Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"This Is The End" and "The World's End" Provide Distinct Pleasures, Despite Similar Topics and Uninspiring Finales

This Is the End features comedy actors playing themselves with
the narcissism dialed up to 11.
It’s funny how often two extremely similar movies hit theaters in the same relative time period. Deep Impact and Armageddon. Antz and A Bug’s Life. Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. The list goes on, but I’ll stop here.

Joining that list last year was a pair of comedies about a group of guys dealing with the end of the world – This is the End and The World’s End.

Interestingly, these films not only share the same basic plot; they produce similar results as well. Both manage to mine comedy for pathos related to the changing dynamics of friendship, and both are pretty fantastic until they run out of steam in the final reel.

The former comes from the minds of Judd Apatow disciples Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg , and stars a number of Apatow’s regular players (Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Roberts, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel) as outlandish versions of themselves. They, along with a number of other celebrities, deal with a very biblical apocalypse while hiding out in Franco’s Hollywood home.

The latter is the third and final film in the Cornetto trilogy, a series of film collaborations between filmmaker Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost that put the duo in various genre sendups. Previously, they riffed on zombie flicks (Sean of the Dead) and buddy cop action comedies (Hot Fuzz). Here the focus is on Gary King, a bottomed-out addict who reunites his former school chums (Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) to complete a bar crawl in their home town, which just so happens to have been invaded by body-snatching aliens.
The World's End offers heavy drama wrapped in a genre-riffing shell.
Although they each use the end of the world to wax poetic on male relationships, they both really explore different dynamics beyond that. This is the End examines hypocrisy, celebrity and religion, while The World’s End deals with addiction, regret and the perils of technology.

This Is the End is easily the funnier of the two – it’s probably the funniest film of the last few years really. That’s not a knock on The World’s End, which is actually more of a dark drama in action-comedy clothing. Gary is certainly the most developed character in the two films, and Pegg really sells the guy’s pain.

Tech aspects are certainly better in The World’s End, but that’s to be expected. Unlike their previous writing collaborations (Superbad, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet), Rogen and Goldberg avoided having an accomplished director take the reins, opting instead to direct This Is The End themselves. They do a competent job, but it’s clear they aren’t visual stylists. Wright on the other hand – that’s sort of his forte, so it’s hardly surprising that The World’s End has some knockout visuals. A dynamite fight scene in a bar bathroom is particularly impressive.

Ultimately, I prefer This Is The End – it’s a hell of a lot funnier, and it just feels a lot fresher than The World’s End, which is basically a retread of many of the themes of Sean of the Dead, just with Pegg and Frost switching archetypes.

Much like Hot Fuzz, The World’s End drags at parts and could’ve benefited from another round in the editing room. That’s sort of a weird thing to type because it’s such a tightly plotted piece, especially compared to This Is The End, which, still feels more finely trimmed even though it’s practically the same length and has a meandering, improvisational vibe to it.

In the end, both films are worth recommending, and I definitely think they’re distinct enough that viewers won’t feel like they’re watching the same movie twice.

This Is the End A-, The World’s End B