Review: The World’s End

It’s been six years since the release of Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s last offering in the non-episodic trilogy of films known as the “Blood and Cornetto Trilogy”. Along with their referencing a different flavour Cornetto ice cream flavour, each one’s vibrant dialogue, in-jokes and pop culture nods gave the experience of watching some nerd’s brilliantly assembled media studies project that somehow found its way to the big screen.

Rooted throughout the trilogy have been actor and writer Simon Pegg and writer/director Edgar Wright’s trademark take on a classic film genre, partly satirising it, partly re-establishing the benchmark.  For Shaun of the Dead it was zombies, for Hot Fuzz, action cop. Now The World’s End has a go at science fiction.

On its day of release in the UK I dragged my girlfriend to an evening viewing, eager to get into the spirit of things with a Cornetto before being lured by Ben & Jerry’s two scoop sundae.

Simon Pegg plays Gary King, an excitable, 30-something alcoholic struggling to come to terms with the fact his best days may well be behind him. In an attempt to rekindle his youth he organises a reunion with four school friends to reattempt the legendary “Golden Mile” pub crawl through the quaint English town of Newton Haven; 12 pints at 12 different pubs.

Although Pegg’s character comes across as an annoying asshole, he does prove another reminder of the actor’s versatility – from everyman in Shaun of the Dead and action man in Hot Fuzz, Pegg is effortless and engaging as Gary King. The brilliant Nick Frost plays his more responsible and diligent teetotaller mate Andrew.

Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan co-star, but not enough time is spent fleshing out the other characters. They’re a tad nondescript generally. That’s usually the great thing about an ensemble cast of a group of mates – there’s always one you can relate to. Here, not so much. Rosamund Pike plays old flame Sam, incidentally reuniting with Bond co-star Pierce Brosnan who makes a cameo.

The film starts well, and we learn a little about the five main characters during their school years, and their initial attempt to conquer the fabled crawl. Apparently this concept was based on director Edgar Wright’s own experiences, although I’m sure he doubted its cinematic potential before the decision to throw alien robots and impending Armageddon into the mix.

A brilliant soundtrack includes tunes from Blur, Teenage Fanclub and The Stone Roses to help Gary King recreate the vibe of the original crawl in 1990.

They eventually start the crawl, and for the first few pubs you wonder how the momentum will flow. By around pub number four Pegg’s character encounters the first of many blue-blooded extraterrestrials in the men’s toilets, and an excellent action sequence ensues. Along with the zombie-bashing scene in Shaun of the Dead, how many other fight scenes in films can make you laugh like this?

The concept of a pub crawl spanning the whole film is an interesting one, but proves its limits. Once you know they have 12 pubs to visit, with some aliens thrown in towards the end, it doesn’t leave room for too many surprises. But pub crawls, reunions with old friends and desperately hanging on to youth – these are themes many of us can relate to.

By the middle of the film (around pub eight) it hits a lull, the audience not entirely clear of the alien’s motives or how they came to be in Newton Haven. More fight scenes follow while King doggedly pursues that final pint in the face of the apocalypse. Cue showdown with head of the robot aliens at the final watering hole, The World’s End. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, but the eventual Cornetto reference is possibly the most perfectly timed of the whole trilogy.

The visuals are superb, Wright’s distinctive style is as enjoyable as ever and it is still clear Pegg and Frost were made to act together. But overall the script doesn’t really stand up to the interesting premise.

Most disappointingly, there simply weren’t enough laughs. Sure, there were a few laddish pub culture expressions that will be swiftly inducted into the national lingo but the humour generally consists of a few chuckles as opposed to belly laughs. The rapid dialogue, which is usually so sharp from Pegg and Wright, was often too muddled and fell over itself.

Leaving the cinema I reluctantly admitted my own disappointment. I certainly enjoyed it, but six years of waiting does build a hefty level of anticipation that the film didn’t match. Like other trilogy finales Return of the Jedi, Lodger and Nova Express, The World’s End had the weight of expectation on its shoulders placed there by its wonderful predecessors.

But this film does manage to balance a dark comedic tone with a slight silliness. Perhaps in years to come this final instalment may come to be seen as the underrated underdog and become the unsung favourite.

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