Monday, September 9, 2013

Future Science Reviews - The World's End

Do you remember the days when science fiction was actually fun? With the recent and still upcoming sequelitis of sci-fi movies with the additional title being something along the lines of "darkly into darkness darkening dark", it is becoming increasingly rare to just have a laugh at some good old smart sci-fi movie that doesn't take itself extremely seriously. In the case of The World's End, it is even weirder, since this technically is a sequel, if only in spirit, a third movie in a trilogy. Kudos to the creator Edgar Wright for making it no less fresh and original than his previous two genre elevations (not parodies). But how does it stand when compared to the rest of science fiction and worse still, the actual (possible) reality of the future? Read on and find out.

My Vague Non-Spoilery Impressions

Welcome to the glorious and unbelievable world's Earth. Which is completely fine by me. Since most of science fiction is only a metaphor of today's problems anyway, there is no reason to create a fantastical future unless you actually do have a reason for it. As this movie clearly acknowledges, science fiction is about offering a new point of view on something that seems to be taken for granted, including dated sci-fi tropes. It really reminded me of the Red Dwarf series and its kind of humor - we are most definitely NOT dealing with the best and the brightest specimens of the human race here.

Quite to the contrary, and actually, to the movie's credit, there is a very good reason why that should be the case. In the first half of the movie, you wouldn't even know that you are indeed watching science fiction, and that is surprisingly also a good thing. One of the major shortcomings of the fantastical future approach is that it makes it all the more difficult to create any sense of realness and tangibility of what you see happening. There is no danger of that here - the only disbelief you will undoubtedly feel will stem from the motivations and behavior of the main protagonist.

Just like David Lister from Red Dwarf is not exactly a model citizen, Mr. King in The World's End is completely insufferable. Fortunately for the viewers, Simon Pegg somehow manages to make him likable and therefore watchable, if not exactly easy to identify with. On some basic level, the character's nostalgia for the good old times and his desire to have fun is something that most people of his age should share, however nobody, and I mean nobody - no human, alien or robot - would go to the same extremes to relive it. The basic idea of the plot is exactly that, King's return with a group of his best (and probably also only) friends to the town, where they went to high school and once upon a time failed to finish certain noble quest, the so called "golden mile".

The golden mile is of course a string of pubs, the last of which is conveniently called "The World's End". Strangely enough, King's friends are not exactly enthusiastic about the whole thing, which means he has to try really hard to motivate them. And that is all you should know before watching the movie. To speak of the entire sci-fi element of the movie is to spoil it, but if you insist on some little teaser, it can be minimalistically described as bar brawls with alien robots. If it sounds like fun to you, go watch the movie. Just go, you won't be disappointed (and then perhaps return to read the rest of this review).

Robots who don't like being called robots

Now let's talk about those alien robots a bit. I found it hilarious, after what I wrote in my last review of Elysium, that this movie's writer did do his homework about what robots are - slaves. Which resulted in the simulants (the not-robots) constantly explaining that fact to the human heroes in the movie, who kept calling them robots regardless. That also reminded me of Shaun in the Shaun of the Dead who for some reason didn't want the others to call infected people zombies. It's little touches like this that show the author's understanding of the genre, and I personally really appreciate that.

As for the design of the simulants, for once, they were not super strong killing machines ripping off terminator, they were only suited to their primary purpose - infiltration. That may have made them seem non-threatening, however they did balance their vulnerability to wrestling moves by their endless replication, which was both frightening and made even their defeats look futile. Their ability to function even without the head was also a smart design move, showing that they are anthropomorfic only in appearance.

Their design seems surprisingly well-thought out for a mere bar brawl movie, and it gets even better when you know the master plan behind them. They are a tool of advanced alien intelligence/civilization called The Network, which uses infiltration and subtle behavioral modification to civilize worlds in order to integrate them into The Network. As I have said in the previous review, nothing is really entirely new in science fiction these days, and this is no exception - this is a variation of the classic invasion of the body snatchers. But I have to admit, after seeing at least five different re-interpretations of this classic story, this one is the first one to put a really clever twist on it.

You see, the aliens wish to eliminate and replace as few sentients as possible. Their goal is to help us become more developed, more peaceful. Only the hopelessly uncooperative individuals are mulched into fertilizer and replaced by clone-simulants. The aliens are even responsible for the recent advances in information technology and global communications (the King's dismissive response to which had me laughing for a solid minute). However, they have encountered a little problem, seriously interfering with their plans. Human nature.

Humans Are Overrated

This brings us back to the Red Dwarf and its view of the human nature. Maybe it is a British thing, but contrary to what Star Trek would have you believe, in this view of ourselves, humanity is just hopeless. Petty, violent, stupid, reckless, selfish... The list goes on. In the brilliant resolution to The World's End, the world is "saved" from the aliens and their not-robots by a simple conversation. There is also a big explosion afterwards, which seems a bit unnecessary, and dickish, from the aliens, but nothing could really diminish the final exchange between the remaining heroes and the alien voice.

In an epic clash of ultimate intelligence and ultimate stupidity, the intelligence loses its shit and fucks off, leaving us back in the dark ages again, where we apparently wish to remain. Many little details from throughout the whole movie are also shown to make sense in the grand scheme of things at the end, which is really nice and invites further viewings. The addendum after the resolution of the plot also seems unnecessary to me, but I suppose the author deserves a little bit of indulgence for saying what he actually wants to say, not what his alien-robot overlords from the marketing department want him to say.

But as much as the bashing of humanity for being complete morons makes sense comedically, it is still an overly simplistic view, like black-and-white good versus evil or the Star-Trekkian "all people will be decent". Even though it is technically set in the present, it does have a message about our future - that we are doomed to repeat the cycle of mutual destruction, rise and fall of civilization, because we never learn. In reality, however, the technology does seem to have a lasting, cumulative effect.

Sure, there is a possibility of a nuclear war returning us into the stone age, but I simply don't think that humanity as a whole is staying the same or getting worse. Sure, there still are wars and poverty and hunger and disease and crime and what have you, but when you actually get to measure things like the average likelihood to die violently or the average level of material comfort, you will see relatively steady improvement ever since the industrial revolution. There may come a self-inflicted end to us in the future, but I don't think we are all doomed because of how our nature is supposedly fixed. With that said, it is more than okay to get a chance to laugh at ourselves thanks to a movie as smart and as inventive as this one.

Futureality Level: 7/10

Clever twist on an old formula, fun all around, but slightly ridiculous and a bit too pessimistic about humans.

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