Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, and Pierce Brosnan
Written By: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
Directed By: Edgar Wright
The “Cornetto Trilogy” ends with The World’s End, a very clever and entertaining conclusion to Edgar Wright’s series of hybrid’ genre-bending comedies. Writer/director Wright and stars Simon Pegg (also a co-writer) and Nick Frost took a bite out of Dawn of the Dead with Shaun of the Dead, a zombie comedy that had both heart and brains (metaphorically and literally). Their follow-up Hot Fuzz took a shot at buddy-cop action movies, namely Bad Boys II and Point Break. Now they abduct sci-fi thrillers such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. The World’s End works as both a satire for movie lovers, and an emotionally driven examination of friendship and aging. It’s perhaps not as laugh-out-loud funny as their previous entries, but it’s still a very satisfying finale.
Although these films are considered a trilogy, that isn’t entirely accurate. Instead they share a connective tissue (most evidently the cameo appearance of a Cornetto ice cream cone), and use a plot device to tell a broader story. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz focused on male bonding and friendship. The World’s End does as well, but it’s also their most mature piece of work with the added discourse on growing older and the perils of living in the past. Hot Fuzz is perhaps my favorite of the three films (although that’s debatable, these movies are pretty comparable), but it’s also probably the messiest, and The World’s End is a much more disciplined movie. However, I should mention to the fanboys who absolutely adore these movies that I think Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are solid comedies, but also slightly overrated.
Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a man-child whose glory days are behind him. Nostalgic for the past and unhappy in the present, he resolves to track down his old friends and relive the “Golden Mile”, a pub-crawl that they were unable to finish as teenagers. The mission consists of drinking a pint of beer at twelve different pubs; the final pub, which they failed to reach on their first go, is called The World’s End. Gary hasn’t changed since his days of yore, but the rest of the group has moved on to adulthood and aren’t as enthusiastic about going back to their old town for a day of binge drinking. The rest of the group consists of Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Andrew (Nick Frost). Nevertheless, Gary convinces the crew to come along.
What starts off like a buddy-reunion comedy in the vein of Diner, The Big Chill, or even Grown Ups, turns into something entirely different when the guys realize that their old town and its inhabitants aren’t quite what they remembered, and that an extra-terrestrial force may have something to do with that. The robot-like nature of the townspeople, whom the boys refer to as “blanks” as it’s unclear what they are exactly, is reminiscent of the glowing-eyed children in The Village of the Damned. As the alien invasion films of the 50’s used to do, this genre trope is used as a commentary on society. One of the characters refers to the invasion as being similar to the infestation of Starbucks. The pubs that the boys visit have become corporatized and have lost their rundown charm.
The “blanks” also represent conformity and abiding to the rules and regulations of society. Gary’s battle against being turned into one of these sentient being is also an illustration of his fight against living a conventional lifestyle, and becoming just another slave to social order. There’s also a statement on the rise in technology, and how our attachment to cell phones and computers have made us all “programmed”, and less connected to other humans. Now don’t think any of this allegory is heavy-handed or dour. The movie is a whole lot of fun, containing consistently funny wordplay dialogue and some brilliantly choreographed action sequences. Wright has honed his directorial skills since his first feature film, with the fight scenes in this one being terrifically executed. It’s all very violent, but because the “blanks” spurt out blue goo instead of blood, their decapitations and limb ripping isn’t particularly gory or gruesome. It’s amazing how a change in color can effect perspective.
Unfortunately, while the movie is very humorous and clever, it isn’t all that gut-busting. While there is a steady stream of chuckles throughout, the movie is lacking in terms of big belly-laughs. But as a story-driven sci-fi mystery, there’s a developing sense of intrigue as events unfolds. Plot points are gradually revealed, satisfyingly answering the questions that the audience will undoubtedly have. What are the “blanks”? Are they robots? Are they aliens? How did they get that way and what did it to them? All this and more will be revealed.
The World’s End works as both a satire of sci-fi thrillers as well as a bittersweet comedy about growing up. One minor complaint would be the ending which takes a shift in tone from the rest of the film and is somewhat underwhelming. And while I’m throwing out grievances, the movie could also be funnier. However, The World’s End is smart, has something to say, and is full of ridiculously entertaining action sequences. It may not be the best end-of-the-world comedy of the year (that would be This is the End), but it’s the only one with Cornetto’s.