Ungainly, sparky, and incorrigibly enjoyable, The World’s End, the fizzing finale to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, is everything that is scarce in modern British cinema, and precisely what it thrives on.
His surname suggests royalty, but our introduction to Gary King, powerfully played by co-writer Simon Pegg, could not be more unceremonious. He’s sitting in what seems to be a therapy group, dressed in an unattractive mint tracksuit, and is telling a grand folktale. It is a religiously paced recollection of teenage escapades, of a summer that sped by and a glorious night that Gary hoped would never end. It was then he attempted The Golden Mile, a twelve pub long crawl with his closest friends, Andrew, Steve, Oliver, and quiet Peter ( Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan respectively), who just feels privileged to hang on. The gang were down and out by pub six, an anticlimax that has niggled the pompous Gary ever since. How can he become legend if his story lacks a worthy conclusion?
In the time taken to down a pint, Gary has already reassembled his old friends, none of whom are particularly enthused to seem him again, nor the prospect of returning to the comatose lanes of their hometown, Newton Haven. If King had been played by another performer, it would be understandable if they refused . But Pegg’s natural magnetism convinces us and them that one last outing could be feasible. Not smart. As you will find out, Newton Haven is not exactly what it was twenty years ago.
Speaking of deceptive appearances, The World’s End is a far more sober affair than Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. Consequently, some audiences may see a disappointingly diluted version of Edgar Wright’s previous outings. I disagree. What would be truly disappointing is if Wright copied his main character and tried to recreate previous triumphs. The gags are as quick and potent as ever, but this time are laced with a unspoken sadness. Perhaps Wright is maturing as filmmaker, although thankfully this does not mean he’s getting boring. That virtuoso editing style remains in place, and the rapid-fire gags are as delicious as ever, especially one involving Gary’s selective memory. Paddy Considine is wonderfully vulnerable and Eddie Marsan nearly steals the film as sweet Peter.
What lingers, however, is the aching empathy for the characters. .At times, you don’t know whether Gary’s eyelids are drooping because of his alcoholism or because he is blinking back the tears. The rest of the old gang have spent their adult lives trying to distance themselves from the past. Only Gary cares for their youth, and he chases it’s memory like a starving mutt. This is without a doubt Simon Pegg’s most affecting performance to date.
What delights the most in The World’s End and it’s predecessors is the seamless mixing of everyday mundaneness and the entrancingly bizarre trappings of genre cinema. When The World’s End veers from the well-trodden path of social realism into… well, if you have seen the trailer you’ll already know. Suffice to say it propels this film into very interesting places that would sadly be left untouched by straighter efforts.
This is an uncommonly courageous work by what the internet has christened “The Cornetto Crew”. If you look at other, lesser comedies, it becomes clear that they don’t feature many people, just cardboard avatars with one or two overriding traits. This wonderful trilogy is set apart is that by a reliance on complicated characters who are not only guaranteed to make you laugh, but may just make you cry too.