August 23, 2013
When a movie’s tagline is “Good food. Fine ales. Total annihilation,” you know you’re in for it. The boys behind The Cornetto Trilogy of comedies — the first two of which are Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) — are once again busting genres to the eternal appreciation and joy of an assembled fandom, with this weird yet epic tale of reunited drinking buddies on a decidedly ill-advised pub crawl. Danger is brewing. They barely get started before it’s an amber-gency right in their hometown, and they’re not hoppy about it….
Director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring back a bevy of players from the other movies to the final installment of the trilogy. The name comes from a brand of ice cream, and there is a flavor featured somewhere in each film. Shaun of the Dead had a strawberry-flavored Cornetto, which represented gore, Hot Fuzz had the original, which came in a blue wrapper (signifying the police), and The World’s End features the green mint chocolate chip as a reference to science fiction and aliens.
A number of the supporting players who have been in all three movies are quite well known. Martin Freeman (now Bilbo Baggins and Watson of Sherlock fame), plays one of the reunited five, and fan favorite Bill Nighy (of a million British movies and TV) has an voice cameo. All the actors are not only superb, but through all the mayhem, hilarity and terror, the leads build multi-dimensional roles we grow to care about and genuinely hope survive.
In Gary King, Simon Pegg’s character, who is the orchestrator of this drinking marathon, the audience is witness to a perfect representation of someone they know and pity, as well as inexplicably continue to countenance. He is that tragic friend trapped in one moment from a storied past that keeps them from stepping into the future. He brings Gary to life in such a genuine and sincere way, viewers forgive and even feel compassion for his irresponsible and narcissistic ways, while at the very same time wondering and then remembering from their own life why the other characters in the film continue to deal with him.
“What an ass!” they say to themselves. Then, “Oh wait, I know that guy…” And, like Gary, they are friends with and love whoever he reminds them of despite his glaring faults and refusal or inability to fix his life. Pegg brings the poignancy of the character home to anyone who recognizes him. All the lead characters seem trapped in a morass of unhappiness and wasted potential, but none more so than Gary. The others seem to rationalize and soldier on, but he at least has the guts to bulldoze ahead and try to recapture a better time. As unlikeable as he is, in that way he becomes, surprisingly, the hero of the story.
Nick Frost plays Andy Knightley, the friend with whom he has burnt the most bridges, but for all of his anger he still goes along with Gary and his former mates. Frost gets to play far more of the long-suffering straight man in this installment of the trilogy. It is no surprise that as an actor he can pull off the entire spectrum of adult expression, from staid and tightly wound to utter chaos in a skin wrapper, all with commitment and believability.
Paddy Considine as Steven Prince, Eddie Marsan as Peter Page, and Martin Freeman as Oliver Chamberlain round out the hierarchy of friendship, and are joined by Rosamund Pike, who is anything but a damsel in distress. She doesn’t just hold her own. She is more fully fleshed out than any usual sci-fi female co-star (heroines a la Ripley excepted), being the most centered, and the closest thing to a voice of reason or conscience in the film.
Don’t think these writers forsake humor for depth of characterization and the characters’ various dysfunctions. The further these characters get into their adventure and attempts to stave off humanity’s annihilation, the funnier the movie gets, especially to fans of the sci-fi and horror genres. It is, however, decidedly British, so those expecting The Hangover will not find satisfaction.
The filmmakers have built something far more layered: a making-terms-with-middle-age buddy comedy, meets apocalyptic disaster, meets ’50s paranoia science fiction flick.
The World’s End is so full of references and visual valentines to classic moments in the history of the sci-fi movie genre, it begs re-watching to catch them all. There is no question whatsoever the boys behind this talented cinematic brain trust know their genre films. They have shown it before and show it again here.
I interviewed Wright, Pegg, and Frost when they were in DC to promote the film and all referenced both cult favorites and classics like 1962’s The Day of the Triffids, 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (which Nick Frost declared is his favorite movie of all time).
Music is a consistent thread through The World’s End, notably represented by Simon Pegg’s Gary essentially cosplaying Andrew Eldritch, the lead singer of the ’80s band The Sisters of Mercy, which happens to be Pegg’s favorite band. With his band T, his black leather duster, and omnipresent dark sunglasses, he is the perfect melding of Eldritch, circa 1992, and members of the band Fields of Nephilim.
All songs are chosen very carefully. The one that opens the movie is Primal Scream’s Loaded, which is meant to be Gary’s anthem. The scene with everyone singing along in the car to the Soup Dragons’ “I’m Free” is taken from director Wright’s own experience. All the tunes used were from between 1987 and 1993, with the exception of The Alabama Song by the Doors, which actually puts into words the experience of the pub crawl.
Fans of Edgar Wright’s direction, and the influence of the other members of the production team, know music is virtually another character in their films. The World’s End is no exception. The score by Steven Price is also notable and enhances the proceedings, and is clearly meant to bring to mind some of John Carpenter’s best.
A minor grievance is the brief time in the last few minutes, where there is some plot tidying that feels like a temporary let down. Spoiling dictates no further explanation. Suffice to say things get a bit convenient, but by movie’s end the story finds its footing again and maintains its poignancy, leaving the audience with a connection to where the characters wind up, thank the Thelosians (or any alien race you choose).
The movie as a whole is charming and hilarious and zany and deep all at once. It also offers some of the darkest and brightest moments and has arguably the most satisfying ending of the three movies. Ultimately this one asks and answers for itself: What does it take for those who struggle with their past to jump start their future? Does the world as they know it have to end, or can it just feel like it?
With Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the bar was set very high for these fellas in their last of the three. As a last call, it is with relief and glee that Cinema Siren can toast them for a job well done, and heartily suggest, should you enjoy British humor, that The World’s End is at least one comedy you’ll rate highly this summer. Knock this frothy one back. It may be nutty but it’s got a great finish. One emotionally stunted man-child, four men reaching deep to pull out their own irresponsible teen within, and a girl several of them crushed on as lads and still fancy, stumble through “The Golden Mile” in their hometown, chugging beers and facing both their pasts and futures by bickering, reminiscing and dealing with an alien invasion when they discover their old stomping ground might also be ground zero for the end of humankind. Time to drink.
Check out the trailer right here: