The World’s End
UK (2013) Dir. Edgar Wright
The Godfather Trilogy. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. The Infernal Affairs Trilogy. The Cornetto Trilogy. If the last one doesn’t sound immediately familiar that is because it is an unofficial trilogy insofar as there isn’t an overarching or connecting story across all the films. The only similarities are the nucleus of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright.
Following Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) the trio return with another inherently chaotic British romp, this time with a rather cynical edge and poignant message buried beneath the profane and manic mayhem. It contains the fantasy horror action of the former film with the mystery of the latter but carves its own niche in the process.
The story revolves around Gary King (Pegg), who embarked on a legendary pub crawl in his quiet hometown of Newton Haven called the Golden Mile as a teen to celebrate leaving school with his closest friends. The night ended in chaos and the group never completed all twelve stops on the journey which has haunted Gary ever since.
Now in his 40’s Gary decides to give the Golden Mile another go and recruits his old friends – Andy (Frost), Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) – to join him. Unlike Gary they have all grown up and moved on, working respectable jobs some married with kids, but Gary can be rather persuasive and the others reluctantly agree.
Writer-director Edgar Wright wrote the original story when he was 21 about a group of people his age on a pub crawl but later realised it worked better with older people reflecting back on and trying to recreate their misspent youth. The script also works as scathing look at modern commercialism and the stifling presence of the franchise which even affects small towns; this gives birth to a new verb “Starbucking”.
Having all moved away to London the quintet return to Newton Haven with Gary expecting to receive a hero’s return but finds no-one know or cares who he is (except one pub where he is barred for life). The pubs themselves are now carbon copies of the family pub right down to the structure, layout and even the punters which makes the group feel uncomfortable.
It all seems to go as well as could under the circumstances – Andy is now teetotal – and the gang are even joined by Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), a former love interest for both Gary and Steven. It is not until the fourth pub when Gary gets into a fight with a teenager in the toilets that things take an unusual turn and the group make a shock discovery – the people of Newton haven have been replaced by robots!
Considering the negative review this film has received I would venture it was this bold plot twist which was the tipping point for many. It does come out of nowhere and admittedly, after Gary knocks the boy’s head clean off the audience is waiting for the sign that this is an alcoholic dream and things continue a normal. But no – this is now a creepy sci-fi yarn and the group need to get away fast, except Gary is intent on finishing the crawl first,
The result seems to be that this ruined the film for many while others embraced it as Wright no doubt had hoped for. A case can be made for both opinions being valid – the humorous nostalgia trip for the group works well for viewers of a certain age and allows them to live vicariously through the characters as elements of their own youth are reconstructed on screen.
Conversely the switch to Shaun Of The Dead with robots turns the film into a special effects fest on a par with Wright’s shallow and flaccid Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a veritable visual assault of the manic kind, albeit with a better story and more personable characters. Arguments no doubt rage over whether this worked or not, the biggest point of contention being that is was unexpected and turns the film on its head with regard to the plot being about reconnecting with the past.
Both Wright and Pegg have said that the sci-fi came about by way of exploring the alienation one feels when returning to their home town after time away in the big city, with the robots doubling up as the programmed acceptance of a stultified life within a small community. That is actually quite clever and for those who stay until the final act will see that there is a heartfelt and triumphant message about humanity and individuality shared through this conflict.
To that end the script is deceptively sharper and multi-layered beyond the coarse jokes and sarcastic one-liners, which is presumably what most people were expecting, and are delivered with the usual aplomb. The main characters cover some familiar tropes – the quiet one (Peter), the serious one (Oliver), the uptight one (Andy), the earnest one (Steven) and the token female (Sam) – but the journey allows the cast, made up of some of Britain’s finest of the moment, to bring out the best in all of them.
Simon Pegg stands out as the man-child leader of the gang although one small criticism is that Gary comes across as quite an American styled character with his long black coat, shades and repressed maturity. In fact the presentation of the second half of the film does have that Hollywood slickness about it with only the British accents and unmistakably English setting reminding us this is not Los Angeles or New York.
Whilst I understand the criticism against The World’s End I don’t quite get the hate for it either. It is very much in tune with its predecessors in terms of style and content whilst providing something unique in its own right. Huge fun, quietly poignant and never a dull moment – I enjoyed it!