What I’ve Been Watching: This is the End & The World’s End

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When one considers the careers of Simon Pegg and Seth Rogen, there are a remarkable number of similarities; not least that both are currently starring in films about how a group of friends deal with the end of the world.

Both Pegg and Rogen rose to fame via television at the turn of the century. Pegg on Spaced, Rogen on Freaks and Geeks. Since then they’ve gone on to make a number of films where ‘bromance’ is a central theme. Rogen in Pineapple Express, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Funny People; Pegg in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and of course Paul which Rogen himself co-starred in.

Viewed side-by-side The World’s End and This is the End tell us a lot about the psyche of the nations in which they are based. This is the End, like most Hollywood movies, represents a glamourised version of the world. The actors play themselves and so live in huge mansions and throw wild parties. The World’s End, however, occupies a much more ‘grey’ picture of Britain, with its chain pubs, odd modern sculptures and rust bucket cars.

Finally there’s also a sense in the film’s conclusions where The World’s End represents an eventual rejection of religion, where as This is the End ultimately accepts the idea. Somehow these opposing views seem oddly representative of the difference between Britain and America’s relationship with the things of God.

This is the End

There’s an effortlessness and confidence to This is the End that makes it seem like the actors don’t need to try that hard. In many ways it’s the film’s biggest strength and greatest weakness. It means there’s not a lot of set-up to be done, the relationships between the characters feel real because it they’re based on reality. However, it means any ‘development’ of character feels forced and can take you out of the more emotional parts of the film.

For example, when James Franco is in mortal danger, we are not as concerned as we should be since James Franco will still be alive and well regardless of whether this fictional James Franco dies.

The jokes on display come thick and fast, and there is a joy to the characters just being together which the film utilises very well. The humour retreads familiar ground for those already familiar with these actors. Those who feel the comedy potential of topics like cannabis and pornography is never-ending will not go home disappointed.

What is more original is the use of the backdrop of the end of the world as characters meet their demise in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. The beginning of the apocalypse at the end of the first act is a particular highlight, and the movie makes excellent use of its numerous cameos to keep throwing surprise after surprise at the audience.

The ending of the film was problematic in some ways for me since there is a morality to the film, but one that feels foraced rather than heartfelt. If there is a theme it is about friendship, a true friend being one of the greatest gifts we have. However, that theme seems to come at the expense of basically every other conceivable form of goodness one could think of. As such it seems to be a tokenistic approach to ‘spirituality’ rather than a genuine one, the film possessing far less depth than it thinks it has. Think JD’s monologues at the end of Scrubs.

Despite this slight misstep, This is the End is certainly an enjoyable film that knows what its strengths are and generally sticks to them. A lot better than it has any right to be, this is as good a big budget Hollywood comedy as you’re likely to see for a while.

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The World’s End

The last in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost’s “Cornetto Trilogy” sees five old friends deal with the end of the world in the town they grew up in.

Pegg plays Gary King, their natural leader when they were all in school. With his dark attire, shades, and unrelenting energy, King was the guy everyone wanted to be around twenty years before. The problem is those very same qualities make him a rather more tragic figure today. As such, he has difficulty convincing them to go on the same pub crawl they failed to complete twenty years earlier.

The rest of his friends are rather more grown up and serious. Andy (Frost) has barely spoken to King in the years since. Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine make up the rest of the quintet.

This is definitely the most ‘grown-up’ of the trilogy in a variety of different ways. The film expertly captures the feeling of returning to your home town to find it completely alien to when you were growing up. As it does so themes like globalisation and loss of community come to the fore.

I would also argue it is the least funny of the trilogy. There aren’t as many great comic visual delights as Shaun or Hot Fuzz for example. Sure, there’s jokes, but there is definitely a more serious tone to the film.

King is also a darker character. Where as Pegg’s previous incarnations had it within them to sort their own lives out, here there is a sense he needs the help of those around him before he can dig himself out of the hole he’s got himself into. Some have expressed annoyance at the creation of such an unsympathetic character. However, I think it’s impressive that the trilogy has brought us three quite different protagonists within films that are tonally very similar. Seth Rogen take note.

In the main, The World’s End is a very likeable film and a worthy edition to the trilogy. However, it does seem to lack a little of the pixie dust that made the other two films so special. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I think it’s that the second act in particular seems to drag a little and lacks the surprises and imagination we’ve come to expect from the creative minds involved.

One thing I would find particular fault in is the fight scenes which see the gang kicking and punching for all they are worth, but unlike Shaun and Hot Fuzz fail to build in scope and imagination. Compared to the climatic scenes in The Winchester and the supermarket in the previous films there is a lot less to get excited as the film progresses towards its finale.

What counterbalances that is that it is the most thoughtful of the three films which genuinely has something to say about freedom, consumerism… and Starbucks. In many ways the final stand-off is the most satisfying of the three for precisely that reason.

Overall, The World’s End is exactly what you’d expect from Wright, Pegg, and Frost as they expertly transplant another genre to the shores of Great Britain. It is perhaps fitting that it does feel like a slightly more measured serious, film that the others. A worthy farewell. For now.

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