The Hollywood apocalypse is usually a large, loud, special effects extravaganza that keeps us at the edge of our seats. Yet despite some funny one-liners, we’re never really intended to fall off those seats in laughter. This past summer though, there were TWO such films. I regrettably missed each during theater their theatrical runs, as I put off seeing the first one so that I might be able to catch them both, back to back… though that day never came. But now, thanks to the newfound glory that is Redbox less a hundred yards away, I am finally able to take that cinematic challenge: The Apocalyptic Double-Feature of 2013.
The far more commercially viable and clear box office winner (101m > 26m) of the two, This Is The End (TITE) is about as self-aware as a movie can be. Although the cast never quite acknowledges the fact they’re simply characters in a show, like you might have seen in an old Monty Python sketch, TITE‘s cast is endearingly pretentious while playing their own Hollywood personas, acting just as fans would expect if the end was truly upon them. Some may scoff at me for putting these jokesters in the same breath as the legendary comic troupe, but this new band (lead by Co-Writer / Co-Director / Co-Star Seth Rogan of Superbad & Pineapple Express fame) is the closest thing we’ve had in a long time, especially all on-screen at once.
If you can stomach their brand, it’s a really great time. Despite the brutal vulgarity of some of the film’s funniest scenes, most improv and banter between everyone involved is absolutely hilarious, a great example of the power of Hollywood pop culture. There’s even a bit of heart woven into the center of it all… a quality never so strongly exemplified by their British counterparts from the 70’s. If you’re ever to watch this film, do so now while everyone featured is still fresh in your mind; still in the form they are now. The action kicks into high gear during a huge party scene at a mansion in Malibu, which pretty much represents what the movie is all about.
On the polar opposite end of the spectrum is The World’s End (TWE), another heartfelt action-comedy romp from the Simon Pegg / Nick Frost tandem, again with director Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead & Hot Fuzz). They may have found the perfect mix of their formula this time though, as TWE hits every hilarious and dramatic beat in perfect stride. It could have been a messy balance, juggling a pub crawl with the apocalypse, but they do so in spades. Impressive more is how well handled the gradual progression of the characters’ inebriation over the course of the story is, given their goal is for one pint at each of the twelve pubs across a small town in the UK. A few years back, the aforementioned Pineapple Express featured a duo of stoners in the spotlight, so obviously they were high almost the entire time. This Is The End carries that same general vibe and message as it’s predecessor, so it’s a fair comparison drawn between the two. Funny as that attitude may be for a variety of different gags in both films, rarely does it truly fuel the story’s fire, but rather just keeps it burning (ha). However, The World’s End showcases boozing opposed to reefer, which comes on at a slower pace here, unique to each person’s arc in the story. If you’re looking for the definitive case study on inebriated characters in comedy, you’ll find it in TWE.
Another surprise was to see how wildly strong of a comic lead that Simon Pegg can be. Shawn of the Dead has been a longtime favorite of mine, but his sad-boyfriend complex in the film never treaded this kind of water. Same with his Scotty interpretation for the Star Trek reboots. An incredible supporting character, no doubt about it, but here he brings it to the next level. The script is absolutely brilliant and Pegg shines like a sophisticated Sean William Scott with an added knack for subtlety. The movie isn’t high-profile enough to make this his watershed role like Johnny Depp had with Jack Sparrow, but his performance is certainly comparable.
You’ve gotta catch at least one of these. As always, resist going back to watch the trailers beforehand, as there’s a lot of fun and surprises in store for those who wait. Whether one film is better than another is impossible to call in a race this close, as it really comes down to a matter of taste and who you’re watching it with. TWE is probably not a big party movie, while TITE is definitely NOT a date movie. Trust me on that second one. Each is a sure-fire winner in it’s own right, as I’m regularly quoting TITE and I can’t get Pegg’s commanding hilarity from TWE out of my head, but only one can survive this cinematic double-feature apocalypse…
VERDICT: Without hesitation, it’s The World’s End. While there’s something special to be said about the timely, self-aware manner which makes This is The End outright hilarious from start to finish, it ultimately cannot triumph over a perfectly structured story, one that so gracefully balances drama and comedy; alcoholism and having a good time. This scene sums it all up quite nicely.