The World’s End is one kick ass Barmageddon. It is a film that has everything – excessive beer quaffing, hand-to-hand combat, romance, male bonding and saving the future of mankind one pint at a time.
Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a late 30-something obsessed with a legendary night out 20 years ago in which he led a gang of mates through the streets of Newton Haven to attempt a 12-pint pub crawl. Gary has never got over the fact that they wimped out before they reached the final boozer.
So now he’s forcing the gang to give ‘The Golden Mile’ another go. This time nothing – not rain, nor fire, nor an invasion of Stepford Wives-style alien replicants – is going to stop Gary reaching the final pub: The World’s End.
Reluctantly joining the crawl (and brawl) are Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Gary’s former best friend Andrew (Nick Frost). Whilst his old school mates have settled into dull domesticity, while Gary King is still wearing the same Sisters Of Mercy T-shirt and driving the same Ford Granada as he did when he was 18.
Determined to recapture his glory years, he talks his four estranged friends into returning to their commuter-belt home town to tackle the 12-inn pub crawl they attempted at school. But you can’t, as they say, go home again.
Their favourite old haunts have been ‘Starbucked’ into homogenised theme bars, and the ‘Five Musketeers’ aren’t recognised by any of the people they meet. They feel as if the town is completely different from the one they grew up in, as it turns out they are right: it has been colonised by blue-blooded alien androids.
Wright directs with his usual flair, although perhaps the fast cut/kooky transition thing is a bit tired now. Pegg and Frost still revel in their damaged men-boys working through a broken friendship routine.
This movie is a wistful commentary on the pitfalls of nostalgia, it pays fond homage to The Stepford Wives and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and other classics of paranoid science fiction. And it’s realised with the same wit and manic energy that fizzed through Shaun Of The Dead and, to a lesser extent, its follow-up, Hot Fuzz. Its highlights are the terrifically choreographed fight sequences. Turning the stout Frost into an action hero takes some doing, but this movie has you believing that he would knock out Jason Statham in the first round.
All that’s missing is the precise balance between horror and comedy that Shaun Of The Dead had. Weaving around almost as unsteadily as its sozzled characters, The World’s End can be too silly and then too dark, too complicated and then too repetitive. There are stretches which have too much of the gang bickering over their pints, and other stretches which have too much acrobatic alien-bashing. The dialogue is buffed to the usual high sheen, not a line goes by that doesn’t have a double or triple meaning, but structurally the screenplay isn’t quite so polished. It could be a Dr Who Christmas special that’s been padded out with lots of swearing.
Combining horror and comedy is notoriously difficult, but no one has done it better than Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. Their first film, ‘Shaun of the Dead’, was underpinned by such profound affection for George Romero’s zombie movies, and such a great understanding of what it meant to be a feckless British male, that it triumphed both as a romantic comedy and a horror film. The key was how snugly the modest observational humour of one genre fit together with the over-the-top gore of the other. Many of us plod around as thoughtlessly as zombies, the film argued, even if we don’t munch on human flesh while we do it.
The World’s End marks the third part of Pegg and Wright’s self-described “Cornetto trilogy” (with Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz). It is without a doubt the weakest part of the trilogy. It’s a hit and miss genre pastiche.
With Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright made a career out of delaying adolescence, propping pop culture against the door when the real world came knocking. But this latest movie is a far cry from its predecessors.
The World’s End is full to the brim with pop references (Wrestlemania, Batman, LEGO, The Matrix); drunk on a retro soundtrack of Primal Scream, Suede and The Soup Dragons; and as in love with long-term male friendship as anything in their back catalogue. Gary is both a memorial to his own youth and a clever bit of self-analysis from the film-makers. Namely, that there’s a sweetness and sadness to the idea of a man who wears the same outfit and listens to the same music as when he was a teenager – even if those passions have made him rich and famous.
By Ruth Walker