If you re-watch Jackie Brown you can easily imagine Quentin Tarantino having a completely different career. If that movie had been a blockbuster maybe he would have gone down a more mature path, one where he stopped repurposing the cheesy exploitation flicks of his youth and instead began to make movies that commented more on the lived human experience. Instead, Jackie Brown was seen as a bit of a disappointment and ever since the emphasis in his movies has been on action and big set pieces more than it's been on character.
Edgar Wright, who directed the World's End, is in a bit of the same boat. The movies Wright made before this were genre pieces – a zombie movie, a cop movie, a video game movie. To be fair, they were exceptionally well made and energetic genre pieces, but they were weren't exactly philosophically challenging. The first half hour of the World's End, however, promises something different: it's about a man frozen in time trying to reconnect with his friends who have moved on. It's full of funny lines and it's quickly paced, but it also has a core of sadness that is true to that character, and that character is someone most of us have met in real life. It suggests what Wright could do if he wanted to say something about how we live life instead of just amusing us.
Once that half hour of set up is over, however, the genre stuff kicks in again. (In this case it's robots, not zombies.) It's very disappointing: it suggests an interesting departure point, but then it retreats into the safety of what he's done before.
Which is not to say that it becomes a dumb robot movie. No, Wright is clearly using them metaphorically, but the metaphor of a robot being a soulless being is pretty heavy handed. If the option was to have his fingers on the scales like this or to just use the bad guys as an entertaining threat as he did in Hot Fuzz I'd rather he have gone down the Hot Fuzz route.
Still, although I find this film to be a bit of a let-down storywise, Wright's stylistic gifts don't disappoint. Most of the jokes land, particularly the ones spoofing the conformity of corporatized towns. The movie is well paced, employing enough quick cuts to keep things moving but not getting so cut-crazy that the chase scenes become incomprehensible. All of the fight scenes are cool, even though almost none of the cast looks like they'd be natural fighters. I just wish that Wright would make a movie without fight scenes for once, just so that I knew what that looked like.