There is a sequence in The World’s End where a desperate man with nothing to lose makes a decision in the face of an imminent threat to finish something that finding a fulfilling life depends on, prompting his former best friend and a man who he has been at odds with the entire night, to realise that he needs his wingman back. The emotion that holds is quite something. Embedded within this pilgrimage of middle-aged inebriation and reminiscence is a moving tale of friendship. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost never lose sight of this dramatic human conflict in their films and with Edgar Wright’s extraordinarily natural abilities as a director, their return to the screen explodes with as much as energy as their preceding cult hits Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). The World’s End is the third and final chapter in the team’s ‘Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy’ and is bursting with witty dialogue, full-throttle action and playful genre nods, to the level we have come to expect from the gifted trio.
Gary King (Pegg) is a self-centered man in a state of arrested development. Having recently been in rehabilitation for substance abuse, he becomes obsessed with re-attempting the infamous Newton Haven pub-crawl known as The Golden Mile. Twelve pubs. Five guys. Sixty pints. He resolves to convince his now-estranged childhood friends – Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) - to return to their former hometown and join him on the quest they gloriously failed to complete on their final day of school.
While his friends have all built for themselves prosperous adult lives, Gary has not grown up, remaining as crass, impulsive and immature as they remember him. But sensing his desperation they feel concerned for him and agree to come along. After sinking a few ales and meeting up with Oliver’s sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), they begin to suspect that there is something suspicious about Newton Haven. For one, they are not crowned the prodigal sons, curious news to town legend Gary. As the past and the present collide over the course of the night, it becomes the future that lies in the hands of their successful odyssey. Differences have to be put aside, and if these guys are to make it they have to keep their heads.
The dialogue cracks back-and-forth with signature wit, and there are an abundance of quotable lines and recurring gags. The use of a disabled bathroom and the repeated use of ‘WTF’ are just a couple to keep alert for. While The World’s End is almost as consistently hilarious as their preceding pair it is the unexpected darker themes that perhaps hit the hardest. This is a story about a man who has failed to fully make a transition into responsible adult, his selective memory (as he is repeatedly reminded) is tied to the deep past, and he believes he has no other alternative but to find the happiness he seeks by reliving the most memorable night of his life. His now squarely middle-class friends have to play a role. There is clear tension between Gary and Andy, and when we learn the extent of their fallout we completely understand why the group was so wary of leaving such an unhinged and manipulative individual in charge.
The casting is perfect but it is the chameleonic Pegg who stood out for me, transforming this sad delinquent into a sympathetic hero. While Pegg has formerly played the straight man, he and Frost have reversed their roles here. Even before we are introduced to some of this film’s latter-half pleasures, just observing this unlikely quintet as they try and reconnect and react to Pegg’s loudmouth antics is rewarding enough.
The genre mash-up gels perfectly too, this time incorporated sci-fi invasion tropes. After Hot Fuzz, a jubilant smorgasbord of the cosy school mystery and the action film, and Shaun of the Dead, a uniting of the slacker comedy and the Zombie film, the myriad of references here – Gary forcing the others to prove they are human a la Kurt Russell in The Thing is but one example – add to the unwavering fun.
From the genius foreshadowing in the opening montage, which acclimatizes us to the to the sense of energy we can expect throughout, to the significance of the pub names, the attention to detail is endlessly fascinating. The familiar design of some of the pubs, a ‘Starbucking’ as Stephen calls it, allows the production team to get inventive too. The impressive effects and astoundingly complex bar-brawl choreography – with the lads’ skills amusingly improving the more they drown in ale – make for some unforgettable moments.
Whatever you think you know about The World’s End, chances are you only know the half of it. Bursting with ideas there are many surprises I dare not give away. Though I can understand how some could leave a viewer unsatisfied, cinema so rarely possesses this much energy and consistently delivers on so many levels. I’ve watched Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in the vicinity of a dozen times. The World’s End has a similar destiny.
[rating=4] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22