I wish I could have seen The World’s End without any prior knowledge, if just for the scene in which the film completely changes direction. It’s a great scene – set in a pub toilet – that is both unexpected and hilarious, but that giddy feeling that rippled through me would have been magnified exponentially if I didn’t know what the film’s twist was. Not that I could have seen the film without knowing – the adverts on buses, let alone the trailer, made it blatant what was going on – but a man can dream. Which is part of what this film is actually about – the nostalgic power of ‘What if?’ and potential and expectations versus reality and life. But, I should hasten to add, much funnier than I make it sound.
The World’s End is funny – this is a proper comedy, with jokes, throwbacks, in-jokes, slapstick, smutty phrasing (‘she had a wide-on’), in addition to the great pub brawls and other action that punctuate the films. As in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, this is a tightly scripted film that sets up its beats in the early stages (in this film, a prologue voiced by Gary [Simon Pegg] relives the pub crawl of five 18 year olds, film in classic Edgar Wright whip-pan, flash-cut style, and you can see/hear how things will unfold through the film, even down to tiny details), and which also is a film which mixes comedic interaction of characters with another film genre. It is a fitting finale for the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, and expands on the themes of friendship and responsibility that were a strong part of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Twenty years after the first attempt to complete the Newton Haven Golden Mile pub crawl, Gary has got the old gang back together to try it again: Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan, who have all moved on with their lives, with proper jobs far from Newton Haven. Gary thinks that he is a returning hero, but Newton Haven is not what it was – the pubs are typically identikit of a lot of modern British pubs – and there is something else going on that is even more troubling …
I really enjoyed this film – it’s a great feeling to be laughing out loud in a cinema and being entertained (although I think that my girlfriend and I were the only people who were getting all the jokes and references). It’s hilarious and thrilling and occasionally thoughtful, when it is lamenting the ‘Starbucking’ of small towns, or contemplating the concept of nostalgia and the contrast between what we remembered/overemphasised in our memories and change that occurs in us, the people we knew and the places we came from. You could almost see it as an essay on the perhaps guilt of creators whose work has fetishized and references culture from their youth and get to make a living as adults still wallowing in these same things and make-believe, but that could be just me.
The film keeps Pegg and Frost’s relationship as central but changes the dynamic from the previous two films: Pegg was the everyman then the straight man in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, respectively, but here he is the one on the edge, unlikable but with all the best jokes; Frost was funny man and buffoon in the previous film, but here he’s a lawyer and recovering alcoholic with unresolved issues with Pegg’s character. As usual, the film manages to squeeze in loads of British faces (David Bradley, Reece Shearsmith, Nicholas Burns, Darren Boyd, Michael Smiley, Bill Nighy, plus cameos from Mark Heap, Julia Deakin, Rafe Spall, and Steve Oram and Alice Lowe from Sightseers), most of whom have appeared in previous Wright/Pegg collaborations; it also manages like Hot Fuzz to include a former Bond in the shape of Pierce Brosnan in a minor role – if the guys make another film together many years down the road, will they get Daniel Craig to appear in it? The film also has a cracking soundtrack, with a host of tunes from 20 years ago to make us nostalgic for those Madchester days (Soup Dragons, Primal Scream, Blur, Pulp, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses).
If the film has a slight weakness, it’s that it is all about the boys – Rosamund Pike is the main female character but she doesn’t get a lot of screen time – which makes me wonder what a film created by the original Spaced triumvirate of Pegg, Wright and Jessica Hynes would be like. However, this is a very minor quibble from a long-time fan of these people.
This is a very good film. It is a carefully structured piece, very British in its sense of humour, referencing and science fiction, which mixes action with humour and genuinely funny dialogue plus genuine character moments. It also has the courage to take its premise through to its ultimate conclusion, which is surprising and brave, while still having a sense of humour – Pegg shouting ‘Fuck off, you lamp’ as part of the climactic scene is indicative of this. The boys have created a perfect accompaniment to the earlier two films: Wright directs delightfully from his and Pegg’s great script, and I look forward to watching the trilogy over and over again.