I'm beginning to wonder if filmmakers had the 2012 end of the world predictions on their minds during pre-production given the glut of apocalyptic scenarios popping up in the films of 2013. So far this year, we've had "After Earth," "This is the End," "Oblivion," and "Pacific Rim" - in which the apocalypse was canceled.
The latest film to take on the end of days is "The World's End" - the titular double-meaning referring both to the final pub on a bar crawl and the apocalyptic scenario of the film. This is the latest film from Edgar Wright, and the third film in his "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy," a series of thematically-related films starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost consisting of "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and now "The World's End."
Simon Pegg, in a brave comedic performance that mixes repulsion with pathos, plays Gary King, a man who's life peaked in the mid-90s at the end of high school and is determined to recapture the last time he was truly happy. He gathers together his high school friends, who have all gone on to live conventionally successful lives, for one last attempt at a 12-pub night of drinking.
Wright, much like his earlier films, makes no effort to ease the audience into the supernatural elements that come into play about a half hour into the film, but rather turns them on like a switch. One second, the characters live in a world without alien robots, the next, they live in a world with alien robots.
The film then continues with a delicate balance of action, comedy, science fiction, character growth and larger themes that all play against and reinforce each other.
The film is not as compact as "Shaun of the Dead" or "Hot Fuzz" which are master-classes in direct storytelling, but it is also wrestling with larger themes and ideas than the earlier films in the trilogy.
"The World's End" would not have been written in its current state by the same Wright and Pegg who wrote "Shaun of the Dead;" it's the work of more adult filmmakers. It may not have the vibrancy and novelty of their first work, but it has more depth.
The film plays off of its presence as the third film in a trilogy as well. The backstory between Pegg and Frost's friendship has added meaning, because the audience has watch it grow over the course of two films, that may not have been plot-related, but all belong to the same voices.
After "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," Wright again proves himself one of Hollywood's best action directors, despite the fact that he is shuttled into the genre niche of action-comedies.
Anyone can make the Rock look good in an action scene, but it takes a special skill set to make Nick Frost look like an action god as he drops the People's Elbow onto a robot's head.
The film makes a few bold turns at the end that may lose audiences, particularly in the moment, but after the film ends, and there is time to digest the themes, the entire picture comes together as a whole.
Wright is one of the few directors who is making films that feel like they belong to the 21st century, and "The World's End" is a magnificent capper to this first portion of his career.