the source of my malnutrition ...

  • Sara_Tonin00

    YOU LUCKY BASTARD.

  • Fredo

    Everyone who's seen it says it's awesome. No way I can miss it.

  • $65530708

    WILL SEE, MUST SEE (REPEATEDLY).

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Awesome! It is on the to do list for this weekend.

  • Maguita NYC

    I want to see this!!

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