The World’s End is a film that cannot be summed up succinctly or without meandering off into a tangent or two. A face value it’s a story about reuniting with old friends and squashing, or rehashing, decades-old squabbles, but just underneath the surface is an homage to the body-swapping flicks of the ’50s. Buried even deeper, almost as a meta film, The World’s End is the final piece of “The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” a loosely connected series of films that started with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and continued with Hot Fuzz (2007).
The First Flavor: Sweet Reunion
While some audiences might not relate to the various British particulars that are peppered throughout The World’s End, the film’s core themes of friendship and camaraderie are universal. Five friends reunite in their hometown of Newton Haven in the hopes of completing “The Golden Mile,” an Arthurian-esque pub-crawl that requires the consumption of 12 pints at 12 different pubs. The quintet attempted the nearly insurmountable feat as teenagers in the ’90s, but never completed it.
In the present day, time has distorted the relationships between the five friends, turning close bonds into forced niceties, and at the center of it all is Gary King (Simon Pegg). Over the years, King has subjected each of his friends to various unpleasant situations, a byproduct of his rampant alcoholism, but no one got it worse than Andrew (Nick Frost). At one point Andrew and Gary were inseparable, but their friendship takes a turn for the worse when one fateful night Gary’s selfishness crashes head-on with his inability to take on any responsibility, and the two haven’t spoken since. Nevertheless, through a good bit of misdirection and a healthy dose of bold-faced lies, King gets his friends to Newton Haven in the hopes of conquering The Golden Mile and as the five former friends make their way through each pub, they discover some (literally) sobering truths, and come face to face with their past.
The Golden Mile storyline of The World’s End is in and of itself a compelling narrative, as one man’s need to finish a juvenile task butts up against the maturity of adult life. Pegg and Frost, who frequently play buddy-buddy, are able to shun any preconceived notions, and add a completely fresh dynamic to their on-screen relationship. King is the high school friend that still thinks life is a party, and Andy was the last person to find out it isn’t. Their relationship is at the center of The World’s End‘s story, and while it’s a little odd at first to see them go so hard against type, it works within the film.
Each of the film’s supporting cast add an important layer to the film, as well; either as comedic relief or the straight man, or even a little bit of both. Don’t misunderstand, while the film touches on some mature themes – perhaps the most mature of any Edgar Wright film – it does so through a very unique lens, one that is filled with self-referential, oftentimes absurdist humor. Genuine humor, however, only works with characters that are likeable, and with a story that’s compelling, which The World’s End, as whole, has. It requires a decent amount of consideration, but the movie has a surprisingly rich heart, one that almost anyone can relate too. There are characters that are a little underserved, but the Gary and Andrew relationship has tremendous nuance, even amidst all the humor.
The Second Flavor: Salty Robot Action
As the five friends begin their quest down The Golden Mile, they discover that a lot of Newton Haven has changed since they last saw it. But not in the way that your old hometown takes a new, less rosy sheen once you leave it, but in an “everybody has been replaced by robots” way. It’s within this second layer that The World’s End dons its genre mask, and becomes a full-fledged action comedy. At first, it seems like the film will go the “Twilight Zone” route with a lot of awkward glances and suspicious whispering, but once the cat is out the bag things kick into high gear.
The film has some of the best choreographed, and visually interesting, fight sequences seen in a film this year. Edgar Wright clearly learned quite a lot on the set of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as each fight scene has a very unique style, from purposeful use of light or music, to choreography that is perfectly timed and executed. Watching Gary King and his cronies do battle is certainly a highlight of the movie, and it’s only made better by the design of the robots. These aren’t the mechanical, nuts and bolts style creations we are used to seeing, The World’s End brings a fresh perspective to the idea of a robot, and learning more and more about them is a real treat.
The film’s writing, which is razor sharp and extremely detailed, further elevates the film’s fight scenes. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s script is very deliberate – no word is wasted and every piece of dialogue has a purpose. Only the most attentive ear will pick up all the little in-jokes and callbacks littered across the film’s runtime, but even when you don’t pick up on them all you get the sense they are there. There’s a lot of broad humor to the film as well, enough to make it enjoyable on its own, but The World’s End is best experienced as a puzzle, where every piece fits together in a very specific way. With that being said, though, the film isn’t perfect overall, some of the attempts at humor fall flat, and it occasionally meanders. But it finishes strong and the action, while smaller scale than your average blockbuster, is electric.
The Third Flavor: A Delicious Conclusion
Finally we come to the final flavor of The World’s End, and the reason many moviegoers will flock to the theaters: the Wright/Pegg/Frost connection. Although this is only the third cinematic collaboration between the trio, it feels like they have been making films together for decades. That may be because Shaun of the Dead is so good, or maybe it’s because of the time between films, but whatever the reason the anticipation for The World’s End is certainly justifiable. Unfortunately, on that front the film hits its weakest note.
There’s no denying The World’s End is the most mature film in the “Cornetto” trilogy – its themes and ideas are much more layered and deeper than those found in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz; it simply doesn’t have that “pop” the first two films had, or at least it struggles to sustain it. While Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz feel like they are driving 90mph, The World’s End clocks in somewhere around 75mph. That may be a result of the set-up, which in turn leads to better realized characters – so, there’s a positive give and take in that respect – but either way there were still moments where the film dragged.
However, fans of Wright’s work will still find a ton of things to like about The World’s End, not just the previous elements mentioned. The idea of taking Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and casting them against type works in the film’s favor, and helps keep it from feeling like old-hat. As well, all of the trademark flourishes, clever word play, great music (and musical cues), quick cuts and fast-paced editing, and an acting troupe that clearly feels comfortable with each other, are there, so there’s no need to worry about this third film losing its identity entirely. When it comes down to it, The World’s End‘s biggest problem is that ii simply isn’t as fresh and invigorating as the first two films of the trilogy.
As many directors can attest, trilogies are hard to pull off. There’s a tremendous amount of expectation, both in terms of delivering a satisfying conclusion and finding ways to make old ideas feel new again. So, rather than deal with those inherent problems, Edgar Wright & Co. decided to lump three films into a trilogy after the fact. These folks will still work together in the future, but this particular chapter – the one started with Shaun of the Dead – comes to a close with The World’s End. And surprisingly, even though The World’s End is independent of the other two films, it still delivers a satisfying conclusion and makes old ideas feel new again.