It has felt like a long wait for The World’s End, the third film directed by Edgar Wright, produced by Nira Park and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, in a series loosely characterised as “genres the British don’t often do, done in a very British way”. The World’s End is also the weakest film of the three, but that’s not to say it isn’t good fun for your money.
Gary King (Pegg) is a man who, numerically at least, is in his forties. However, in his head he’s still 18. The World’s End is absolutely steeped in late 80s/early 90s nostalgia, with a soundtrack loaded with Blur, Happy Mondays, James, The Stone Roses and, incredibly, Soup Dragons. Gary King still plays the mix tape his friend, Steven (the always wonderful Paddy Considine), made for him when they were teenagers because in his last days of school Gary was popular, invincible and had the world at his feet. Now an alcoholic clinging to his glory days, nothing is going to make him grow up.
Except maybe, just maybe, he will if he manages to complete the Golden Mile: a pub crawl of the 12 pubs in his hometown. Gary dates his adult failures back to when he and his four friends bailed from the crawl at pub nine and is now determined to fix his mistakes. He goes back to those four friends, Andy (Frost), Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver “O-man” (Martin Freeman) and Steven, now with adult lives they seem perfectly happy with, and convinces them to go back to Newton Haven with him to complete what they started. Joining them is Rosamund Pike as Sam, Oliver’s sister and Gary’s one-time shag. Getting in the way of this quest is the small matter of an attempted alien invasion.
For those not familiar with the so-called Cornetto Trilogy, each film takes the form of a buddy comedy accompanied by over-the-top action. The preceding film, a cop action flick called Hot Fuzz, was released over six years ago. Shaun of the Dead, a zombie film, appeared on screen three years before that. And the television series that kickstarted it all off, Spaced, started airing on Channel 4 in 1999. I recorded each episode (on VHS!) to watch after I got home from drinking in the pub on Friday nights with my teenage friends. My entire adult life has been peppered with Wright-Pegg-Frost offerings and if any review is going to date me, it’s this one.
I mention this because just like Hot Fuzz did back in 2007, The World’s End carried a lot of expectation. The difference is that while HF surpassed my expectations; TWE failed to meet them. However, if TWE had followed Shaun of the Dead, I probably would have been pleased. Not thrilled and certainly not desperate to go right back into the cinema and watch it again, but I would have been satisfied. This is because TWE is essentially Shaun but with a much bigger budget. It’s funny, shows off some good action sequences and strong lead performances but has absolutely no plot and lacks a lot of the charm of Shaun. What TWE has gained in special effects, it has lost in emotional resonance. Although the flashbacks to the teenage gang are quite endearing.
What The World’s End also lacks are any truly stand-out moments. I am struggling to think of anything that had the same sense of fun as Shaun and Ed throwing vinyl at zombies, or the same whole-cinema-gasps-out-loud factor as Nicholas Angel knocking out an old lady with a flying kick. What it does have are some unexpected turns, a lot of laughs and too many lengthy monologues. Nick Frost puts in a sympathetic performance as the long-suffering Andy, Gary’s best friend back in the day and it’s fun to identify the recurring actors from the previous films: there’s probably a drinking game in spotting them. You’ll also get Wright’s manic, eye-popping direction and the running gags are a delight. Yet Simon Pegg should probably stick to playing nice guys. Not once did I believe Gary’s motivations.
The World’s End will keep you entertained and it steams by pretty quickly for its running time but as Gary King keeps pushing his friends to continue his quest to complete the Golden Mile, the reasons for complying, and the plot, get thinner. It’s been a brilliant ride but no more Cornettos please*; it’s time to grow up.
*I don’t mean this literally. If anyone wants to send me some mint Cornettos this summer, I will happily take them up on it.