Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
The World’s End is the closing installment to director Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ which already includes the classic comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Shaun of the Dead was the more accessible comedy of the two and was well liked from the get go. Hot Fuzz never attained the same level of praise or adoration but its a personal favourite of mine that I’ve found has rewarded repeat viewings. It takes time to appreciate the one liners like ‘crusty jugglers’ which just sound funnier the second and third time around.
The World’s End tells the tale of a group of middle-aged men who reunite in their old home town of Newton Haven to attempt ‘The Golden Mile’ – an epic pub crawl that spans twelve pubs. The event is organized by Gary King (Pegg), who was the alpha male of the group when they were in high school but he has since become the burnt out loser whose best days were behind him the moment he graduated high school. The rest of the five-some lead normal adult lives with jobs, wives, ex-wives, children and mortgages. There’s Oliver, Peter, Steven and Andrew, who was Gary’s closest friend but harbours great resentment after an incident so terrible that years later, the rest of the group speak of it only in hushed whispers.
In an unexpected and somewhat risky move for the film, Pegg jettisons his usual charming ne’er-do-well character for something a little darker. Gary King is a surprisingly nasty piece of work. He is an immature, selfish, slovenly antagonist. This gives the whole film a different tone to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I’m not sure I was rooting for King to complete the Golden Mile since he doesn’t really have any great motivation to do so and he’s kind of a jerk to boot. So if I’m not invested in King’s quest, whats holding this film together?
That’s just it. There isn’t really anything there. The World’s End is intermittently funny but certainly not on par with its predecessors. Probably my favourite observational gag is how homogenized pubs become when they get bought up by supermarket chains and are given a makeover that includes a dreary chalkboard menu, a tepid on-tap selection and that same old varnished wooden finish. The laughs certainly don’t come at the rate they did in the rest of the Cornetto trilogy although this does seem to be partly by design.
I can admire the courage it takes to make a film that cheerfully defies genre conventions the way The World’s End does (that last 30 minutes!) but something needs to plug the gap if you’re not going to make the lead likable and make his journey so flippant. And this film doesn’t really have an answer to that. As a result, there are some serious pacing issues and weird tonal imbalances with the film. Characters being to tear up and some surprisingly heavily subject matter is explored towards the end of the film but its hard to be emotionally invested in the characters so it falls flat.
It’s possible that I’m reviewing the film that I want The World’s End to be and not the film that it is. Maybe there’s something there like with Hot Fuzz where you come back to it later and find a greater appreciation for the final product. I wanted to like this film a lot more than I did. I didn’t hate it. But it’s not that great either. The film is dark, broody, funny, ambitious, chaotic, anarchic and messy. At best, I find it to be an admirable failure.