“The World’s End” – A Very British Apocalypse…

Time, disreputable British men on the lash, please!
Time, disreputable British men on the lash, please!

It’s a weird time at the cinema.

We once looked forward to summer blockbusters.  They were dependably bombastic, boasted a galaxy of stars and only ever turned up during months when air-conditioned entertainment with a room-temperature IQ seemed like a fine idea.

Now? Things are different.

Studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars to pump out action flicks, superhero yarns and animated fare which open every other week at your multiplex.  Somehow, somewhere along the line, Summer started to begin in March and now ends around September.

It’s refreshing, then, to see a film like “The World’s End”, the new Edgar Wright/Nick Frost/Simon Pegg collaboration, opening in the height of summer – at least here in the UK.

Whilst it can’t boast massive destruction on a par with “Man of Steel” or “Iron Man 3”, it does offer an equally compelling view of personal and literal disasters played out against a backdrop of small-town England, doing so with a well-observed script which is oddly brave in its determination to subvert our expectation.

For one thing, Pegg plays against type.  Though he’s the leading man, he’s an utterly unsympathetic one – selfish, deluded, intent on alienating anybody who’s ever shown him kindness or friendship and singularly unwilling to act in his own best interests.  To put it in blunt terms, Pegg’s character Gary King is an inveterate, self-enchanted piss-head and the kind of guy that you’d excise from your life if you were ever unfortunate enough to meet him.

It’s a tribute to Pegg’s skill as an actor and writer that you still follow him through the film whilst cringing at his character’s more objectionable excesses and the script’s darker turns (why was Gary in hospital at the start of the film?)

The supporting cast are also great – the eternal Yin to Pegg’s Yang, Nick Frost plays a very different role in “The World’s End”, embodying an uptight, buttoned-down, outwardly respectable archetype with aplomb whilst still convincing us of a wilder side which speaks to the loyalty that he would maintain with a man who had consistently let him down and behaved appallingly towards him and his peers.

Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Martin Freeman and, particularly, Paddy Considine all impress as the adult evolutions of a teenage circle of friends thrown together by very strange goings on one Friday night in their sleepy English community.  You’ll also spot cameos from British comic actors (including a few previous Pegg/Frost/Wright collaborators) and one entirely unexpected bit from…well, that would be spoiling things, wouldn’t it (don’t read IMDB!).

It’s probably not revealing too much about events in the film to suggest that this is the first movie from the trio which would positively benefit from continuation – the last few minutes of the film are such as to make you wonder what further misadventures might befall this gaggle of (nearly) middle-aged misfits.

I was looking forward to seeing Edgar Wright tackle science fiction and I’m pleased to see that he’s done it expertly, making a film which is resolutely British in tone whilst not requiring so much knowledge of our social mores that it would alienate a wider audience.   For any foreign readers – our English small towns really are as depressing and hopeless as they are portrayed in this film (though the mayhem which ensues on a typical weekend evening is rather smaller in scale).

Though bleak in places and unafraid to pursue emotional depths which are resonant and truthful, this is a very funny look at a literal end of life as we know we it which somehow manages to be funny even as it shows us an oddly convincing view of the apocalypse.

Great special effects, convincing characters and a cool story – you’re doing it wrong, Mr Wright!

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