There is a certain brand of movie geek that absolutely adores the films of director Edgar Wright, particularly his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz brilliantly find a balance between spoofing a genre and transcending it. The World’s End, the final chapter in what has been jokinginly dubbed “The Cornetto Trilogy” (named after a British ice cream novelty featured in all three movies), does not reach the giddy heights of the first two films, but it is still a sharply funny and at times suspenseful and heartwarming film. It’s not often that a movie that seriously deals with friendship, regret, and growing older disguises itself as an alien invasion film.
Gary King (Pegg) is an alcoholic who never made anything of his life. His happiest time was in high school, when the future was bright and full of possibility. His crowning glory came after graduation when he and his best mates attempted an epic pub crawl through their home town of Newton Haven. Nearly twenty five years later, Gary still regrets not getting to the World’s End, the last pub on the route. A reminiscence during an AA meeting prompts him to get in touch with the friends he hasn’t seen in years and go back to Newton Haven and follow the pub crawl to the finish. They include Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), and Andy Knightly (Frost), who was Gary’s best friend until a falling out years earlier. They make their way to Newton Haven, meeting up with Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) who once had a fling with Gary. After starting the pub crawl, it quickly becomes evident that something strange is going on in Newton Haven, and the friends begin to suspect the town has been invaded by…something. Despite the objections of the rest of the group, Gary insists on getting to the World’s End, no matter what.
Like the other two movies in the trilogy (which are connected only by cast and crew and a general aesthetic) the fun is in the clever details that Wright and co-screenwriter Pegg have stuffed into the movie. The dialogue is full of witty throwaways that come so fast that repeat viewings of the film are necessary to catch everything. They again have great fun with character names (the inhabitants of the small town in Hot Fuzz all had names like Thatcher, Weaver, and Tiller); take a look at the last names of the main characters: King, Prince, Chamberlain, etc. In this case, Gary is only a king in his own mind. His friends have all gone on to have careers and lives, while Gary has stayed in a permanent state of arrested development. Pegg gives his best performance to date, projecting a manic enthusiasm that barely disguises the pain beneath the surface. Frost also does well as a respected lawyer going through a divorce; it is a far cry from the bumbling stoners he usually plays. In fact, the entire cast is top notch, particularly Considine’s Steven Prince, and Marsan as Peter Page, the bullied kid that never learned to stand up for himself.
When things get real in the second act, the movie becomes a science fiction horror film reminiscent of the best work of John Carpenter. Even when it veers into fantastical territory, the story stays grounded in its characters. Like the previous films, The World’s End is both a spoof and an homage, and it works because the people feel real and we empathize with them. This one takes itself a little more seriously than the others, and the ending is a little heavy handed; it just isn’t as laugh out loud funny as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. That being said, The World’s End is still very entertaining, and has quite a lot of depth for a comedy.