The pub crawl leads to middle age in Edgar Wright's trilogy capper, 'The World's End'
The World's End Focus Features
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Pierce Brosnan
Rated R / 1 hour, 49 minutes
August 23, 2013
(out of four)
Few series are made up of such distinctive parts, yet manage to feel so entirely symbiotic, as Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's now-completed Cornetto Trilogy. With The World's End, they have concluded a singular, cohesive opus on coming to terms with the passage of time, and a rather profound portrait of the disconnect between aging and growing up.
What began in quasi-adolescent stasis in a pub in Shaun of the Dead, and continued in an aggressively insular small town in Hot Fuzz, comes full circle in The World's End - yet another pub, yet another small town - and does so with deepened maturity, its nostalgia and youthful exuberance tempered by a wiser perspective. Taken as a whole, the trilogy is like an abstracted, genre-hopping, bromance equivalent to Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight. And like that saga, this one arrives at surprising insights and bittersweet conclusions.
The five main characters in The World's End find themselves, not unlike Wright and Pegg, on the cusp of middle age. Four of them have long since embraced that fact, the one holdout being the group's de-facto alpha male, Gary King (Pegg), who still clings to the open-ended promise of eternal youth and freedom. There's a certain moment that comes along when we're young - that feeling of omnipotence and invincibility and hope and absolute fulfillment - a moment as joyful as it is fleeting. For Gary, that moment came when he was 18, a self-styled conquering hero of his modest hometown of Newton Haven. He had his best pals, popularity, casual sex and all the booze an 18-year-old can stomach (read: a lot). The most magical night of all was the night he and his friends decided to attempt The Golden Mile, a 12-step pub crawl beginning, appropriately, at The First Post and finishing up at The World's End.
But they never did quite make it, and they were never again quite so close in the months and years that followed. Adulthood whisked them away, leaving unspoken resentments and personal demons in their wake. Two decades on, Gary is still resisting that transition - or, rather, he's failed at it, having never found the complete contentedness and freedom he felt in those all-too-brief teenage years - and he's found himself on quite a different 12-step path. When we first see him, he's recounting his glory days in an AA meeting, his face the absolute picture of desperation and nostalgic regret.
And so he puts his "recovery" on hold for one last shot at glory, recruiting his old cohorts - all of them now pushing 40 - for one more go at The Golden Mile. The other four - Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Gary's once-best pal Andy (Nick Frost) - have all, to varying degrees, moved on with their lives, and they see Gary's proposal as exactly the desperate attempt to recapture lost youth that it clearly is. But they can't quite resist his pleas, and so they find themselves begrudgingly humoring their old friend in their old hometown, where things seem at once eerily the same and eerily off-kilter.
(Mild spoilers ahead, though it's nothing that's not clear from the trailers or TV spots.) Amidst their bickering and baggage, they begin to suspect, and eventually discover for certain in quite explicit and hilarious fashion, that their beloved town has been infiltrated by robots, who in some form or fashion have exerted control over everything and everyone. What ensues is a distinctly Edgar Wrightian take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, by way of John Carpenter and Monty Python.
Throughout this trilogy, Wright and Pegg have brilliantly pulled off a difficult balancing act - satirizing their chosen genres, while at the same time earnestly and lovingly indulging them. Shaun of the Dead wasn't just a send-up of zombie movies; it was a great zombie movie in its own right. Ditto Hot Fuzz with buddy-cop and slasher flicks. In The World's End, they take on apocalyptic science fiction, and the results are terrific once again. Truth be told, I don't think Wright's experiments with the genre are quite as sharp as they were in his first two entries (one key late sequence, while still pretty amusing, is also a big data dump of exposition and easy resolution), but he's such a gifted comedic mind and action filmmaker that, even when certain elements aren't entirely working, the film remains an absolute joy to watch. (The staging of the action is stellar. There's such absolute precision in the choreography and such fluidity in Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope's camerawork. Most of today's action directors would be well-served by studying Wright's films as exhaustively as possible.)
As the AA meeting at the opening suggests (and as any story of a near-40-year-old trying to relive his youth pretty much requires), there's some dark material at the heart of the story, which leads us into surprisingly prickly and poignant territory. It's only fitting that its emotional center comes from the relationship between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whose characters have a lot of emotional baggage to unpack.
Just as Shaun of the Dead used zombies as a tongue-in-cheek comment on modern existence - as well as a roundabout way for the central couple to address its relationship issues - The World's End finds that its pending apocalypse (or whatever it is) has more than a little relevance to what's going on in Gary's life. One doesn't instinctively put a movie like this into the "coming of age" category, but that's exactly what it is. Gary has been holding on to an impossible ideal since the moment he briefly grasped it two decades earlier. His ascension into adulthood has been a long time coming - it just took a robot invasion to get him there.