Review: The World’s End

The World's EndI’m just going to come right out and say it up front: I was a bit disappointed by the World’s End.

Let me explain. I’ve been a fan of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright since Spaced – it’s probably my all-time favourite sitcom. I loved both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz – in particular, Hot Fuzz (mainly because of the genre – I’m not really into zombie films). As a result, I had high hopes for the final installment of the ‘cornetto trilogy’ when we went in to see it last Friday. And, frankly, I came out feeling a bit let down.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past couple of days, and after having one or two conversations with people I’ll try to narrow down what I think was disappointing about the movie for me. Please note that this review will contain some pretty major spoilers so I would avoid if you haven’t seen the film and want to. If you’re just looking for “should I go see the film or not?”, then – yes, if you liked the previous two, you should go see it. But you probably knew that anyway.

So, let me give you some reasons why I disliked The World’s End:

Reason #1: The main character, ‘Gary King’, is frankly too much of an anti-hero for me. I just couldn’t really identify with him or his motives. I was hoping that by the end of the movie he’d be able to achieve some kind of closure, but there was none really. No real motivation was given for him, other than – well, basically, other than he was a bit of a lad. A slightly crazy lad who hadn’t moved on in 20 years. Now, I realise that the film was cleverly making points about aging and looking back from when you’re 40, but I think this would have been better achieved by having the protagonist as someone who was a bit more identifiable. By making the main character someone who I didn’t like very much, it didn’t work for me.

Reason #2: One of the IMDB reviewers commented that there were essentially five main characters, which I think is insightful. In the previous two films, there was a primary story based around a relationship – so in Shaun we had Shaun winning back his girlfriend; in Hot Fuzz we had Nicholas Angel and Danny. Sure, there were other things going on, but there was a relational thread running through the movies which saw closure – something which left me with a warm satisfied feeling at the end. Not so with The World’s End – there was no real closure in terms of relationships – in fact, things kind of fell apart. It just left me feeling very dissatisfied and wanting more.

Reason #3: I found the last 15 minutes in particular to be … I don’t know, it just felt like an earlier draft of the script had got through unchecked. Think of Shaun: the last 15 minutes are tight, drawing you towards the inevitable conclusion, turning up the emotional intensity. Think of Hot Fuzz: the last 15 minutes are, again, cleverly orchestrated to draw together many of the threads from the rest of the movie. Maybe I missed something about The World’s End, but I didn’t see that happening. What I did see instead were some pretty clunky dialogue exchanges between the humans and ‘The Network’ (I’m coming to them). The most frustrating part for me was the last part, when the bar of The World’s End descends into the depths of the earth and the humans have an argument with the aliens. It just felt so forced to me; it felt like they were aiming for ‘deep, meaningful and thought provoking’ and ended up with ‘cheesy, superficial and forgettable’.

Reason #4: The ‘aliens’, i.e. “The Network”. So… they’re a bunch of aliens who, for some reason, decide that humanity is not up to scratch (wars, violence, televangelism – that kind of thing) – they are the ‘least civilised’ of the planets in the galaxy. Despite the fact that earth is not in communication with any other planet in the galaxy, has no ability to space travel, and will not affect any other planet in the galaxy in the near future. So, The Network decide humanity need to catch up, and so start to influence everyone to be like them – and anyone who resists gets replaced with someone a bit more nice. Quite how they influence people to become like them isn’t really made clear. I will say two things that really got to me though: (1) the aliens are repelled at the end by a group of unarmed, drunk guys saying “Yah-boo sucks, we don’t want you here, get lost!” Right. So, humanity basically confirmed itself as being violent and warlike, and the aliens think “Oh, great, well that’s all well and good. Let’s go folks.” (2) when The Network left, all technology was destroyed. Seriously? All of it? It just pushed my suspension of disbelief a bit too far.

That said – the exchange between Gary etc and the aliens is brilliant from a Christian perspective. I’ll blog about it sooner or later.

Reason #5: I’ve touched on this a few times before, but I’ll say it again: the ending. How bleak did they want to make it? In Shaun and Hot Fuzz, there is some kind of positive ending. In The World’s End, we were just left with … well, not much. It wasn’t happy – and I was kind of expecting a “happy” ending from the last in the trilogy. Not necessarily a ‘happily ever after’ ending, but one in which I could kind of feel a warm glow at the end. I just couldn’t with The World’s End.

In summary, to me the film felt confused and directionless: it didn’t really know whether it wanted to be a film about friends, or a science fiction film, or a comedy, or what. I felt it stitched all those elements together kind of clumsily, whereas Shaun and Hot Fuzz had woven those elements together seamlessly. The World’s End has some brilliant moments, some hilarious lines, some great acting, some clever plotting, and some good characters – not to mention plenty of references to the previous films (and Spaced). I just don’t think it really put those elements together well enough for me. All that said, I needed to see Shaun and Hot Fuzz multiple times before I really appreciated them – so I might need to come back and eat humble pie about all this after seeing it again (and I would like to). But – I didn’t feel as positive about The World’s End as I did about either of the first two movies on leaving the cinema, and on reflection I think I can understand why.

So there you have it: I don’t like to write a bad review of a Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright film, but on this occasion I feel like I have to 😦