This is probably a moot point, as all of you are going to be seeing Man of Steel this weekend, but there’s a terrifically fun picture playing (in North America; it opens the 28th worldwide) called This Is The End. It’s the funniest thing Seth Rogen’s done in years, and a fine directing debut for him and his longtime writing partner Evan Goldberg. Their previous collaborations have featured some awkward moments with genre—The Green Hornet and The Pineapple Express were both close to being good and were quite appealing in places but suffered from artificial plotting—but This Is The End, with the exception of a minor lull in the middle, is a much smoother ride. It’s one of the better apocalypse movies, to say nothing of apocalypse comedies, in a long time, and it is this because of its characters.
As seen in the trailer, there’s a wrinkle there: Rogen plays himself (or, more accurately, “himself”), as does nearly every other actor in the movie with a speaking role. There are a lot of popular actors—from frequent Rogen collaborators like Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and (the best of the bunch) Jay Baruchel, to a number of surprising appearances that are best left unrevealed for now—having a lot of fun with their public personae. The premise is very simple: Baruchel comes to Los Angeles to visit his old pal and fellow Canadian, Rogen. After smoking a lot of weed together, Rogen tells Baruchel about a party at James Franco’s house, and practically has to drag him there. After a bit of very funny celebrity satire business, the world begins to come to an end. Woo-hoo!
Once society as we’ve known it collapses, the movie’s structure does too, a bit. The surviving actors hole up in James Franco’s house and ride out the (largely unseen) chaos beyond. They do not do so calmly. This is the part of the picture that drags a bit, while both actors and audience are essentially waiting for something to happen. As the actors are too scared to venture outside, they have no way of figuring out the exact nature of the calamity that’s befallen Los Angeles (and whether that calamity extends to the world beyond, though as good Angelenos their conception of a world beyond the city remains charmingly hypothetical). But, once they figure out what’s going on out there, the pace immediately picks back up and carries This Is The End through to a pretty near perfect (and completely unexpected) ending.
Since comedy is even more spoil-able than plot, I’ll not go into any detail, nor will I repeat any of the jokes. What can be said about the humor itself is, while it’s in sublimely poor taste, it still derives from a fundamentally good-natured place. What can be said about the story, without giving away particulars as to how this is so, is that it (eventually) presents a surprisingly (if irreverent and a bit crude) positive view of religion—a kind of broad, it’s-all-good-man (i.e. stoned) ecumenically Judeo-Christian ethos.
When all is (profanely) said and (messily) done, This Is The End is a comedy before all else, but it also functions perfectly well as religious/apocalyptic SF. It’s very clever with genre conventions, specifically, as this is an apocalypse picture, with regard to who dies and when. (That, by the way, is not a spoiler: you can’t make an apocalypse without breaking a few eggs.) And the parts that are funny are really funny. I can’t stress that enough. There are a couple cameos—one that featured prominently in the red-band trailer, one completely-out-of-nowhere one near the end—that are just side-splitting.
Hopefully This Is The End won’t be completely submerged by the Kryptonian juggernaut this weekend and beyond, as it would be a shame for it to go unseen. Do seek it out if you like a good laugh, and if you want to see a truly bold ending. Or just for Jay Baruchel. That guy’s awesome.