Five friends. Twelve pubs. One apocalypse.
1,739After the stunning Shaun of the Dead single-handedly reinvigorated the British comedy scene with its innovative rom-zom-com approach, and Hot Fuzz took things to the next level with an impressively playful tribute to all those great Hollywood cop actioners, it was only a matter of time before the inseparable trio of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright concluded their so-called Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Released almost a decade, to the month, after production started on Shaun of the Dead, the closing chapter, The World’s End is a fine and fitting finale for the Cornetto Trilogy, bringing back all of our favourite stars for one last blast, this time tearing up all things alien and sci-fi (and The Matrix) on its way towards the end of the world.
Five friends. Twelve pubs. One apocalypse.
Remembering the last momentous night of his life – graduation and a celebratory pub crawl through his home town with his best friends – fortysomething alcoholic Gary King resolves to put together the old gang and try the ‘Golden Mile’ once again, needing closure after failing to complete it the first time around. Of course things don’t go according to plan, with Gary and his mates discovering that their old home town isn’t quite the place that they remember from childhood. Something seems to be different – the population behave like zombies – and when Gary pushes for some answers, he unearths a truth that threatens to change things forever.
Just like the story itself, The World’s End feels like a reunion with old friends, who have gone their separate ways in the intervening years (most notably with Pegg’s catapult to Mission: Impossible / Star Trek-sized superstardom). Certainly I can understand why fans had high hopes for The World’s End, but perhaps those should be tempered somewhat in light of the decade that has passed, and everything that has changed in the interim. After all, actor/writer/director collaborators Pegg, Frost and Wright (together with Producer Nira Park) have come a long way since their work together on the excellent Brit TV comedy series, Spaced. Their candle has burned oh so bright, but it had to go out at some point.
With The World’s End, they have clearly matured somewhat, eschewing their more passionately frivolous comedic antics of old in favour of an oftentimes sobering tale of unfulfilled, broken lives; adults who never grow up; alcoholics and addicts; and therapy. Stemmed from an idea that Wright came up with a long time ago (the friends on the reunion pub crawl), coupled with the story from an old Christopher Lee sci-fi flick called The End of the World, the feature is more serious than you would expect from this trio, even with the smatterings of drama in both Shaun’ and ‘Fuzz. But it does suit their older selves, catering for a group of hardcore fans who have also, undoubtedly, aged right along with them.
On the plus side it is a refreshing take on the similar themes of the last two chapters, adopting the same homage-strewn tribute-laden approach to the sci-fi / alien invasion genre that they did with zombies and cops before, but tweaking it somewhat to keep things unpredictable. Some familiar faces get to truly shine in atypical roles, whilst the witty references have been even further sharpened. And the end result certainly does provide a solid, stylish, and action-packed climax to the trilogy.
On the minus side, Pegg himself, whilst managing to finally successfully jettison his trademark goofy nerd persona, has unfortunately replaced it with a truly arrogant a**hole who is often desperately unpleasant to be around. Sure, I know that that’s the point, but they certainly do hammer it home, and it’s a good long while before we get to the inevitable (and predictable) this-is-what-made-him-that-way revelation, pushing you to breaking point in the interim.
The sombre tones too, have somewhat dulled the impact of some of the jokes, and those super-sharp references often go totally over your head – unlike the previous two chapters, where film references and in-jokes came thick and fast, but not beyond detection. Here they’re too sharp, too well buried, and they often leave even ardent film fans out in the cold. Considering that we’re the same audience that grew up with their pop-culture-film-reference-packed Spaced, it’s a shame that The World’s End simply doesn’t cater for us in the same way as the others (indeed, the ‘non-canon’ Pegg/Frost collaboration Paul probably does a better job at incorporating references into a sci-fi comedy). It takes longer than it really should for the pub names to really sink in, and the opening preview-of-what’s-to-come went completely over my head. Honestly, I suspect that there will be plenty to lap up on a subsequent viewing but, unlike Shaun’ and ‘Fuzz, I just don’t have that desperate desire to rush out and see it again as urgently as with the others.
Still, even if this new flavour does not go down as well as the other two, there are plenty of sparks – both familiar and new – which light up the perfectly-timed duration. There are some wonderful little references; subtle jokes and sparkly bits of razor-sharp dialogue. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, more often than not off-the-cuff touches that are invariably classic in the grand scheme of this trilogy. The drunken shenanigans do work and the ensemble cast is superb – Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike (infinitely better than the wooden mess she was in Cruise’s Reacher) and even Pierce Brosnan – but it’s actually Frost who is the true revelation.
For as (somewhat intentionally) painful as it can be to endure Pegg’s King, his long-time best mate is on fine form here, finally given the chance to shine as something other than the lovable but clumsy goof. From side-kick to kick-ass, Frost takes to the action with a passion, and is at the heart of some of the best fight sequences in the feature (which, admirably, provides some superbly choreographed fights, courtesy of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, no less), and it’s a really satisfying pleasure to watch.
Shaun of the Dead’s bloody red Cornetto, Hot Fuzz’s police-themed blue, and now The World’s End’s sci-fi/alien-themed green. You may prefer different flavours; you may find that the mint-green sticks out from the rest as being the slightly lesser of the trilogy, but they still come together as a great comedy package; one which will, as a whole, undoubtedly be remembered as a future modern classic trilogy in the genre.
VerdictFive friends. Twelve pubs. One apocalypse...
After the stunning Shaun of the Dead single-handedly reinvigorated the British comedy scene with its innovative rom-zom-com approach, and Hot Fuzz took things to the next level with an impressively playful tribute to all those great Hollywood cop actioners, it was only a matter of time before the inseparable trio of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright concluded their so-called Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Released almost a decade, to the month, after production started on Shaun of the Dead, the closing chapter, The World’s End is a fine and fitting finale for the Cornetto Trilogy, bringing back all of our favourite stars for one last blast, this time tearing up all things alien and sci-fi (and The Matrix) on its way towards the end of the world.
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