"The World's End" Falls Short Of Its Predecessors

“The World’s End,” a semi-sequel to 2004’s “Shaun Of The Dead” and 2007’s “Hot Fuzz,” finally reunites writer-director Edgar Wright (who made “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” in the interim) with pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. But while their previous films worked wonderfully on two different levels – as comedies and as genre pics – “The World’s End” doesn’t quite work as either one, failing to reconcile the script’s human elements with its absurd, manic sci-fi bent.

Simon Pegg stars as Gary King, an emotionally stunted 40 year-old burnout who can’t seem to let go of his 20 year-old self. As a 20 year-old, he and his friends set out on an ambitious pub crawl that they ultimately couldn’t finish. And 20 years later, they’ve all moved on to live normal, grown-up lives – except Gary. Gary’s still stuck on that pub crawl, marooned between youth and adulthood, armed with nothing but a startlingly manic personality and a severe case of alcoholism.

In telling his story to a group of fellow alcoholics, Gary decides that his best course of action lies in that very pub crawl – he’ll “get the band back together” to finish what they started. He visits each friend one by one – Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) – and after much hemming and hawing (Andy is a militant teetotaler), they all agree to join him.

What begins as a slight but enjoyable buddy flick – with plenty of jokes at the expense of the monotony of the modern bar scene – soon becomes the apocalyptic sci-fi opus that the trailers have promised. From the second act on, the narrative evokes both “Westworld” and the second half of “Hot Fuzz,” seeing the boys fight for the lives against an army of robots filled with blue goo. Their hometown seemingly infested with a cult-like race of otherworldly beings, the proverbial s— hits the fan – and quickly.

Even as the story takes an entirely unearned left turn, the pedigree of Wright and Pegg and company is enough to bolster our patience, and the pic’s wild pace makes up for its surprising lack of coherence. The energy of Wright’s previous films is mostly there – thank God – but the narrative occasionally stops dead in its tracks to deliver uniformly useless exposition. In a film as deliberately silly as this, explaining anything is a terrible idea, but Wright and Pegg (who co-wrote the screenplay) seem to think their nonsensical plot is innately funny. It’s not.

Rosamund Pike turns up as Sam, Oliver’s sister and Gary’s ex, setting up half-baked love triangle involving Gary and Steven that never pays off, while Pierce Brosnan shows up in a bizarre cameo that has nothing to do with anything. If I haven’t made it clear already, the film makes randomness its number one priority, which, by its finale, transforms into wild self-indulgence.

The climax literally features Pegg and Frost arguing with a sentient beam of light, and while some of the scene’s witticisms hit their mark, it goes on for far too long and cements the picture’s status as one big cop-out. Where “Shaun” and “Fuzz” saw this creative team gleefully firing on all cylinders, “The World’s End” is much more cynical, wearing its apathy on its sleeve rather than using it for creative fuel. A younger Edgar Wright might have mocked the long, self-serving, mostly unfunny denouement that’s on display here.

But even though the entire enterprise comes across as half-hearted, it’s still modestly entertaining, with Simon Pegg doing some of his best work to date. Certain elements of the film are spot-on, but almost none of the humor serves the bigger picture. So while “The World’s End” might be a rousing success in the canon of many other inferior filmmakers, for Edgar Wright it’s a step down. And in my disappointment is a compliment paid to his vast talents – talents that simply aren’t fully realized here.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: August 23, 2013
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriter: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike
MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references)