04 September 2013

First Impressions: The World's End

At the end of Summer we were treated to a film chronicling the End of the World - well, another one, anyway. Do not fret, though, because Edgar Wrights's The Worlds's End (2013) is an animal wholly distinct from It's a Disaster (2012), Rapture-Palooza (2013) or This is The End (2013). I swear. It's really a tale of weary middle-aged friendships, drinking night adventures, and yes, World Domination by Robots. SPOILERS from here on out, folks, so turn back now.

There are many contexts with which to read this film because it straddles so many genres and has a handful of close contemporaries. It's still one of the more original films this summer and one of the best comedies of the year (I might give the cake to its apocalyptic rival, This is The End, though). Let's take that lens, first:

Who Knew the End of the World Could be so Funny?
"You got blue on you."

Perhaps it's all 2012 Conspiracy Leftovers, but there has been a glut of End of Days comedy films as of late. The highest profile of these was this Summer's This is The End, which we reviewed over here. After the title and basic global-destroying premise, though, the films are very different. Both, however, use that premise as a tool to explore some other theme involving friendship and disillusionment. This is The End primarily explored a pair of friends, one of whom had "sold out" to Hollywood while skewering and riffing on the public personae of just about every young comedian working in the movies today. The World's End also focuses on a pair of friends who have grown apart, one of which seems trapped in nostalgia for yesteryear, while the other has tried to move on with his life. It's also about the inherent weirdness that comes with heading back to one's hometown after years away. Some things are the same, some things are different, but Wright quite literally transposes that unsettling feeling into a town taken over by Robots, or "Blanks" as the film calls them.

Despite these similarities, the styles of each film vary so wildly that they aren't really comparable. This is The End is steeped in jizz and rape jokes (typically demonic) all driven by intense meta-humour. It's also a very isolated film that takes place almost solely in James Franco's house, and serves as a tribute and a reunion of modern Apatovian growing cult hits like Superbad (2007) and Pineapple Express (2008). While The World's End pays tribute in expected ways to fellow Cornetto Trilogy insallments Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), it's driven by Wright's trademark wit, symbolism, foreshadowing, and fast-paced crazy action.

I'll Take a Mint Cornetto

For those who somehow don't know, the Cornetto Trilogy refers to a slew of similar films all directed by Edgar Wright and featuring actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, among many more (Such as Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy who keep showing up). Each film really serves as both parody and homage to a given genre. Shaun of the Dead is a brilliant horror film that also parodies horror films. Hot Fuzz does the same with action flicks. The World's End sets its sights on sci-fi and again knocks it out of the park.

Every bit of The World's End fires strong. It's impressive that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost nearly switch personalities from Shaun of the Dead, which featured Pegg as the slacker trying to right his life and Frost as the oafish and slovenly buddy going no where. In The World's End Pegg is allowed to chew scenery like a madman as Gary King, and his devotion to insanity makes him one of the better characters in recent cinematic memory. Frost this time plays an uptight best friend who does eventually cut loose, but still harbours a bit of resentment towards the King. Rounding out the friends on their epic quest to conquer the Golden Mile through Newton Haven are Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan.

One of the more notable features of the Cornetto Trilogy is the subtle yet steamingly accurate foreshadowing of the entire plot. This was used to great effect in Shaun of the Dead, and to some extent in Hot Fuzz. The World's End, however, goes completely bonkers with this. Not only does the pack's Night Out directly mirror Gary King's initial telling of their fateful evening in 1990, but the whole trip is foreshadowed through the names of each Pub. Now, after scouring the Internet for possible meanings, here's what I've come up with:

Naturally, this is merely the first stop of the night and not much goes on here. There is much to be gleamed from the sign, however. As Jessica Johnston cleverly noticed over here (in the comments section), there is a Red Mailbox with a Letter A on it set apart. It's almost assuredly meant to stand for "Andy," the one character who drinks only a water at the Pub while the rest drink beers. The rest of the friends, therefore, are the Post (Gary, holding everyone together) and its three arrows, which represent the different paths that everyone else will journey down (like becoming robots).

At a glance The Old Familiar is obvious - it's identical to The First Post, quite familiar indeed. It's also the site where the gang first meets up with Sam (Rosamund Pike), the sister of Oliver (Martin Freeman), who both Gary and Steven (Paddy Considine) are interested in. In 1990 it's where Gary got "familiar" with her, which he's recollecting and attempting to emulate here, but to no avail. The sign is two beers close to each other, which represents not only the similarity to the first pub, a natural doubling effect, but also the desire of many of the characters here to get close to someone else.

The Famous Cock is of course Gary, who was thrown out of this place in 1990 and remains barred from entry. This is the first time Gary and company are recognized and their fame from their earlier crawl is acknowledged. Gary tends to be a real cock here, strutting around and sneaking drinks while no one is looking. The sign may not seem like much but when have you ever seen a rooster where boots like that? It's Gary. This poster also suggests that Gary's previous rendezvous with Sam implies that he literally has a "famous cock." Clever, but Sam isn't at this bar.

The Cross Hands is an important one. It's both where a lot of secrets and dark pasts are revealed, from the fact that Gary's mother is still alive, Peter (Eddie Marsan) is approached innocuously by the man who used to beat him up, and most threatening of all, the revelation that Evil Robots walk among us. Some out there suggest that this is called the Cross Hands because it's where the first fight takes place and where all the friends work together, as well as describing the grabbing method of attack preferred by the Blanks. I imagine, though, that this is more where the friends are upset with each other (cross), and the grip is not that of a friendly handshake but as an irritated by necessarily partnership. Also looking at the sign, it's smeared with Blue for the first time, indicating a Blank Fight. The blue covers two of the five hands, foreshadowing that two of the group will eventually be replaced. The clearly visible wedding ring, though, ought to be long to Peter, who should be one of the Blue Hands. Any theories on this one would be welcome.

In order to keep up appearances, the five friends trot merrily through the streets. The sign is one smiling face and four frowning faces, which is perhaps the clearest summation of this whole film and particularly this moment, where Gary up front and center is the only one enjoying himself while the others "mask" their terror. Ho Ho.

Here's another one with a few meanings. The Servant in question could mean Reverand Green, Gary's old drug dealer who is now forced into collusion with the Blanks. It could also refer to Oliver, who is abducted at this time (mirroring how far he got in 1990) and becomes in essence a double agent for the Blanks. It's notable that in the sign there are only four beers visible, signifying that one friend was lost. Or considering how much talk goes on here of how the word "robot" originally meant slave, perhaps it's referring to the fact that the desire of the robot conquerors isn't malevolent, but rather to help humanity. OR it could be ironic, considering that the humans must serve the robot slaves rather than the other way around. There's lots to go on here. Definitive theories in the comments are welcome.

I probably shouldn't spend too much time dwelling on the fact that in proper grammar it should be The Two-Headed Dog. It's likely a reference to the Twins, who appear here with Sam. They're both virtually two heads of the same person, having identical personalities and voices, as well as duplicitous characters, secretly Blanks. This same logic can apply to Oliver, who know being a Blank himself, is also a "Two Headed Dog." The sign is again smeared blue, indicating another scrap with the Blanks.

Here Mermaids are used like they were used in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), and probably folklore, as Sirens that lure men to their doom. The Pub is really a dance hall and the boys are tempted by the Marmalade Sandwich (a redhead and two blondes from 1990 who haven't really aged) except for Steven, who saves them in Odyssean Glory. The sign perfectly captures the aforementioned Marmalade Sandwich.

Note that the sign indicates that this is The Beehive Free House, which is either ironic, considering the Blanks' plan to assimilate the Gang, or refers to the fact that the pub is free place for the Blanks themselves to gather. It's definitely a place of swarming and stinging, where Pierce Brosnan really plays the Queen, leading all the other Blanks in thoughtful discussion, then a brawl with the Humans. The Blanks show off their Hive Mind, and Pierce talks about the great things they're building together. Like a Hive. Get it? Blue on the sign means there's plenty of spilled ink.

The bloke on the sign really looks exactly like Simon Pegg, and it's another clear reference to Gary King. It could be taken as a chance to get inside Gary's head and motivations, which he resists, or a very direct reference to how Gary repeatedly pounds his head on a beam in the derelict pub to prove he's hardier than a Blank. Its horrible state could also be a reflection of Gary - a great, bumping place in the 90s is now abandoned, falling part, and forgotten. There are also a bit of flames here, perhaps meaning that the Blanks are closing in.

A single pint in the sign with plenty of blue smudges - you ought to be figuring this out yourself now! Gary scrapes together his point after regaining consciousness while his mates fend off Blanks. This part of the crawl ends with Steven literally ramming his car into the side of the building, creating a huge hole in the wall.

This is it. It's called The World's End because the world literally ends here. Caput. The sign is really engulfed in fire and the word is burning, seemingly stemming from Europe - if only the sign maker had made it any other continent we may have been spared...

Have a Drink on Me!

Lastly, I wanted to address this film's context among other drinking films. There seems to be a lot of these running around lately, starting with Beerfest (2006) and working towards two great and one horrendous Hangover movie. While Beerfest delights itself in showcasing drinking games and team friendship bonding in juvenile yet hilarious terms, The World's End places the friendship and characters front in center and sidelines the booziness, despite it being a critical plot point. The Hangover (2009) forever serves as an immortal drinking comedy mostly because it dealt with the extreme aftereffects of an extreme party rather than the party itself. It's still about a bunch of blokes out on the town, though.

The World's End differs though, because none of the characters are originally that despicable (besides Gary). Gary isn't quite the overt man-child that Zach Galifianakis' Alan Garner is, he's just tragically stuck trying to relive a night that never quite happened. He can't get over the loss of his friends moving on or realize any kind of potential because he's continually trapped in what he perceives as the greatest time of his life. Without any discernible skill besides chaos, he's actually more at home riding out the Apocalypse with Blank Versions of his Best Mates than doing anything else with his life.

While we have our party drinking movies and our hangover movies, The World's End is very specifically a pub crawl movie, which is kind of rare. It's about actually going to bars, which is somehow a little bit more mature than playing beer pong or stealing tigers. Listen, the bar is admittedly pretty low here. It ends up being a pretty distinct entry into the End of the World Comedy genre, the Drinking Movie Genre, and even the Cornetto Trilogy genre. There isn't a better way to end the summer, or our lives.

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