Nearly ten years after Shaun of the Dead and six years after Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return with the final installment of their “Cornetto” trilogy. As might be expected, The World’s End is packed with splattery, beer-drenched fight scenes, some laugh out loud lines and clever visual gags.
However, this final film in the trilogy is also a more grown-up film than its predecessors, its humor tinged with sadness, and its thinly veiled social satire sharper and more poignant than anything Wright has shown us before.
Pegg’s character, middle-aged eternal-teenager Gary King, cherishes memories of an unfinished pub crawl he and his friends embarked upon when they were young. For him, it was the high point of his life: back when anything and everything was still possible. He decides to reunite the old gang, return to his hometown, Newton Have, and finally complete the crawl. The friends in question (played by Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan) reluctantly tag along, more out of pity for Gary than from any real desire to relive their youth. But as the group begins their night, they start to notice that things in Newton Haven have changed. The locals are eerily bland and robotic, and the town itself is hiding more than just a few secrets.
Pegg’s performance is one of the highlights of the film. Dressed in a black trench coat with his badly died hair clashing with his beard, Pegg’s character Gary drives the exact same car he did in his teens, listens to the same music, and kids himself that he’s still the popular heartthrob/bad boy he once was. He veers between a David Brent-like lack of self-awareness and a genuinely touching vulnerability. The moment he chooses to repeatedly run his head into a wall rather than reveal his troubled past is a near perfect mix of humor and pathos.
The tense relationship between Gary and Frost’s character, Andy, is particularly well conveyed, and it’s interesting to see Frost play the straight guy this time around. He’s the teetotal, uptight lawyer to Pegg’s unreliable wastrel. Pegg’s scenes with Rosamond Pike, who plays Gary’s old flame Same, also provide some stand out moments. Unfortunately, Pike is rather under-deployed, remaining absent while most of the main action ensues. While it is clear that Wright wanted to maintain a bro-ish, male-focused humor, it’s a real pity that they didn’t make more use of Pike’s considerable comic talent.
Location wise, the depressingly humdrum Newton Haven “Home of the UK’s First roundabout” provides the perfect backdrop for the film’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style events. As in Hot Fuzz, a lot of the humor here comes from the film’s juxtaposition of the danger with the completely banal. The unique ennui of a dull English commuter-belt town is perfectly evoked. And The Doors Alabama (Whiskey Bar) is used to glorious ironic effect as the characters futilely decide to continue with their pub crawl despite being in mortal danger.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is often interpreted as an allegory about the dangers of political indoctrination, but it’s clear that Wright’s ttargetin World’s End is more pervasive: globalization, and the smiling, homogeneous blandness of corporate culture. Identical, soulless chain-pubs, Wright implies, lead to identical soulless people. The beauty here is that even as the film reveals the dangers of Gary’s immaturity, it also manages to celebrate individualism and freedom of spirit. The film’s final scenes are both deliciously tongue in cheek and subversively optimistic.
All of the key ingredients that linked Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are very much in evidence in World’s End. The Frost-Pegg partnership, the blend of genre action, comedy and human drama, and the inevitable reference to a certain frozen dessert. Comparisons with Shaun, the film that started a new sub genre – the “rom-zom-com”, are difficult to avoid. This causes The World’s End to not feel as ground breaking, fresh or original. However, thanks to complex characterization, Wright’s pertinent social commentary and the film’s irresistible absurdist humor, both “Cornetto” fans and newcomers to the trilogy should find plenty to enjoy here.