Whether caused by zombies, aliens, disease, or anything else, stories of worldwide apocalypse are all the rage these days, and now we have Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s The World’s End to add to the fire. It’s a funny little actioner in the same style as their previous comedies, and though it doesn’t quite hold together all the way through, it’s definitely worth checking out.
You could say that Gary King (Pegg) suffers from a sort of Peter Pan complex – if Peter had a strong appetite for booze and drugs. Gary hasn’t moved on from his teens, when he and his mates failed to finish a rite-of-passage pub crawl in their home village of Newton Haven, and over 20 years later, he’s still consumed by the idea of quaffing a pint in all twelve pubs on the village’s “Golden Mile” in one night. His old buddies, now respectable gentlemen with lives and careers, are all reluctant – especially Andy (Nick Frost), who had a nasty falling out with Gary years before – but they’re easily manipulated by Gary into coming along.
Arriving in Newton Haven, Gary, Andy, Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steve (Paddy Considine), and Pete (Eddie Marsan) head out on their quest, but it isn’t long before they discover something isn’t quite right with the village. Before long finishing the crawl is the least of their worries as they’re set upon by sinister forces. That is, to everyone but Gary, who is dangerously obsessed with reaching the final pub – The World’s End – at any cost.
The third film in Wright and Pegg’s so-called “Cornetto Trilogy”, The World’s End has a similar setup and rhythm to both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, though this one is slightly less successful in duplicating the others’ looming sense of dread. The monster-movie portion plays out like a wackier version of a Doctor Who episode, albeit with the trilogy’s usual hefty level of violence. (It’s played a lot more for comic effect here, and there’s little gore unless you’re sensitive to the blue ink that flows like blood from the humanoid “Blanks” threatening our heroes.)
The pub crawl premise, however, is a brilliant idea. Movies like this usually rely on all sorts of stilted and artificial reasons to force the characters to stay and fight when they should really just get out of there. Here, the characters are halfway soused by the time they realize what’s going on, and their irrational reactions become even more funny as they continue to drink. The humour is well-balanced throughout, staving off much of the boredom that sets in as each new pub presents a differently-themed barroom brawl.
Even when he’s playing a slacker, Pegg’s best roles have always had a certain upstanding heroism, but Gary is a different beast, a good-time Charlie who’s highly amusing but ultimately a terrible person. Frost also plays against type as the serious fellow with a legitimate reason to hate his former friend. Both are great, but it’s Pegg’s winking charm that carries the film. The other leads – including Rosamund Pike as Oliver’s sister Sam – all get fun moments, but they’re little more than fodder for the plot.
Much like the pub crawl, the film’s greatest challenge is finishing: toward the end, a sameness creeps into the action, and the downbeat resolution may not satisfy. But overall, The World’s End is a fine comedy hybrid, and worthy to stand next to Wright and Pegg’s other collaborations.
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