Film Review – The World’s End
The World’s End
The World’s End is a nostalgia trip. Primarily because this film is the coda to a trilogy that began nearly ten years ago, but also because the film’s subjects are five middle-aged men attempting to recreate, however more triumphantly, a failed pub crawl from twenty years earlier. The Golden Mile it’s called, and it includes twelve pubs, starting with The First Post and ending twelve pints later at The World’s End. Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Andy (Nick Frost) were all led by Gary (Simon Pegg) on a wild night that ended in vomiting, drunken sex, and general shenanigans before they could complete the crawl. Gary, however, sat in a field the morning after watching the sun rise over the town of Newton Haven and felt more alive than he’d ever felt before. It was the best night he’d ever had. Twenty years on and it still is.
Edgar Wright’s final film in what he calls The Cornetto Trilogy—more of a thematic trilogy than a narrative one—is the weakest of the three, but it says something about Wright and the gang that their least successful film is still miles above the competition. Still, the film suffers a bit from a weak premise: following a gang of five middle-aged men on a pub crawl is pretty weak sauce, especially when they stick to their plan despite an escalating series of disasters. The crew is all game, though, and the writing by Wright and Pegg is still sharp, snappy, and smart. And what they do succeed in is creating five distinct and memorable characters worth rooting for. Even Gary. A perpetual manchild, Gary hasn’t changed a bit from that night twenty years ago. He still sports the same black Sisters of Mercy t-shirt and black trenchcoat, the same array of necklaces, the same sunglasses. When he pulls up to drive the reluctant others—all who lead well-to-do, productive lives—on this madcap mission, he’s still rolling around in the same beater Peter sold him in high school. On the road, they reminisce over the music playing on the radio. “I made you a mixtape with this song on it,” Steven says. “This is it,” Gary says. He’s never taken it out of the player.
And so we begin to see this is a film about growing up, about the dangers of nostalgia, and of living too much in the past. In the opening montage, we see Gary getting ready for the big day in a depressing shoebox of an apartment, while the remainder of the gang we see with cush jobs and families while they wear suits to work. They’ve grown up. They’ve made something of themselves. It puts Gary into stark perspective, and Simon Pegg does a commendable job of playing this chump with a good measure of humor and pathos. We could be annoyed with him (and sometimes we are, and that’s the point) but we play along because he’s good-natured about it and simply wants to have a good time with his buds. Unfortunately for Gary, though, Newton Haven has changed, too. All the local pubs have been “Starbucks’d”—removed of any local flavor and made generic—and nobody he used to know seems to recognize him. A new cadre of youth seems to be taking over, wearing loose hoodies and big headphones. When he approaches one of these youths in a pub restroom, the real drama kicks in.
And that’s my main issue with the film: it drags pretty heavily in the first forty minutes or so. There are some funny moments and some witty one-liners, and it’s true that this is set-up for the characters—the film is endearing them to us—but the vibrant frivolity of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are missing here. But once that youth accosts Gary in the bathroom, the pace picks up and steadily increases. We are dealt some pretty incredible (if overly choreographed) fight sequences and increasing tension as members of the gang we’ve grown to love are slowly picked off. But the film, just as those that preceded it, has an expert way of keeping things funny amidst all the death and carnage, and the final confrontation between the remaining members of the gang and the entity attempting to take over the town is like a hilarious conflation of the best of Dr. Who and Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
The World’s End seems to be thumbing its nose at movies like The Hangover and Old School. Whereas those movies took middle-aged men acting like children and glorified the behavior, this film takes a deeper look at the pathology of nostalgia and the difficulties of growing up. Growing up doesn’t have to mean conformity, or robotically accepting the status quo. This film maintains that one can retain their individuality while still progressing forward. In the end, The World’s End isn’t the best of the three films comprising this trilogy (to this day, Shaun of the Dead remains my personal favorite), but it is loads of fun, is heartfelt and endearing, and delivers a touching message about letting go of the past in order to take hold of the future. Cheers to that.
Also, be sure to check our interview with director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg & Nick Frost.