Full disclosure: This is actually my second attempt at writing this review. I’m starting from scratch. The first pass was so focused on discussing spoilery material that there was literally one paragraph of spoiler-free ‘review.’ The World’s End has a couple of absolutely dynamite twists, surpassing even the third act turn that Hot Fuzz takes. But that’s not really what a review is for, and it’s not fair to you. You’re here to find out if this movie is for you or not.
So, let’s make an agreement. I’m going to say some things in this review that are vague or unjustified. The plot summary will give you a bit of a “…yeah, and?” reaction, I think. You’re going to have to trust me that I’m not spouting platitudes and hyperbole or whatever, and I’m doing this because I want you to be just as blind-sided as I was when I saw the film. Okay? Okay.
The World’s End sees Simon Pegg gathering Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsden and Martin Freeman together to reprise a pub crawl they all attempted when they were 18. Pasts are discussed, tensions surface and run high, life is discussed. And…then it gets weird.
“…yeah, and?” I hear you say. Trust me on this, okay? There is so much more to it but I just can’t talk about it. I want you to go in dark here.
The World’s End is the final instalment of the Cornetto trilogy, the series of off-beat and fantastic films by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost that thus far includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The World’s End is a departure from the previous two films in a couple ways. Where Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were pretty clear genre parodies, The World’s End is harder to define as a parody or not. It’s certainly a comedy, and it does take a few queues from a few choice texts (there’s that vagueness!), but it’s a real growth from the past two in terms of standing on its own. More crucially, it’s a more adult film than the other two. I don’t mean that it’s darker or anything, but it’s about things, really dripping in thematics and character development and discussion of the human condition. There is art film buried in the comedy, and this is personified by Simon Pegg’s character of Gary King.
I’ve always really liked Simon Pegg, but this is the film that made me realise that motherfucker can act. Gary King, our protagonist (eh, kinda), has hit rock-bottom by the start of The World’s End. Before, though, in 1990, he lived up to his name. Lord of his friends, the fearless leader, the one who escorted them all through that pub crawl in their tiny town, life still ahead of him. You just get a hint of who an 18 year old Gary was in the intro of the film, but Simon Pegg’s portrayal of him fills in so many blanks. If this guy was 18, he would be amazing. Here, in all his wit and dark coats and too cool apathy, he comes across as desperate. Grasping. This is a character who, in a comedy, mind, has reached such a point in his life that he thinks that gathering his school friends to repeat that 1990 pub crawl is a great idea, a real re-renaissance. Even before the film gets deeper into the character you can see so many layers in Pegg’s performance and the writing that you know there’s some real craft going into King’s portrayal, and the revelations about his past and his future cement Gary King as a legitimate creation in film.
This isn’t to discount the rest of the cast! Nick Frost’s turn for the straight-laced is a welcome change, and he sells it well, although the strength of the film’s cast really lies in the ensemble they’ve created. The Gary-dubbed Five Muskateers all play their parts in the group dynamic with aplomb, and it’s really a thrill to see five gifted comedic actors all gathered around tables for a decent chunk of the film’s run-time.
The Cornetto Trilogy’s scripts have always been clever in their use of foreshadowing and multiple meanings, but The World’s End kicks the symbolism machine into overdrive as well as doubling-down the existing tricks of Pegg and Wright. There’s the expected Cornetto Trilogy moment where the entire plot is revealed in the first act and some heavy hints and nudging towards what’s to come, but upon reading discussion and recollection of the film after my viewing of it the depths to which they’ve buried signposts and symbols to what’s to come is, frankly, infuriating. The interpolation of theme within the film is so good and so meticulous and the bastards are just so talented. Half of that first review that I mentioned up there was basically me pointing to innocuous jokes or lines of dialogue and going “BUT WAIT THEY REALLY MEANT” and I hate them for it. Clever, clever fucks.
From a technical level, I can’t discuss what I’d really like to without the dreaded spoilers. I will say that Edgar Wright has picked up more than a few moves on his work on Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. His trademark editing style has been toned down as well, which I found worked to the film’s advantage. Wright’s still a master of the quick cut, but his talents act to serve the whole rather than as a separate show-piece, and it reads as a gifted filmmaker reaching a new plateau of maturity.
Reaching maturity is a good way to describe The World’s End‘s place in the Cornetto Trilogy: where Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz had solid stories within their genre parodies and a few really clever tricks, The World’s End takes a step further and crafts everything into this pulsing whole of thematics. The team have put a lot of previously-learned skills towards making a film that’s really about something that you can discuss and dispute and discover that, Good Lord!, there’s ambiguity and double meanings and room for interpretation. All this from a really weird comedy from the Shaun of the Dead guys. The World’s End is in many ways about nostalgia, about looking back to when things were better. For me though, Wright and Pegg and Frost don’t need to look back. With The World’s End they’re better than they’ve ever been.