Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright are not the sorts to rest on their laurels too long. After the early promise of Pegg’s TV series Spaced, the trio launched into a golden phase where they could do no wrong. Shaun of the Dead was an unexpected mega hit, extracting a $30m return on its $4m budget, plus a huge cult following. Its follow-up, Hot Fuzz, did even better, managing $80m from an $8m investment. The movies had laughs and a style that made them instantly
Various side projects kept the players busy. A venture into alien comedy, Paul, saw Greg Mottola direct Pegg and Frost in a movie many fans felt lack the edge of the earlier movies. Maybe it was the Wright touch that was missing?
If so, the reuniting of the trio in the form of The World’s End, scripted by Wright and Pegg, was surely the moment anticipated by thousands of fans around the globe, the third part of the so-called “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy“. In many ways the fans would be on home turf with a tale set largely in quintessentially English pubs and locations (Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth in Hertfordshire masquerading as the fictional Newton Haven), just as Shaun of the Dead used a London pub (actually The Duke of Albany in New Cross) and other locations, while Hot Fuzz adopted Wells in Somerset as the village of Sanford.
Indeed, all three parts are very English in their humour, which may help to explain their success in an American market which tends to regard English humour as “quaint”, while never quite “getting” drinking customs over this side of the pond. The drinkers on this occasion are a fine collection of English character actors: Pegg, Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, plus the estimable Rosamund Pike (she who found global renown more recently in Gone Girl) as Freeman’s sister. The characters are unmistakably walking stereotypes, but they are nonetheless well-played – as far as the actors get a chance to demonstrate their art and craft before odd things start to happen.
For the first half hour or so the movie tracks a fairly conventional plot about drinking and recreating a legendary pub crawl ending at the eponymous World’s End, which was never quite reached when the fivesome were leaving school. However, things go badly off plan. Rather than trying to summarise the plot, I’ll let Wikipedia take the strain:
Gary King (Simon Pegg), a hedonistic alcoholic, resolves to track down his estranged friends and complete the Golden Mile, an infamous pub crawl encompassing 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven. The group attempted the crawl as teenagers, but failed to reach the final pub, the World’s End.
Gary convinces Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver “O-Man” (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andrew (Nick Frost) to join him in Newton Haven. While his friends have adult lives and responsibilities, Gary has changed little since 1990, remaining untrustworthy and impulsive. In the first pub, the First Post, the group is not met with the hero’s welcome Gary expects. They are joined at the Old Familiar by Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who rejects a sexual advance from Gary. Steven has always loved Sam, and has never forgiven Gary for sleeping with her many years ago.
In the Cross Hands, Gary gets into a fight with a local teenager. To Gary’s surprise, the boy is inhumanly strong and agile. Gary accidentally knocks his head off, exposing him as a robot. Gary’s friends join him for another fight with more robot youths. Afterwards, they decide to continue the pub crawl to avoid attracting suspicion.
At the Two Headed Dog, the group meets Sam and Gary warns her of the robot invasion. At the Mermaid, robot schoolgirls attempt to seduce the group and steal their DNA. When Sam’s childhood crush, Adrian, appears, she panics and drags the others from the pub, explaining that Adrian had died in a motorcycle crash years previously. At the next pub, Guy Shepherd (Pierce Brosnan), a teacher at their school, encourages the group to accept their fate and become robots. The group realise that Oliver has been replaced with a robot, initiating a brawl. Despite the danger, Gary insists on drinking a pint during the fight. He gets Sam to her car and tells her to leave Newton Haven.
At the bowling club, the friends accuse each other of being replaced with robots like Oliver. Steven, Peter and Andrew prove themselves with scars from their childhood, but Gary refuses to roll his sleeves up to reveal his elbow scar. Instead, he proves his identity by headbutting a pillar: no one else could be so stupid. The robots close in on the group, and Peter is captured, but Gary is determined to finish the pub crawl. At the next pub, he gives his keys to Andrew so he and Steven can escape. Abandoning Steven to the robots, Andrew chases Gary through the streets to the final pub, fighting hordes of robots along the way.
At the World’s End, Andrew confronts Gary. He has never forgiven Gary for abandoning him when he saved Gary’s life after a drug overdose, leaving Andrew to be arrested. They begin to fight; Gary’s arms are revealed to be bandaged after a recent suicide attempt. Gary tearfully tells Andrew that the Golden Mile is “all he has” and that Andrew “has everything he wants”. Andrew reveals that his marriage has broken down.
Ignoring Andrew’s pleas, Gary pulls himself a final pint at the bar. The lever instead lowers the bar into a hidden chamber, where Steven, having escaped the robots, finds them. An alien (voiced by Bill Nighy) explains that the robot invasion is a “civilising” process for humanity’s own good, responsible for the great advance in telecommunications in recent decades, and offers them eternal youth as robots. The three friends decline, arguing that humans should be allowed to be imperfect. Seeing that humans are more trouble than they are worth, the aliens agree to leave the planet and abandon the invasion. Sam arrives to drive them to safety as the town begins to self-destruct.
Some time later, Andrew is recounting this story around a campfire in the ruins of London, explaining how the aliens’ withdrawal from the planet destroyed modern civilisation, setting humanity back to the Dark Ages. The abandoned robots have reactivated and are regarded with mistrust by surviving humans. Andrew’s marriage has recovered, Steven is in a relationship with Sam, and Peter and Oliver, though now robots, have returned to a semblance of their old lives. In the ruins of Newton Haven, Gary reattempts the Golden Mile with the robot versions of his younger friends. They order five waters.
So then, where in SotD we had zombies turning up out of the blue, here we have robots with blue blood (no, not Royalty) appearing like Stepford Wives, some fairly astonishing special effects and a dystopian ending that bears more relation to Mad Max or The Terminator than anything you would expect of a mild-mannered British comedy, probably because Pegg and Wright could not think of a sensible way to wrap up the movie, so went all guns blazing for the most OTT finale anyone could dream up. Ealing Studios have long since vanished, apparently taking with them any remnants of plausibility or common sense in the rush to keep the audience from dozing off. In practice there is a snapping point in the patience of viewers as they cease to care what happens.
This is where the world really does come to an end for this movie. A friend of a friend and her partner apparently walked out before the end, along with several others, feeling strongly that TWE “insulted the intelligence.” I must respectfully disagree, though I know precisely why that viewer felt that way inclined.
A shame, because there are so many other things going for this movie that demonstrate amply that a fine script packed with funny exchanges and witty one-liners, well timed and acted, make for excellent cinema entertainment. You don’t need the post-Apocalyptic tripe when you can write lines like this – and this is a very small selection of the fizzing quality this movie achieves at its best:
“What the fuck does WTF mean?” “It’s 16 years since I had a drink” “You must be thirsty then?”
They even manage to invest the characters with more than simple cardboard cutout 2D acting and achieve layers of complexity deserving of warm applause and some sympathy, though probably lager rather than tea. Much higher budget movies fail this trick, so the skill is there to see.
The final shame is therefore that The World’s End did not stop long before it got to its Apocalyptic denouement and instead settled for a much more human comedy drama, not unlike Hot Fuzz. The trio can, and will again, make better movies than this final Cornetto. I hope next time they realise that less truly can be more, and that throwing the kitchen sink at their movie may reduce the overall impact.
However, many will disagree with me. I leave you with an alternative viewpoint, posted on LMDB. Takes all sorts!
I didn’t think this trilogy could get any better. However it somehow exceeded by expectations. With fantastic direction from Edgar Wright,smart writing from Wright and Simon Pegg and hilarious performances from Pegg, Nick Frost and everyone else the World’s end is a great way to end the trilogy. The story focuses on a group of childhood friends who go back to their hometown in order to repeat a legendary pub crawl that ends with a pub known as the World’s End. However they realize that their whole town has been taken over by robots and it’s up to them to stop them from taking over the world. I will admit that my only criticism of the film is that it does start off a little slowly. The jokes felt a little stiff at times with their execution and most of the humor was coming from Pegg’s character. However once the robots come in the movie does pick up the pace and lives up to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz The performances are very funny with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost actually switching roles. Pegg is more of the bumbling idiot whereas Frost is the straight man. The other performance are also good with Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike and Eddie Marsan. I also loved the ending which has probably the best ending out of any of the Cornetto trilogy movies Overall the movie is incredibly funny despite having a slow start. It’s a perfect mix of comedy and science fiction. I hope there’s more to come from these very funny and talented guys.