It was a long wait for The World's End (and we're still trying to figure out how the rest of Portland's critics saw it before us—sneaky buggers!). Post-apocalypse, it seems it was worth the delay.
Critic's Grade: B+
Hyperkinetic director Edgar Wright's collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost—Shaun of the Dead
and Hot Fuzz
—share the same DNA, and not just in the surface-value genre-mashing that makes the films disarmingly hysterical and unexpectedly touching. Beneath the surface of a blood-soaked zombie apocalypse, or among the spent bullet-casings of a buddy-cop shootout, the team explores the fears of men who were once the boys weaned on these very genres: abandonment by peers, uncertainty of the future, the inability to grow up, and, chiefly, the increasingly apparent inability to deal with hangovers.
It's no surprise, then, that Wright, Pegg and Frost have rounded out what is unofficially named the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy with The World's End, a film that dives deep into the fractured friendship of a group of small-town pals drawn back home by their former fearless leader/current feckless fuckup (Pegg) to re-attempt the Golden Mile, a 12-stop pub crawl that bested them two decades prior. Under the pretense that his mother has died, Pegg's Gary King ("King Gary" as he insists on being called; "King Gay" as he's called behind his back) prods his reluctant mates—Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan—out of their blue-collar lives and happy marriages and into one more night of debauchery. Tempers flair, painful memories resurface, regrets are aired and friendships are laid bare. It's kind of like The Big Chill, but without the heavy-handedness. And with a legion of murderous, body-snatching robots disguised as the townfolk and bent on taking over the universe.
As with Shaun and Fuzz, Wright proves a master of genre bending, interspersing hysterical conversational bits and sight gags with moments of pure sentiment and all-out action mayhem as the group decides the best way to convince the ever-growing menace around them that they're oblivious as they continue their crawl. As such, the film plays more and more like a night out with a bunch of lovable drunks: They bound from serious to seriously pissed to horny to absolutely ridiculous with each passing drink.
In lesser hands, that could be a recipe for a Harold & Kumar-type romp, but Wright is one of the most original and energetic filmmakers out there, and paired with Pegg and Frost's expert rapport and a highly charismatic cast, there is no limit to what the team can tackle.
Yet, despite its many strengths, The World's End remains the weakest of the Cornetto trilogy. That was inevitable for a series whose first two entries were instant classics. Despite its ample weirdness, The World's End feels like the most straightforward, accessible film the group has put together, and it’s also most morose. Pegg's core character is wounded in so many ways, it's impossible not to feel sorry for him as his mates turn their backs on him. All he really wants is to re-live the one night when he was on top of the world. He is a spastic, walking ball of nostalgic longing. Between its beheadings and dick jokes, The World's End is oddly contemplative, in a way that's kind of heartbreaking.
It's a strange approach for a movie about a robot invasion, but a perfect way to cap such a wonderful series: As soon as the credits roll, fans have to face the fact that this tremendous series is over. It makes you instantly want to re-live these films for the first time.