REVIEW SYNOPSIS: Director Edgar Wright concludes the Cornetto Trilogy with the tastiest morsel of all, a lean yet loving tribute to John Wyndham, Jack Finney, and Ira Levin that never skimps on inspired comedy or genuine emotion.
SYNOPSIS: More than 20 years after they attempted to complete the infamous Golden Mile, Gary King invites his old school friends to return to the town of Newton Haven to make it to the World’s End, the final pub along the Mile, only to discover that the town has been taken over by robots.
PROS: Insightful screenplay; interesting characters portrayed by compelling actors; very funny; good blend of action, acting, and ideas.
CONS: At times feels overstuffed.
Gary King (Simon Pegg) moves constantly. His voice and cadence suggest nights infused by caffeine and cigarettes, his arms flail, his head bobs, and, as he and his former classmates, now in their forties, trek along the Golden Mile (an infamous pub crawl along 12 pubs in the town of Newton Haven), he speeds ahead of the other four, compelled to complete the crawl they began as teenagers. All of that frantic movement underscores a basic truth of Gary’s existence: his friends have moved on with their lives while he relives past glories. And Gary knows it. “What happened, Gary?” Sam Chamberlain (Rosamund Pike) asks in one of the pubs, and for a moment his mask slips; it’s one of the few times in The World’s End that he becomes completely still.
In this light, Gary’s plan makes perfect sense, for the incomplete crawl, which Gary considers the greatest night of his life (“I didn’t think life could get any better,” he tells a 12-step group as The World’s End opens, “and it never did.”) represents a life in stasis. And, because he was the leader of his school pack, he gathers his old friends Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) to once again feel on top of the world. Perhaps he believes that, if they can make it all the way to the World’s End (the final pub at the end of the Golden Mile), he can recapture that former glory.
It’s an intriguing premise, and in the hands of a typical indie director, might make for an insightful if pretentious character study. But because Pegg co-wrote the screenplay with Edgar Wright (who also directed), it subtracts the pretention and adds several levels of humor. When Andy, now a teetotaler, orders water at the first pub, Gary’s jaw drops in disbelief. “A man of your legendary prowess drinking fucking rain! It’s like a lion eating humus.” And, because it is the conclusion of a thematic trilogy begun with Shaun of the Dead and continued in Hot Fuzz, it offers several helpings of cinematic intertextuality and genre goodness—in this case, Pegg and Wright riff on the works of John Wyndham and Jack Finney, for Gary and his friends discover that Newton Haven has been taken over by robots, though these human simulacra take issue with being called as such, pointing out that robots are in fact slaves—“We’re not slaves,” one of them tells Gary—and causing even Gary’s friends confusion as to what they should be called. (“I still think,” Andy says at one point, “nothing that has been suggested in the last 10 minutes beats ‘smashy smashy egg people.’” Ultimately, they settle, on “blanks.”) Gary remains driven, however; even as his friends battle an army of mechanical creatures (a battle in the men’s room of one pub finds them covered in something resembling blue ink), he singlemindedly decides to continue along the Golden Mile.
The inclusion of the science fictional elements had the potential to convolute the screenplay and sap the characters of interest—and for some, the energy and drive Wright puts into his direction, like Gary himself, may be too much to absorb. In fact, as with Wright’s previous efforts, The World’s End occasionally feels overstuffed. From the astute observations of modern life to conversations that cover such a wide range of topics as Yogi Bear, Alexander Dumas, and King Arthur (to say nothing of ideas that feel like a cross between Ira Levin and Hans Moravec), viewers might occasionally feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, Pegg’s and Wright’s screenplay, despite kicking into overdrive on occasion, keeps the people first and foremost, even as the gags leap across the screen at breakneck speeds, and even as the movie nods to more and more obvious references (from its key influences to another former James Bond actor cast in a role as a villain). Gary’s need to complete the Golden Mile, in light of the robotic invasion, might seem absurd, but his motivations remain understandable, as do the reasons why his friends remain with him.
It helps that the actors inhabit their characters completely, especially Pegg and Frost, who play characters radically different from those in the previous entries in the trilogy. Indeed, the actors inhabit their roles so well that it translates into different fighting techniques; they lack the artistry and grace of modern fight scenes, and instead look like drunks throwing punches.
The World’s End missteps toward the end, when the intentions of the blanks become known, and the denouement, while perfectly logical, lacks some of the speed and focus of the rest of the picture. Until then, though, Gary’s trek down the Golden Mile engages and excites while saying something about the need to mature. It is a fitting end to the thematic trilogy.