Edgar Wright can do no wrong.
Maybe it's a little early to make such a bold proclamation. Wright has, after all, only made four films (and a television series) and is still relatively young. But every time the man unleashes a new film, it's like a cinematic breath of fresh air, full of energy and life and passion. Such was the case with "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" and now "The World's End."
But why make such a proclamation? Because Wright has once more proven that he's among the upper echelon of filmmakers who know how to make a slick, fun, stylish, funny film that isn't shy about (often boldly) wearing its cinematic influences on its sleeve but that also delivers characters who are grounded and complex and feel real.
I will say that I didn't walk out of the theater immediately over-the-moon in love with "The World's End" the way I did with Wright's previous three films, but this one will age the best out of anything he's done thus far. This is, I think, in large part due to the fact that it's Wright at his most introspective.
The film follows five friends who reunite in their sleepy little hometown after 20 years to attempt once more to conquer The Golden Mile, a one-night challenge that includes visiting 12 pubs and having a pint of beer at each. They say you can never go home again, but in the case of "The World's End" it's because home has been invaded by alien robots.
A premise like that would seem precarious for nearly any other director, but Wright makes it feel like the most natural progression possible, given the way he continues to deftly mix action, comedy and pathos. Is it kind of ridiculous that these guys (albeit begrudgingly for most of them) continue their pub crawl in the middle of an alien invasion? Of course, but that's all part of the fun.
The action beats that take place as a result of said robots is fun and manic (Wright goes the shakycam route for his action, but uses it better than just about anyone else I've seen), but he dials down on his signature flashy edits and zooms. This is probably his most stylistically restrained film yet.
Some of that, however, may be due to the fact that this his most character-intensive film yet. Everything comes down to this group of old friends, and in particular the one who (through sheer force of will) reunited them in the first place, Gary King (Simon Pegg).
Gary is stuck in the past. He and his mates Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andy (Nick Frost), had a great time when they were kids attempting to conquer The Golden Mile, but all of them have moved on, grown up and created responsible, adult lives for themselves. All except Gary. He still wears the same clothing ensemble, listens to the same mix tape and drives the same car that he did 20 years ago. Gary has spent half his life dreaming of the time when he and his friends could relive that one glorious night, and he's willing to go to any lengths necessary to make sure that happens.
And while Gary's determination is often used to great comic effect, mostly you just end up feeling sad for him. His behavior is outrageous, but Pegg (who co-wrote the script with Wright) makes him almost tragic. He doesn't just wistfully stare at some trophy, he literally wears his past on his back. There's a wealth of emotion channeled through this performance and so much of it is just bubbling under the surface. It's career-best stuff from Pegg, for sure.
The real surprise, though, is Frost as Andy. Frost has been an integral cog in Wright's work (he's been a regular collaborator since "Spaced" on British television), but he's never played a character quite like this. Gary's the one who can't let go of the past, but Andy's one who's never been able to tell him to do so. It's as mature a performance as we've ever seen from Frost.
"Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead" both had their share of emotional moments (the latter especially), but none of them have ever felt as intimate and intense as the way Wright and Pegg frame what's presented here. I said earlier that "The World's End" will age the best out of Wright's work so far and this is why.
As great as everything else is, it feels odd that I haven't even begun to mention how funny it is. Wright's films are still, at their core, comedies and the humor here is every bit as satisfying as anything else he's given us. It's all character-driven humor that's further nailed down thanks to some brilliant timing and editing.
almost literally disappear and it feels like the script could have handled their (admittedly necessary) exits with just a little more thought. Oh, and Wright painfully teases a new story in the epilogue that I would have happily sat there for another two hours to watch.
Otherwise, this very much feels like a maturation of Wright thematically and emotionally while still delivering a film that's just as satisfying as his previous. I can't wait to see what he cooks up next.