This summer there are two incredibly similar-sounding new movies with two incredibly similar-sounding titles. In August, "The World's End," the third film in the "blood and ice cream trilogy" from British filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, debuts. It involves the robotic invasion of a small British town. But before that, we're treated to "This Is the End," an apocalyptic comedy that marks the directorial debut of the screenwriting duo of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen ("Pineapple Express," "Superbad").
Instead of a small town in England, "This Is the End" takes place in Los Angeles and centers around a group of friends who attempt to navigate their way through the apocalypse. So, in an effort to illuminate your movie-going choices and help you differentiate between "The World's End" and "This Is the End," here are ten things you should know about "This Is the End." Warning: mild spoilers (and occasionally crude content) follow.
1. Everyone Is Playing Themselves
This has been hinted at in the trailers but it's unclear how much it's actually sunk in with everyday moviegoers: in "This Is the End," James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson play themselves -- or at least heightened versions of themselves without all the messy details of their personal lives. Most of the jokes center around the actors' careers (or lack thereof), and co-writer/co-director Rogen even lets the arrows come his way, with barbed attacks at things like "The Green Hornet" (thank god). It's all very, very funny, even if...
2. It Makes No Sense Why Everyone Is Playing Themselves
As great as repeated "Spider-Man" jokes are, it never makes much sense on a narrative level for these guys to play themselves. At best this device feels like a shortcut to gags, since the filmmakers are playing up the audience's knowledge of the actor and the actor's filmography/screen presence, which means they don't have to work all that hard on things like backstory or characterization. At worst it seems horribly lazy and pointlessly self-indulgent, a bunch of movie stars playing themselves because the same filmmakers couldn't be bothered to write any actual characters.
3. The Opening Party Sequence Is Cameotown, USA
Another thing hinted at in the trailers is an opening party sequence set at James Franco's newly constructed mansion, which in the movie blossoms into a giant cameo-palooza that includes (but is not limited to), Michael Cera (playing an extremely coked-out version of himself), Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Emma Watson, Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, and Paul Rudd. Everyone is playing themselves -- or at least characters based on themselves -- so, again, the joke only lasts as long as you find this conceit viably hilarious. But for the most part this sequence is really funny. Also it's good to see mini-reunions of the casts of "Superbad" (forgot to mention Christopher Mintz-Plasse!) and "Freaks and Geeks" (hey Martin Starr!)
4. Things Get Weird
This party is shaken up (literally) by an earthquake, followed by a sinkhole that swallows up much of the starry guest list, leaving the aforementioned actors on their own, huddled inside Franco's arty fortress of a mansion. As the trailers show, Michael Cera gets impaled by a lamppost (like something out of "The Omen" or one of the "Final Destination" movies). It's a weird set of tonal shifts -- from ribald humor to gross-out gore -- but for the most part it works.
5. No, Like Really Weird
Things that are apocalyptic in nature start happening soon after the initial disaster. People get sucked into the sky and horrible demons roam Los Angeles. There's so much bizarre stuff that happens at such an alarming rate that we're hesitant to give anything more away. We will note that at least one of the cast members gets possessed, in full-on "Exorcist" fashion.
6. It Is Sometimes Painfully Obvious That It Was Not Shot in LA
The movie is set in Los Angeles, but for tax reasons was filmed in New Orleans. This is why, when Rogen and Baruchel take a stroll down "Rodeo" it looks like an outdoor flea market instead of one of the country's premiere shopping destinations. Also, the phony, CGI'd "Hollywood Hills" are an embarrassing low point in recent visual effects history.
7. The Film Features Many Demonic Penises
There are. And they are huge. Listen: I told you this thing was weird.
8. James Franco Kills It
Franco, coming off of one of the definitive performances of the year in "Spring Breakers," is once again in magnificent form in "This Is the End." He is arguably the most "character"-like of the actors playing themselves. What's particularly hilarious is his homoerotic obsession with Seth Rogen. It's never explained, but they even have their own call-out ("Freaks forever" -- a nod to "Freaks and Geeks"). Franco is given a run for his money, it should be noted, by Danny McBride, who is absolutely flawless and whose character goes through some changes too delicious to spoil.
9. There Are A Number of New Kids on the Block References
Not really sure what that's about. Are NKOTB having a moment?
10. It's the Most Feel-Good Movie About the End of the World You're Ever Likely To See
There's an inherent sweetness to "This is the End." By the end, the movie seems to ultimately be about the inherent power of selfless friendships and is downright cheery in its hopeful optimism. Considering the movie feels, at least initially, like a work of smug self-congratulation, this is very much appreciated. It's one of a thousand reasons why "This is the End" is one of the best (and ballsiest) surprises of the summer movie seasons so far.