I watched this film on my last night as a teenager because it seemed like a fun way to mark the end of an era, but it ended up reminding me of the end of a different era. Once upon a time, people made outrageous comedy films that broke new grounds of absurd, all without relying on needless expletives and gratuitous violence to keep the viewers’ attention. Duck Soup, Airplane, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Young Frankenstein, Gremlins 2, Sleeper, Seven Day Week, The Naked Gun, Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Silent Movie, Beetlejuice, CLUE, and of course The Muppet Movie are among the classic comedies that have impressed me by relying on unfathomable absurdity, stupidity, and impossibility to keep the audience entertained, rather than jokes about coke and rape and Michael Cera’s CGI butt-cheeks. Sure, plenty of the movies I listed above have jokes that get rather dirty, and some of them have a bit of language from which I prefer to refrain, but these are secondary to the inherent toony lunacy of the worlds they present. The fact that this movie starts off very realistically, creating the sense that what we’re seeing is meant to be taken as our world, puts the filmmakers in a corner from the onset by forcing them to make light of a situation they made serious.
Think about this: the world ending isn’t a silly concept. The world ending at the hands of a singing plant is a silly concept, and the world ending from an attack by a giant boob is a silly concept, and even the world ending because the U.S. accidentally lets a bomb get dropped on Russia is a silly concept. What’s the difference? It starts with the fact that these are the kinds of ideas that leave people dying to know how in blazes the filmmakers handled them. They’re weird ideas, and they’re hard to wrap one’s mind around. However, I do think that the concept of the world ending because … it’s just the end of the world, in a biblical style, could lend itself to lots of great comedy. The primary problem standing in the way of this is what I mentioned above – the weed of realism is choking the fun out of cinema, and it breaks my heart. All that being said, even though this film is very much in the genre of “just scream profanities” comedy, it has its fair share of clever moments. At the very least I’m impressed with the filmmakers’ ability to get a feminist icon to take part in a scene that essentially boils down to a rape joke (the audio commentary says their goal was to “make it rapey; make that the joke”) which I find ethically unsettling, but still artistically impressive in a mildly evil sense. Given the nature of the beast, it is a surprise that the movie is as clever, creative, and respectable as it is, so I’d give it a passing grade.