They Call Me The King: Edgar Wright's The World's End (2013)
Edgar Wright's Baby Driver took the world by storm this past summer. It further proved that, for years, Wright has been making modern classics that most people know of without entirely knowing Wright as a household name. Whether it's the horror-spoof Shaun of the Dead or his video-game/comic-book/cinematic extravaganza Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, most people who like movies to some degree have seen an Edgar Wright movie. But in 2013, Edgar Wright's best film was released and it was unfortunately released in the shadow of an American comedy with a similar title.
The World's End, which made its U.S. debut only a couple months after the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-directed This is the End, made less than a third of the latter film's box office sales. I've talked to a great deal of people who cannot talk about The World's End without referring to it as “the rip-off of This is the End.” What's so unfortunate about this is that not only has the best and funniest film from one of cinema's modern masters gone under the radar of U.S. moviegoers, but one of the funniest comedies of this entire decade is not being considered as such.
The story follows Gary King (Simon Pegg), a forty-something alcoholic who becomes determined to get his old gang of friends from school back together in their hometown to complete the Golden Mile, which is a pub crawl that concludes with the bar The World's End. They soon discover that people in the town are acting a bit odd. The plot is filled with alien invasions, robots with blue blood, and a script which zips by so fast it's impossible to see it once and catch everything that it as to offer..
The World's End's emphasis isn't on raunchiness, whereas This is the End gets most of its laughs from its over-the-top vulgar dialogue. This film, written by Pegg and Wright, gets most, if not all, of its laughs from the style of writing itself. It's a film that feels scripted by writers who understand how dialogue works; it's not a film outlined on paper and then improvised on set. It goes without saying, Gary King is one of the funniest screen characters of the decade, thanks to the team wielding the pen. Pegg and Wright have been writing together for years, and their third and final entry of The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End) turns out to be their magnum opus.
Wright has only made a handful of films, but all of them are wickedly innovative and unforgettable. In the trio of films written by Wright and Pegg, they had the ability to weave so many genre tropes into entertaining stories with actual characters, all while never losing sight of the films' heart. This is especially true in The World's End, which begins as a movie about long-lost friends reuniting for a night on the town, spending a good portion of the first half focusing on the reunion before even hinting at the possibility of a crazy invasion of blue-blooded aliens. The setup works like a charm; the script never failing to provide a single dull moment as these characters reminisce about old times, or harass Nick Frost's character for drinking tap water, or talking about banging each others' sisters. Okay, so most of that is just from Gary King.
Another aspect of the film that makes it the best of Wright's career is its unabashed approach to narcissism, expressed through King. It's a bleak and unhopeful piece that sees the world through the eyes of its selfish anti-hero, even up to the final scenes which has King lay out his heart to the leader of the interplanetary beings and still winds up creating an apocalypse.
I've seen this film countless times, but the one time I remember most came earlier this year, when I attended the Ohio 24-Hour Science Fiction Marathon in Columbus. After 13 hours of nonstop sci-fi movies and no sleep, it was time for the 3 am slot, which was, you guessed it, The World's End. Many people slept during the 1 am screening of John Carpenter's Dark Star, but as soon as Simon Pegg's electrifying sunglasses-wearing, wannabe rock'n'roll star Gary King came onto the screen, the room came to life, and that life didn't die down until midway through the next film. Any comedy that can do that is destined to become some kind of classic.