The World’s End, the third film in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, follows five childhood friends who have drifted apart but are now attempting the Golden Mile, a legendary pub crawl through their hometown. Gary King, played with manic energy by Simon Pegg, convinces the other four to reluctantly reattempt the feat 20 years after they’d failed it in their teens. The night doesn’t go exactly as planned, with Andy, Oliver, Peter, and Steven (played respectively by Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) slowly realizing that Gary has refused to grow up and has deluded himself into trying to reclaim the glory of being eighteen again.
The first half of the movie plays like a smart comedy with a hint of realistic darkness. Issues of alcoholism, mental instability, and being stuck in the past are subtly presented. Andy and the others are surprised and disgusted by Gary’s boyish immaturity. Gary himself is disturbed, as home is not at all like he remembers it. As the attempt to relive the past slowly falls to shambles, Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who is on her own visit home, hits the nail on the head when she says, “You come back, and everything is the same, but different.”
In this case, everything is different because Gary’s hometown has been invaded by robot aliens filled with “blue stuff” who are slowly replacing the townsfolk. Gary discovers this during a bar fight in which he knocks a robot’s head off. At this point, the film veers wildly into an action comedy, the characters hell-bent on surviving long enough to get out of town. As more and more people are picked off and converted, Gary and his remaining friends are forced to confront their issues with each other and themselves. This is where the film loses some people. What starts off as a fairly normal, if eccentric, Edgar Wright comedy turns quickly into sci-fi madness. If the viewer isn’t ready and willing to make that mental leap, this is the point where they will abandon ship. I, for one, loved the insane turn the film took, particularly as it forced the characters to band together and confront each other in a way that wouldn’t have occurred in less extreme scenarios.
The writing and directing are both a delight. The script stays fresh and fast-paced, giving the audience a flash of uncomfortable truth before coming back with more antics and one-liners. The pace doesn’t let up for a second once the film really gets going, and this may actually be the best-directed action film of the summer. For all it’s scattered themes – growing up, reunions, addiction, regret, and even environmentalism – the film knows what it wants to say, where it’s going, and exactly how it’s getting there.
The actors really give The World’s End its weight in the end. Martin Freeman is at his uptight best as Oliver, an anxious businessman who doesn’t want to give up his tight-held control. Marsan and Considine also give memorable turns, playing flawed men who are truly trying their best to be responsible. Rosamund Pike gives a strong performance as Sam, the most sensible member of the ragtag group who handles the unexpected events with a cool head. However, Frost and Pegg are what anchor the movie, their real-life friendship bleeding into the bond between Andy and Gary. Their affection for each other, buried under years of resentment and anger, breaks to the surface just in time for them to deliver one of the best speeches in modern comedy during their last drunken stand against the aliens. Their friendship literally saves (and kind of wrecks) the planet, and it’s a joy to watch.
The World’s End is not for everyone. Between the abrupt introduction of sci-fi elements and the uncomfortable truths beneath the laughs, some people are certain to be turned off by the movie. However, for anyone who has realized that you really can’t go home again, the film hits all the perfect notes – even if it is with the sloppiness of a tipsy game of darts. At the end of the day, it’s best enjoyed with a few close friends, a drink or two, and an open mind.