It’s been six since years since Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright last made a film together. In the years since, each has gone on to bigger things but nothing has quite captured what made them so appealing in their earlier collaborations.
The World’s End (15)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike
* * *
Whether it was their work on genius sitcom Spaced (which Pegg co-created with co-star Jessica Hynes), their rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead, or the small town/big action cop movie mayhem of Hot Fuzz, the combination of Pegg and Frost in front of the camera and Wright behind it brings a specific energy that’s been hard to recreate.
That’s the thing about chemistry, though: it can effortlessly transform the constituent parts into something special, even if those parts might at times feel a little over-familiar. That’s certainly the case with The World’s End. Their third feature together – and the final instalment of their so-called Cornetto trilogy – sees them pulling off not just another winning genre mash-up full of riotous humour and clever writing, but a film that explores in some surprisingly poignant ways the very notion of what it means to rekindle something that could easily have had its day.
Kicking off with a speedy way-back-when flashback to the summer of 1990 – and the evening of a legendary bender that culminated in a failed attempt by 18-year-old Gary King (Pegg) and his friends to complete the 12 pubs/12 pints “Golden Mile” pub crawl round their hometown of Newton Haven – the film then catches us up with Gary 20 years later. Now a somewhat broken figure facing down his forties, he is still haunted by the alcohol-fuelled optimism of that failed quest, to the extent that he’s convinced himself that the only way he can get his life back on track and get some closure is to get his old gang back together and make it to final pub on the route, The World’s End.
The trouble is, his old friends have grown up in a way Gary has refused to do. Mostly married and with careers, children and other responsibilities, their idea of fun no longer involves drinking 12 pints, throwing up on their shoes and dealing with black-outs and dodgy weed-invoked whiteys.
Nor does it really ever involve Gary, whom we quickly realise is an insufferable prick whose ranting, romanticised take on their youthful indiscretions is a product of a selective memory that they’re not especially willing to indulge. Nevertheless, Gary has a way of wearing people down and so, reluctantly joining him for his sad trip down memory-impaired lane are timid car salesman Pete (Eddie Marsan), fastidious estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), property developer Steven (Paddy Considine) and Gary’s former best friend Andrew (Nick Frost), now a successful corporate lawyer. They can’t quite believe Gary still drives the same car, wears the same clothes and even listens to the same pre-Brit-pop mix-tapes (tracks by The Soup Dragons, Suede, Blur and Primal Scream provide on-the-nose thematic and cultural signifiers). And they can’t quite believe either how depressingly generic everything has become in their former stomping ground. Though Gary is too self-obsessed to notice, all their old haunts have been turned into characterless chain pubs, and far from being welcomed back with open arms, nobody seems to know who these “prodigal sons” even are.
That, however, is part of an amusing sci-fi twist that sees our increasingly inebriated gang confronting the world’s end en route to The World’s End. Such a plot-turn, of course, bears a superficially similarity to last month’s This is the End.
But where that film was content to use the coming apocalypse as a blatant and self-indulgent exploration of its own Hollywood participants’ bubble-like existence, here Wright and Pegg (who co-wrote the film together, much like they did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), have turned out a much cleverer critique of the homogenising nature of corporate culture, particularly in an IT age where everyone and everything is inter-connected.
As the plot puts a robotic spin on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the film layers in dozens of gags involving roundabouts, The Sisters of Mercy and hoppy ales that give it an identity all its own while also re-affirming Pegg, Wright and Frost’s ability to make distinctively British fare that can compete with Hollywood without being consumed by it.
The latter should come as a relief to anyone who feared we may have lost Pegg to high profile blockbuster supporting roles and Wright to comic-book movies (he’s currently prepping Ant-Man for Marvel having already made Scott Pilgrim vs The World), even if the surprising final act suggests they may – perhaps rightly – be calling time on this particular phase of their careers. If so, The World’s End is a funny and fittingly bittersweet swansong.