One night… five guys…twelve pints….
Let the battle commence!
So begins “The World’s End” – the third entry into Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s saga affectionately known as “The Three Flavours Cornettos” trilogy. The film follows 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead” and 2007’s “Hot Fuzz,” ultimately ending things with a bang and taking the audience to the bitter end… or the lager end.
Some wiser man than me once said, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts,” and that old adage epitomizes “The World’s End” perfectly. In this film, it’s the journey of five former high school buddies who are attempting to relive their youthful glory days by heading back to their hometown for some unfinished business.
That very important bit of “unfinished business,” according to Gary King, the Peter Pan of the group and the mastermind of the plan (played with unflinching brilliance by the ever-improving Pegg), is to return to the sleepy burg of Newton Haven like conquering heroes to complete an epic pub crawl that went “tits-up,” as they say across the pond.
However, it’s not just any ordinary pub crawl. It’s “The Golden Mile,” which consists of a dozen watering holes, each one sporting increasingly original monikers. Simply because the establishments were given specific names that wind up coinciding with what’s happening on the screen during the visit to that particular pub (get it?), I’ll name each one in order.
They start at the “The First Post.” Then, it’s off to “The Old Familiar.” Next up, is “The Famous Cock.” This is followed by “The
Cross Hands,” “The Good Companions,” “The Trusty Servant,” “The 2-Headed Dog,” “The Mermaid,” “Beehive,” “The King’s Head,” “Hole in the Wall,” and finally “The World’s End” is the last pub that’s visited. Or is it?
Just like every movie that was made before it, the first act of the film sets up the action that follows. That being said, not every movie made before this has an exposition that’s as cleverly written and skillfully performed as “The World’s End” is. Even with all of the cunning plot twists and quick-witted dialogue, it’s Wright’s directorial prowess that really gives the movie a smooth finish with very little aftertaste.
From the first introductory segment, where we’re introduced to the back story of Gary and “The Five Musketeers,” it’s fairly obvious that this is going to be a special experience.
The setup goes like this: On the last day of high school (June the 22nd, 1990, to be exact) the five buddies make their first attempt at completing the legendary “Golden Mile” challenge. There’s the aforementioned Gary, who refers to himself as “The King,” sports a jet black trench coat with a punk rock haircut to match and generally rules all before him. Amongst the King’s loyal subjects are his “wing man” Andy Knightley, the shy and timid Peter Page, the lightweight of the crew Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain, and the steadfast Steven Prince. Actually, now that I see all of the characters’ full names written out, I can see a “knights and castles” theme to them, but I digress.
During a booze-fueled night of debauchery, which included Gary getting frisky with Oliver’s sister Sam (played by an up-to-the-task Rosamund Pike) in a handicapped accessible bathroom (or as the Brits like to call it, “the disabled toilet”) and the crew comes up just a few pubs/pints away from their lofty goal. To hear the narrating Gary tell the story, one would think it was the most fabulous series of events to ever occur on the planet Earth. In fact, the first words of the film is a voiceover of Gary asking the audience: “Have you ever had one of those nights that turns out to be the best nights of your life?”
As the Gary’s narrative concludes, the flashback stops and we see that he is not a teenager anymore. In fact, Gary looks as if he’s sitting around a circle that is meant for sharing purposes (if you catch my drift). It is now we see that Gary has not let the past go, specifically the events of this particular night. It was also during this early scene that I remembered how great both Pegg and Wright were. This goes double for Wright, who has shown time and time again that he can turn the most ordinary scenes into visual feasts for the eyes.
Gary decides, right then and there, that this specific night of failed glory is keeping him from achieving success in his life. So, as he so eloquently puts it, he decides to “get the band back together” for a night that will not end until there is “blood on his knuckles, beer on his shirt, and sick on his shoes.” In other words, Gary is going to reach The World’s End and down that 12th pint, even if it kills him. Little does he know, it very well might.
The only problem is “the band” has no desire to even PICK UP their instruments, let alone play with The King. It seems that
Gary has wronged each and every one of them in some kind of way with his selfish behavior, but this doesn’t stop him from seeking them out – one by one – to alert them to his big plan. What Gary fails to consider is the fact that all of them have “grown up” and have REAL jobs and REAL families with REAL responsibilities – something Gary knows nothing about.
Needless to say, they all turn him down at first, but the persuasive and manipulative Gary preys upon their weaknesses and gets them to agree to get into “The Beast” (Gary’s ORIGINAL car from high school) for a road trip and return to Newton Haven one last time. In the end, the most difficult person in the group for Gary to convince was Andy, as the two former best mates had a falling out of sorts. Okay, Andy despises Gary, but for good reason. It seems that Gary did something terrible to Andy, all the way back in 1997, and Andy never forgave him for it (eventually, we ARE told what this was, but I certainly won’t tell YOU, here). Primarily, Andy tells Gary to ‘eff off, but the manipulative Gary pushes all the right buttons – again – this time telling Andy that his Mum had just passed away and he is searching for meaning in his lonely existence. He leaves Andy’s office, with crocodile tears welling up in his eyes, knowing full well that he has just bagged Andy – hook, line and sinker.
The five guys that portray the adult versions of the teenage boys have a certain chemistry during their scenes that’s almost hypnotizing. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit,” Arthur Dent in “Hitchhiker’s Guide…” and Tim in the original
British version of The Office) plays the stuffy Oliver with his normal dry, sardonic wit, while Eddie Marsan (Parkinson’s afflicted boxer Terry Donovan in Showtime’s critically-acclaimed new series, “Ray Donovan”) displays a wide range of emotion as the apprehensive Peter. However, it’s Paddy Considine (who played a mustachioed detective in Wright/Pegg’s last collaboration, “Hot Fuzz”) who is given the most screen time, besides Frost, here as Steven.
Steven’s character has the most satisfying and surprising character arc, due to his incessant swooning over Oliver’s sister (you know, the one that Gary had his way with in the loo). That being said, it’s the character of Andy that will no doubt become the crowd favorite. He eventually becomes a one-man wrecking machine with a huge case of beer muscles, but not before he starts off the night’s events as the “sober one” – a role that he proudly trumpets. Of course, he hasn’t had a drink since that aforementioned night with Gary back in 1997, but the night is young.
At the start of the crew’s second crack at The Golden Mile, Andy is still ordering tap water, much to the dismay of Gary, who asks Andy why he’s drinking “rain.” Andy’s answer is that it takes a man with big balls to walk into a pub, after a rugby game, and order up a water whist his mates get pissed from lagers. Again, Gary is not happy. He wants them all drinking with him or the night doesn’t count somehow. What’s that other old saying? “Misery loves company.” Well, that’s how Gary feels.
All of this goes on during the brilliant first act. The frenzied pace that best describes Gary’s sense of humor is a beautiful thing to behold. Pegg’s performance is one of the peak examples involving comic genius on a cinematic level. The first few pubs along their crawl are the canvasses where Pegg is able to paint a perfect portrait explaining who Gary is – without giving up a single piece of biographical data or information. It’s a lesson in subtlety and timing that is hilarious.
I can’t remember the last time that the first 30 minutes of a film left me with such a wide grin on my mug. If somebody turned on the house lights during act one, I guarantee they would’ve seen me grinning like an idiot. Yet, amongst all of its brilliance and intensity, some viewers might find that the whirlwind pace of the dialogue is a little hard to follow and if you couple that with the vast amount of British vernacular that’s tossed around, people might get a little lost. It reminds me of the advice I received before I watched my first “found-footage” film: Don’t worry about the shaky camera work making you sick at first; it gets better and easier to digest. The same goes for “The World’s End” and its chaotic cadence and language barrier. Just bear with it.
With all the flawlessness that act one has to offer, acts two and three are a little less tight. It is here that we are introduced to the science fiction element of the proceedings, which I hate to say it (because I usually ADORE the genre), doesn’t really add that much to the story. I get it, Wright and Pegg used the theme of invaders from another planet in order to coincide with the fact that Gary and crew are visitors from another world themselves, coming back to their hometown – to little fanfair – after all those years. Wright admitted in an interview that his “Three Flavours Cornettos” (a Cornetto is the British equivalent of a Drumstick ice cream cone) follows a pattern that exists throughout all of the films. He divulged that “Shaun of the Dead” = evolution, “Hot Fuzz” = devolution and “The World’s End” = revolution – for what it’s worth. How’s that for convolution?
Regardless of the thematic value that the sci-fi factor has to offer, it still felt like an unnecessary intrusion as it broke up the inspired tale that I was watching, which focused on the difficulty of getting older and the hindrance that growing up causes. I never thought I’d see the day where I would’ve been happier NOT to have seen fantasy elements weaved into a story.
If truth be told, the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (to which it owes a great deal to, especially the look of the robot/aliens) style plotline, in which blue-blooded, extraterrestrial robots rule the town and attempt to integrate any human that comes in contact with its inhabitants just seemed so complicated and forced. I mentioned the “…Body Snatchers” influence already, but it also borrows a bit from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide…” as well. It was almost as if Pegg and Wright figured that a film featuring aliens/robots would be the next logical step (from zombies in “Shaun…” and sacred cults in “…Fuzz”) in the progression of their trilogy.
Even the reasoning they came up with to explain the presence of these aliens/robots was extremely forced and, dare I say, unoriginal. I have to say, I expected more from this group of guys… plot-wise, that is. I’m not saying that the film is bad because of it; actually it’s quite the contrary. It’s still one of the best (if not THE best) films I’ve seen this summer. I’m simply stating that it would’ve been a better effort without a lot of the sci-fi stuff.
I’m pretty sure that the ending of the film is going to divide the audience as well. I’m of the mindset that they took the sci-fi
aspect waaay to far with the conclusion they went with. It just seemed so “out there,” in relation to the rest of the story. I’m sure that ending was meant to spark-up a debate and I believe that some fans of the sci-fi genre might look at the finale in a positive light. I, for one, am not one of those people. If this film really does represent the third film in a trilogy, the concluding
events of this film don’t match up with the events of the first two. It’s a little like putting a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit.
But, these are small gripes in the grand scheme of things. Despite the various minor blunders, “The World’s End” is a worthy entry on the resume of all involved. It matches the intensity of Pegg and Wright’s previous collabos and keeps up with the frenetic pace and the striking visual panache that Wright reached with “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Wright does manage to weave some of the action scene techniques he learned while making the 2010 cult classic into the fabric of “The World’s End.”
The bathroom scene in particular, in which the group first encounters the robots (they call them “blanks” in the film), is literally one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed on screen. On a visual level, they’re much more subdued than the ones from “Scott Pilgrim…,” due to the fact that the actual choreography uses a lot less CGI and more blocking and practical effects. Still, SOME CGI is necessary. I mean, how else can you portray heads, torsos and appendages spraying blue blood after being ripped from somebody’s body? If you find a better way than computer generated imagery, let me know.
Bottom line: if you liked any of the movies that I mentioned during this review, you will LOVE “The World’s End.” Just consider yourself warned…
After you leave the theater, you might find yourself paying a visit to “Dr. Ink” before the night is through.