With my birthday last weekend conveniently falling on a Friday, I thought it would be nice if I shared on The Legionnaire’s various social media platforms my top three movies. Hence, the day of my birthday I shared Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980); my second favorite, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), on Saturday; and on Sunday. . . . Well, it would seem that I have yet to review my third favorite movie. I checked several times to make sure I was not hallucinating. It seems even more troubling given the fact that I thought Cameron and I had done a series a couple summers ago listing our top three films. Still, it turned out to be a blessing. After the strange journey through the Wes Anderson library, ending with his baffling first film Bottle Rocket (1996), it was nice to be able to watch something I actually know I will enjoy. Such is the curse of a movie reviewer, or at least for one who does it as a side-hustle as the kids would say: you never have the time to watch anything you like. Anyway, enough dancing around the point. My third favorite movie of all time is (unsurprisingly, if you know me) an Edgar Wright film called The World’s End (2013).
The opening section of The World’s End (2013) is narrated by the film’s star, Gary King (Simon Pegg). In it, we see a sequence of him recounting a legendary night as a late teenager (Thomas Law), along with four of his friends. After he wraps of his tale of drunken revelry as he and his mates attempted his hometown of Newton Haven’s “Golden Mile,” a pub crawl of twelve establishments where you are supposed to have a pint in each, it is revealed that he is sharing this with others in a group therapy session. He concludes by saying that his life never got better after that moment. Seeking to relive those days, he decides to approach his friends from back then, bring them back together, and give the Golden Mile another go. The others all have separate lives now, and it would seem that Gary’s antics in the intervening years have made them wary of a man who still dresses the same way he did that fateful night. Part of Gary’s pitch relies on nostalgia and the fact that they did not accomplish their goal the last time. What they all seem most incredulous about is Gary’s ability to get his former best friend, Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), to agree to come. When Gary goes to Andy’s office, he is met with hostility, the result of a drunk driving accident the two were involved in, which Gary fled the scene of and leaving Andy to take all the blame. In order to smooth over the situation, Gary says his mother had recently died, and hands over an envelope containing a large sum of money Gary owes Andy. As it turns out, Gary borrowed the money from the other three friends, and his mom is perfectly fine, but I only mention this now to give further insight into Gary’s character. Nonetheless, they make it to Newton Haven and encounter an unsettling conformity in the town, exemplified by the sameness of the first couple of pubs they enter. Another stunning revelation is the fact that Andy has become a teetotaler. Okay, only Gary is surprised by this information. As it happens, one of their group, Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), so named because of a birthmark, is being visited by his sister Sam (Rosamund Pike). Sam figured heavily into the events of the much ballyhooed night, even though another of Gary’s friends, Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), had always seen himself as a rival for her affections. Note the two men’s surnames. Their current night, though, is about to take yet one more unexpected turn. While relieving himself in one of the restrooms, Gary attempts to converse with a young man who he sees as a younger version of himself. What he had been seeking is recognition of his past accomplishments, and the young man’s obvious disinterest turns into a physical altercation. In the throes of their fight, Gary slams his opponent’s head into a urinal, resulting in it coming off from the rest of the body. Instead of a geyser of blood, there is a rush of blue goop, a socket where the head once stood, and still blinking eyes. It is at this moment that Andy learns that Gary’s mother is still living, storming into the restroom to confront his former friend. Instead, they find the mess Gary created, and have to brawl with the disembodied head’s mates. After dispatching each, they come to the slightly intoxicated conclusion that nearly the entire town has been replaced by these robots, which they dub “blanks.” This is confirmed by the robot version of their former beloved high school teacher, Guy Shepherd (Pierce Brosnan), who desire that Gary and his friends also submit to replacement. Anyone else would be running from the town for their lives, but not Gary King. The last bit of the movie is a mad dash to the final pub, the title of the movie, with Gary King dodging a town full of robots determined to catch them, and Andy trying to protect/stop the cyborgs from accomplishing their goal. All Gary wants is to complete the Golden Mile. Yet, when they get to the last pub, they come face-to-glowing light with the artificial intelligence (voiced by Bill Nighy), who explains the brighter future these alien robots hope to bring to Earth. It gives up, however, when it cannot overcome Andy and Gary’s drunken logic. This triggers a mass exodus, which destroys all the planet’s technology, knocking it back to the stone age. Our five friends survive, two of whom are now blanks, but they all go their separate ways.
The World’s End is absolutely brilliant. On the surface, it sounds insane. Five guys get drunk in their hometown, only to find that it is overrun by alien robots. It is like the fever dream of a recovering alcoholic, and my above description of the plot mostly hits the story on the nose. Yet, there is more going on in this film that what there may seem from the synopsis. I will get to the more serious stuff in a moment. To me, the concept is funny enough on its own. Played seriously, you would have your run-of-the-mill science-fiction story. In fact, such ideas are not original. What makes it stand out is adding a pub crawl into the mix. What puts it over the top is the witty dialog as only Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright can deliver. You have to pay attention to what is going on, and there is a great deal of humor that can go unnoticed. Yet, the movie is consistently funny throughout, and that is a rarity for this reviewer.
Despite the hilarity contained in The World’s End, it also asks some serious questions. What emerges from the time we spend with Gary King is that he is dealing with issues. It begins with his inability to let go of the past, to move on from that one supposedly unforgettable night. It is a common enough problem for many. Proverbs 4:25 says “Let your eyes look straight ahead and your gaze be focused forward.” What is a “proverb” anyway? It is defined as a piece of wise advice, and the Bible has an entire book dedicated to them, though the whole tome is full of such sayings. After all, it has sustained a globe spanning religion for the past 2,000 years. The one I chose seems appropriate to Gary King. He cannot forget his past because everything that has happened since the day he left high school has been a series of tragedies. Adulthood is hard, and at times we can look at our duties as akin to slavery. Our younger years appear as a time of freedom, and Gary desperately wants to relive them. That is not the Christian way. We are taught to grow as people, and in Faith, and the way forward leads to God. It is no mistake that one of the early names for Christianity can loosely be translated as The Way. One way or another, it is a step that we all must take. For Gary, only one last mad night in Newton Haven could drive this lesson home.
The World’s End is not for all audiences, and there is a reason why it is rated R. There are some off-color bits of humor that make it a tricky film to recommend. Nonetheless, I love it. It is funny, it has an internal structure that feels like a well-organized essay, and it has a heart. I am not sure what more you can ask for from a movie.