So The World's End is the end of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, the Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost team up that also brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And like how Shaun of the Dead mashed up rom-coms and zombie movies, and Hot Fuzz mixed buddy cop action movies with secret society conspiracy flicks, The World's End takes the old-friends-reunite-for-one-magic-night trope and slams an alien robot invasion right in its gut.
The movie opens with a flashback, narrated by Pegg, of Gary King's last day of school, when he led his tight group of friends on the Golden Mile, a visit to each of the twelve pubs in his small town. They failed to reach all of them, but it was still one of those perfect, golden nights of youth, and the best night of his life. Then we see Pegg today, telling the story in a group therapy session. A fellow patient asks why he never finished, and suddenly he is a man with a mission.
Pegg visits his old gang, played by Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Frost, convincing them to return to their hometown to reenact the pub-crawl, this time making it all the way to the World's End. These visits let us know that Pegg hasn't done much since he left school, unless you count a lot of drugs. He tells each that all the others have already joined. The first three are shocked that Andy (Frost) has agreed to go drinking with Pegg, but say that if he's in, they're in. Frost does prove to be the hardest sell, and there is clearly a backstory that explains his refusal to have anything to do with his old friend, but he appears to soften when Pegg reveals that his mum has died recently.
Things begin badly. Pegg is late to pick them up, and it quickly becomes clear that although Pegg is resolutely stuck in time, the town has changed just enough that their reunion is depressing rather than fun. Plus, the group has a boatload of unresolved issues, mostly about what an absolute asshole Pegg is. Just when they start to get into it, they realize that just about everyone in town has been replaced by robots, and they're going to have to fight their way out. Like they say, you can't go home again.
The characters are well-drawn and well-grounded. You probably know people like this, and every reveal from their past makes perfect sense. Gary King is not a very likable character, but he is very funny in a thank-god-I-don't-have-to-deal-with-him-in-real-life kind of way. In the hands of a heavier or less charismatic actor he would be insufferable, but Pegg has a light enough touch to garner some sympathy. Frost helps out as the hard-ass, no-fun, won't-get-fooled-again Andy, whose justified disdain for Gary allows the audience to let him off the hook just a little. The rest of the group hits all the right notes as characters who were hurt by him, but not really scarred. There are a couple of really great cameos that I won't spoil, but Wright's casting of these two small but important roles is so on the mark it is just a joy to watch the main characters react to them.
Wright's direction is impressive. He and cinematographer Bill Pope found an interesting way of shooting the pouring of each pint, which is impressive given how many pints the characters drink. The visual style of the film work really well, too, blending a quaint village with, well, ink-blooded alien robots.
The script is really tight, and expertly interweaves the characters' relationship threads with the alien robot fighting, but it is a little too clever for its own good at some points. (Everything that happens is laid out if you pay attention to the beginning of the film and the names of the pubs.) I did enjoy seeing how the robot fighting dove-tailed with each character's journey. The victory at the final showdown did seem a little easily won, but the coda sort of puts the lie to that.
On top of everything else, it is funny. The crowd I watched it with was pretty highly motivated to see it, which might have helped, but it was pretty much solid laughter all the way through. You'll have to decide on your own where it ranks against the previous films in the trilogy, but it definitely holds its own. So see it this weekend, and then grab a pint with your friends and argue over which one is best. Hopefully your trip to the pub ends a little better than King's does.
Check out my video review of The World's End here.