In a summer defined by flops, catastrophes, and movies that are counting breaking even as a win—but also a summer that delivered a billion-dollar-plus grand slam that was actually deserving of that success—the summer of 2013 will be remembered as the summer that the studio tent pole started to fail. Not the summer in which it died, that won’t happen until at least 2015, but when we look back this will be the summer we point to and say, “Right there. That’s when audiences got over the blockbuster”. There’s a rush to declare What Went Wrong in summer 2013, so here’s my contribution to that conversation: Blockbuster is not a genre. “Blockbuster” is the title given to a movie so good everyone runs out to see it, regardless of genre.
So why is The World’s End my pick for Best Summer Movie: 2013? Because it isn’t trying to be a blockbuster, and yet it out-blockbusters almost everything else this summer, for literally less than one-tenth the price. And it’s good movie that engages from start to finish.
The World’s End is director Edgar Wright’s final entry into the “Cornetto Trilogy”, which began in 2004 with Shaun of the Dead and continued in 2007 with Hot Fuzz, and it’s easily the best of the lot, which is really saying something. Starring Simon Pegg (who also co-wrote all three features with Wright) and Nick Frost, plus their assorted troupe of Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, David Bradley (Argus Filch for life), Julia Deakin, and Rafe Spall, and new-to-the-party Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike, The World’s End is the funniest movie of the summer and one of the best-executed action flicks. It’s built on the blueprint of a blockbuster but it dares to ask whether or not chasing past glory is all that good of an idea, really.
The plot is one of those you’re better off not knowing too much about—and for once, the trailer does not spoil it at all—but if Shaun was the zombie movie and Fuzz the buddy cop parody, then World’s End is the one about alien invasion. The story goes far beyond that and touches on some truly serious matters, like the life-shattering reality of bullying and the long-term damage between Gary (Pegg) and Andy (Frost) is dealt with in one monologue that Frost CRUSHES, but it is never not funny. If anything, the deftly sensitive handling of the serious matters only serves to escalate the humor by contrast.
It’s clear from the beginning that Gary is not a well man, but as his manic quest to conquer the “Golden Mile”, a trail of twelve pubs in his hometown, unravels with the absurdity of the alien invasion, the depths of his damage become the highlight for the real-world consequence of his increasingly improbable actions. That the long and troubled history between Gary and his childhood friends (Andy in particular) is dealt with in only glancing moments in between killer robot-alien attacks and downing pints at various pubs makes it feel more real. These men have known each other so long and so well they don’t need to drag everything out all at once—it comes out in fits and starts as frustration mounts and feels like texture in a richly realized world, not mere plot points.
Wright and Pegg are at their most confident as writers, commanding the many jokes and running gags—like the fence-jump fail—that makes up their trilogy, accommodating the strengths of their friends, particularly Frost and Marsan, whom Pegg graciously cedes much of the best material to, and constructing a script that feels improvised but which is micro-managed in execution. Wright’s direction is also supremely confident, particularly in action sequences. Shaun mined humor from the fast and dirty action scenes but nine years later Wright’s ability is such that he can shoot complicated fight sequences in tight spaces in eye-popping long takes that are balletic in their camera movements.
The World’s End delivers on the expectations built by Shaun and Fuzz and adds a depth of feeling the other two merely glanced at. It’s made from blockbuster spare parts and never asks you to ignore gaping plot holes or require you to make numerous excuses about how it’s good in spite of itself. It has some of the most thrilling action scenes of any movie this summer and is a reminder that often the best action comes from simple situations, not necessarily building-toppling spectacle. It’s also really fucking funny.