Many film critics get frustrated when a cinematic landscape feels overwhelmed by superheroes, giant robots and crashing spaceships, but that's still the kind of stuff that turned a lot of us into movie lovers. In other words, genre movies never need to be guilty pleasures. When done right, they're one of the purest kinds of non-guilty pleasure the cinema can provide.
Edgar Wright knows how to deliver genre pleasure plus something extra. His previous features Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World found people confronting physical threats like zombies and super-villains, which were easier to battle than the insecurities they represented. Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg love cheesy flicks, but they love their characters even more.
The World's End focuses on a guy named Gary King (Pegg), who yearns to complete the one-night "Golden Mile" pub crawl in his hometown. Why would he want to do this? Well, he and his four best friends never finished it when they were teenagers. It's not easy convincing Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Andy (Nick Frost) to give it a go more than 20 years later, but that is one of the least daunting obstacles. As it turns out, the sleepy town is the launching point for an alien invasion.
Actually, this "invasion" is more akin to a corporate takeover. The town's residents get replaced by hollowed-out replicas of themselves, the rough edges smoothed out to make messy, self-destructive humanity more like the way of life in other parts of the universe. It's a slow, voluntary surrender of individual personality to something homogeneous that can be absorbed on a massive scale. The aliens are essentially turning Earth into Wal-Mart.
In addition to being and character driven, The World's End is one of the strongest action films of the year. The brawls between Gary's band and the robotic "empties" are constructed with choreography one might see in a vintage silent comedy. When people talk about enjoying a movie because it's purely "fun," this is what they should be talking about.
But The World's End is more than just fun. Surprisingly, it turns into a wistful study of nostalgia, as other members of the gang besides self-absorbed Gary -- especially Steven, who has nursed an unrequited crush on Oliver's sister (Rosamund Pike) -- attempt to re-create bygone times. This film makes it hilariously clear that you'll never find the old neighborhood the same as it once was; sometimes, it's not even from the same planet.