The Worlds End was one of those movies that had me in constant facial contortions. One moment I was splitting my face in two with a toothy grin, the next it was agape, my hands covering it in empathetic panic over the state of our protagonists. It’s a genuine roller coaster of a film, one that doesn’t relent from the moment it presses go and it’s all the more wondrous and thrilling because of it. Plenty seem to believe that Edgar Wright’s fourth feature film is his weakest, believing that the dramatic elements of the story lessen the overall fun of the idea of aliens really being masked figures behind gentrification. However, it’s the drama and the world weary nature of the characters, particularity Gary King, that separates The Worlds End from the rest of the directors tremendous oeuvre. Every film that he’s done up until this point (aside from, surprisingly, Baby Driver) has donned the genre hat while placing thematic tension as the thorough line for the film. In Shaun of the Dead there’s the fear of growing up and accepting change; Hot Fuzz tells the story of corrupt oligarchies. Even Scott Pilgrim v. The World has some under the radar themes of what it means to realize your own failings. However, it’s The Worlds End that graduates from merely flirting with those weightier themes to using them as a the full blown story arc.
Gary King (Simon Pegg in his best performance to date) is an alcoholic who we first meet in a hospital, talking about what good times his teen years were, all of which came down the pub crawl to end all pub crawls, “The Golden Mile”. We see these flashbacks through a hazy, sepia hue before returning to present day where life isn’t so glamorous, the lighting of the cafeteria greeting ground is poorly lit and Gary’s mischief has been replaced by something wild and untethered. Later in the film we’ll learn that Gary had attempted suicide, which plays into the idea that he, armed for battle (although the one he ends up in is different than the one he’d imagined) and ready to take on the Golden Mile again as his last, determined suicide mission.
From the get-go we know that something isn’t right, be it in Gary’s behavior, the tension between him and Andy Knight (played beautifully by Nick Frost), or the suspicious behavior of the towns folk. The reveal itself when a would be teen gets his brain bashed in only for blue goo to ooze out is remarkable comedic timing. It’s the levity that allows for some of the weightier moments to land so well because Wright, among many other things, is a master of tone and his and Pegg’s script dance across that delicate line with care and understanding for what makes a good joke and what makes for good emotional payoff.
Smartly it’s not just Gary that’s enduring personal hardship, though his demons manifest themselves much more tangibly. His friends are going through troubles that plague us as we start to realize that our supposed “glory years” are behind us. There’s infidelity, dissatisfaction with jobs, obsession with materialism and monetary gain. The five leads are relateable, giving us an anchor among an otherworldly premise.
But again, it all boils down really to Gary and his trusty high-school pal Andy, the Knight to his King, who would’ve followed him to the end of the world until Gary messed everything up. As much as The Worlds End is about aliens, growing older and returning to a home that is familiar, but different, it’s also about how those you love can ultimately disappoint you by being frustratingly and beautifully human; we’re flawed, Gary is extremely flawed and he uses this as his defense when the Network tries to explain to him that by replacing everyone with androids, they’re simply making the earth a better, more inhabitable place. Gary in turn, with Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andy in tow, tells the Network that humans are supposed to be imperfect, it’s what makes them the human race before telling the big glowing orbs in the sky to fuck off.
The imperfection is fine but it’s Gary’s regret and self-loathing that become a greater crux of emotional development, best seen here in quite possibly the most emotionally satisfying moment in any of Wright’s films thus far.
The choreography of the two fighting one another, both wrestling to get to the pint and with one another past demons, to the anguish in Pegg’s voice when he shouts that the Golden Mile is “all he’s got” and the script that balances what we know of these characters so far and what has been alluded to is beautifully constructed and executed. Gary believed in the stories told to him that school was only the start of his life, that what lay ahead would be just as poignant and significant to his story and instead addiction grabbed hold and dragged him down so that the years that were to follow were spent merely reminiscing over the glory years, rather than living real, in the now moments. Even as the world is literally coming down around him, as androids bash in windows and suck the soul out of friends, his main mission is purely to finish the task at hand and screw the rest.
The scene might’ve set off what could’ve been a dour ending and Wright is known for bittersweet ends, but instead it leads us to that moment I mentioned above, with Gary flipping the bird to the faceless, formless voice telling him how humanity could be bettered if those faults were sorted out. The film ends with Gary and the android of the younger version of his friends, sober, still going to old haunting grounds but this time with a new purpose as once again he has his comrades by he side. The world is a wasteland, sure, but it’s the one Gary is happy to live in.
The Worlds End isn’t as consistently funny as Hot Fuzz or as understated as Shaun of the Dead or even as visually impressive as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. However, it is a composite of those films with that extra twinge of melancholy and due to that added somber layer, of mischief, and retrospection it allows the film to rise above what the director has done before by making it linger in the back of your mind with the themes of how to live an enriching life, sticking on like the goo from the androids skull.