The World’s End (2013)
“One Night. Six Friends. Twelve Pubs. Total Annihilation.”
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.
The third in the so-called Cornetto trilogy from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, The World’s End is a deceptively clever movie which hides its ‘serious’ messages — how the way we each cope with the loss of youth can have a profound influence on the ‘mature’ adult we become, and the conflicting attractions and repercussions of authoritarianism versus libertarianism — behind a hugely enjoyable SF comedy plot.
Pegg justifiably awards himself the lead role of Gary King, a 40-year-old slacker who has failed to develop psychologically and emotionally since the night of an epic pub crawl which he and his four friends never actually completed, and during which Gary snared, then thoughtlessly blew off, the girl who could have turned his life into something altogether different had he only possessed the emotional maturity to realise it. The fact that they never completed that pub crawl has grated on Gary, and he determines to recreate that night, but this time follow it to a successful conclusion at The World’s End, the final pub on the ‘Golden Mile’ of Newton Haven’s drinking establishments.
Whereas Gary has remained in a state of perpetual adolescence, still driving the same car he had in 1989 with the same tape of music in its tape deck, his friends have carved out successful lives for themselves. Steven Prince (Paddy Considine — 24 Hour Party People) has his own building company and a 26-year-old fitness instructor for a girlfriend, Peter Page (Eddie Marsan — London Boulevard, Snow White and the Huntsman) works in the family car dealership, Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman — The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) is an estate agent, and Andy Knightley (Nick Frost — Snow White and the Huntsman) is senior partner in a law firm that bears his name. Somehow, Gary persuades or tricks each of them into joining him on his madcap mission. However, old tensions and resentments are never far from the surface, and the night looks as if it will come to a premature end until Gary makes the bizarre discovery that their former hometown has been taken over by aliens.
We all know someone like Gary King — and, in fact, there’s a little of him in all of us — although Pegg and Wright’s creation is something of an extreme example. These people, when challenged, will usually point to the ‘freedoms’ they enjoy compared to those who achieve positions of responsibility either domestically or career-wise, but it’s an argument that rarely convinces. This is the rich seam mined by The World’s End which precedes the sudden shift in the storyline — which might seem jarring to those unfamiliar with the story — but which is really just a common perception taken to its furthest extremes. How often have we returned to the town in which we grew up and been slightly unsettled to discover that, although everything might look more or less the same, it — and its residents — also look somehow different — alien, even?
It’s only once the tone of the story changes so dramatically that The World’s End really comes to life — the clashes between Gary and his mates come across as a little stale and predictable before the alien invasion plot gives it an altogether different context – and events grow increasingly funny as circumstances conspire to keep the friends following the route of their pub crawl even after they discover the true nature of the town’s residents. That conflict between authoritarianism and libertarianism begun by the corresponding conflict between Gary’s way of life and that of his friends becomes more compelling when it’s transferred to the benign dictatorship of the alien life-force which seeks to make the earth a more civilised place at the price of our freedom of thought, even though it does, in a strange way, vindicate the lifestyle choice of Gary more than that of his friends.
The World’s End is a movie that might well appeal to older viewers, those who have undergone the seismic shift from youth to early middle-age, all of whom will be able to identify closely with the film’s characters. The humour, however — and The World’s End is extremely funny at times — is broad enough to be enjoyed by all, and after the disappointing ordinariness of Hot Fuzz, it’s good to see the Cornetto trilogy conclude with a movie that’s every bit as funny as Shaun of the Dead.