Returning home after years spent ploughing away in the rat race, you’d expect to be welcomed with loving, open arms and an offer of endless pints. The final chapter in the Blood and Ice Cream sort-of trilogy, The World’s End IS that homecoming, tinged with the bittersweet aftertaste of youth gone by. Joining Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright for the big sendoff to their decade-spanning comedy mashup series is a return marked by many quirky parallels.
First, there’s the actual story itself, championed by Pegg’s Gary King. A forty-something chap who can’t let go of the past, King rallies his old school chums for a final stab at the Golden Mile only to discover its inhabitants are a little….unusual. All cities have a Mile, a stretch of pubs you propose to drink in, and then fail miserably when you end up vomiting all over someone’s purse in the toilets at the 5th pub. Much like that example (errr…), King and his mates back in 1990 failed to complete what was touted to be a legendary pub crawl culminating at The World’s End.
Second, is a quelled nostalgia prevalent throughout, like a handshake reaching back into the past, all the way to Shaun Of The Dead, which sees its tenth anniversary this year. We’re not only onboard THIS laddy adventure, we’re along for Pegg, Frost and Wright’s goodbye to a trilogy of work that’s put British cinema back in the ring.
And finally, there’s Gary, Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Pete (Eddie Marsan), and what it means to grow up, move on and never look back. Until you do look back and realize that the place you once called home now shares more than a passing resemblance to a sci-fi flick.
Pegg and Wright have a knack for wrenching out humour and pathos, which is rarely accomplished without one of the two suffering. Anyone can laugh at a toilet joke, which requires no build-up for its obvious pay off. Their ability to craft a seamless stream of gags will have you barking at the screen and smiling with recognition as it’s so true-to-life it’s as if they’ve eavesdropped on one of your nights out. What an ensemble should provide is a range of opinions on one situation. In this case, a small town under the influence of something sinister. The five all get a shot at one liners, and still keep ahold of their actual personalities. You know, instead of shrugging them off when the plot needs to move forward.
The script delivers what we’ve come to expect from the crew who brought us the earth-shatteringly brilliant Spaced….laughs, characters, and a glut of references. In an age of fan culture informing the art they’re so enthused by, there are a lot of “easter eggs” dotted about to keep the devout entertained. While there’s no obvious Shaun-isms, like “We’re coming to get you Barbara,” there’s sufficient nods to the genre. Stay frosty for pop-up cameos from a host of Wright alumni, tying together the trilogy with knowing performances.
The newest addition to the team is Rosamund Pike, as Oliver’s sister, Sam. She’s handled her own before, recently starring alongside The Cruise in Jack Reacher, but often relegated to fluffy supporting roles preying on her English rose looks instead of her startling panache for comedy timing. A simple line delivery of “I’m sorry I was late, I got stuck on the ring road” being one such example of what will hopefully be a funnier cinematic future for Pike.
There’s a ton of quotable material here, nearly snatching the Gold from Shaun’s “Cornetto!” and “You’ve got red on you.” Whether or not Pegg and Wright’s intentions were to load up fans with a wealth of instantly quotable dialogue, they’ve gone and done it anyway. Most of which is reliant on Anglophilic culture. It comes as no surprise that as an English film, it’s loaded with English actors, locations and references. When interviewed, Pegg passed comment on wishing to keep the film as English as possible, and there’s no doubt The World’s End would have been lesser otherwise. Unapologetically so, it captures an honest sense of epoch, when you and your friends made each other mix tapes (before it got cool again), got hammered and sat on the park watching the sunrise. With your whole life before you.
The instruments of Wright’s playful direction, the actors, appear much like the This Is The End cast….to be having a massive piss-up with a budget. Pegg and Frost trade roles this time around with the former galavanting, drinking and shouting his way through their disastrous predicament, and the latter a stiff buttoned-up lawyer. You’ll find yourself yearning for them to shape into their Shaun counterparts, which would betray the point of a fresh collection of characters. Thankfully they don’t, but by the end you’re not missing Shaun and Ed at all and are sufficiently sated by Gary and Andy’s camaraderie. One sequence which riffs playfully off The Thing’s blood test scene serves the devilish purpose of highlighting King’s shortcomings much to the glee of Andy and Steven.
One of The World’s End’s biggest achievements lies in the hybridizing of genres. The sci-fi tropes meld with the comedy, neither one nudging the other for the crowning glory. They instead interweave across themes of youth, getting older, and the pain of nostalgia that no-one can escape. They each inform the other and bizarrely make the struggle to let the past go easier to swallow. Because if you can survive a pub crawl with a body count, you can survive the world, right?
There’s a hint of sadness in watching The World’s End as it represents the bookend of a series of films we’ve come to know and love. More than that, Pegg, Wright and co. have taught audiences a lesson that’s seldom relevant; it’s okay to expect the best from a film and not be let down.