Directed by: Edgar Wright.
Written by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright.
Starring: Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page), David Bradley (Basil), Michael Smiley (Reverend Green), Pierce Brosnan (Guy Shephard), Bill Nighy (The Network).
Over the last decade, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (along with co-star Nick Frost) have made the so called Cornetto trilogy – named after ice cream that shows up subtly in each of the three films. While the characters don’t carry over from film to film – the comic tone does, as do the themes of male friendship, the dangers of conformity and that dangerously thin line where nostalgia goes from being a pleasant memory to a dangerous force in the lives of people – or communities. And each film sends up a specific, well known movie genre – Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the zombie movie, Hot Fuzz (2007) was the buddy cop action movie, and now The World’s End is about science fiction films – specifically a film like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives. Although there are still many genres that Wright and Pegg could poke fun of – I hope they end the series with The World’s End. Not because the series has grown tired – but because I find it difficult to believe that you can make a better movie in this style than The World’s End – which is the funniest and most entertaining film I have seen this summer. It’s time for Wright, Pegg and company to take their films own advice to the lead character of The World’s End – and grow up. And on the basis of this movie, that's just what they're doing.
The World’s End is the darkest of the trilogy – and it wastes no time in letting us know that. We open with Gary King (Pegg) telling the story of the legendary night back in 1990 when he and four best buds took on the Golden Mile in their small British hometown of Newton Haven – the goal is 12 pints, in 12 pubs in one night. They didn’t make it that night back in 1990 – a few dropped out early, and King and the rest couldn’t get past 9 – but for King he didn’t think life would ever get any better than that night – and for King he’s right. As his story ends, we realize that King isn’t just telling his backstory to the audience for our benefit – but at an AA meeting. King doesn’t want to “recover” however – he wants to get the gang back together – 23 years later – and try the Golden Mile again. In the intervening years Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Oliver (Martin Freeman) have all grown up and moved on – they have lives, wives, families, careers and not much contact with King. One by one though he convinces them to come with him – all the while assuring them that Andy (Frost) really is coming along with them – even after the “accident” years ago. And while Andy does take more convincing – a sob story about King’s recently deceased mom – and Andy begrudgingly shows up as well. The band is back together – even if King is the only one who seems to care.
But sometimes, you cannot go home again. While the pubs are still there they have been “Starbucked” – made uniform and devoid of any individuality or quaint charm. The same could be said of the people – even people that should remember King and his cohorts seem to look right through them. And as so often happens when alcohol is involved, a fight breaks out in the bathroom, someone gets decapitated, and the truth comes spilling out.
The World’s End is the best of three Cornetto films for a few reasons. For one, as much as I love the intelligence and wit that is used to send up the different genres in all three films, ultimately that sort of humor as a limit on just how effective it can be. The World’s End is far less reliant on sending up genre tropes than either of the other films – hell, the body snatcher plot isn’t even revealed until well into the second act of the film. Up until then, what we have witnessed is an intelligent comedy about male friendship. The second reason is Pegg’s character of Gary. Shaun in Shaun of the Dead may have been a slacker – but he was a well-meaning, funny and likable slacker. Gary on the other hand is pretty much just pathetic – a shell of a man with nothing in his life other than his memories – he wears the same clothes, drives the same car and listens to the same music he did as a teenager, and his only goal in life is to complete the quest his teenage self-wanted to. There is good reason why his four friends distanced themselves over the years – but Gary is a skilled manipulator of people, who somehow convinces them to come back with them. He could do the Golden Mile by himself – but what would the point of that be? He needs his friends, not really because they are his friends, but because he needs enablers. His relationship with Frost’s character in Shaun was dangerous because it prevented them both from growing up – and here that is taken to the extreme, where one of them has moved on, and the other keeps clinging to the past. Pegg’s performance is still funny and charming – we still like Gary despite ourselves – but we also pity the poor bastard this time around. They have taken this character as far as he can go – and Pegg delivers a surprisingly complex performance – and his old friend Frost matches him. The supporting cast around these three is also better than the have been in the past – with Freeman, Considine and Marsen all get fully rounded character to play, and all doing a wonderful job of it. We expect that from Freeman – but Considine, known for heavier fare, is a surprise with his comic timing, and it’s nice to see Marsen, one of Britain’s best character actors, get to play something other than the weaselly little psycho he seems to have specialized in for the past few years. It would have been nice to give Rosamund Pike more to do – the one problem with the trilogy as a whole is that Wright and Pegg have never created a fully rounded female character – but overall that’s a small complaint.
The World’s End will inevitably be compared to a similarly themed (and titled) American comedy from summer 2013 – Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End. That film was also an intelligent, funny combination of male camaraderie and apocalyptic disaster film – but after seeing The World’s End, I think Rogen and Goldberg were lucky they released their film first, because pretty much everything they did in that film is done better in this one. The World’s End is a very rare treat indeed – an intelligent mainstream comedy that pokes fun of genre tropes, while telling a real human story. At the tail end of the summer we finally got the great mainstream film we were searching for all season.