IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 109 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Gary King is a late 30-something obsessed with a legendary night – 20 years ago – in which he led a gang of mates through the trim streets of Newton Haven to attempt a 12-pint pub crawl. That night whited out before they reached the final boozer, the fabled pub The World’s End. Now he wants to he and his old mates to give ‘The Golden Mile’ another go. They have all moved on, and take some convincing, but the mission begins nonetheless. Unfortunately, things are immediately made awkward by one of the group deciding to just drink water, the arrival of the girl that one stole from another in the group, and very unreceptive locals…..
Well call me one person who was not really looking forward to this third part of Edgar Wright’s loosely connected ‘Cornetto Trilogy’. It’s not because Shaun Of The Dead was poor. It wasn’t poor, in fact it was very good, immensely fun, rather warm and a better zombie film than most since, though nowhere near the Third Best Comedy film ever which I remember a stupid poll on Channel 4 voting it as [they also voted Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back together as the Best Film Ever]. It wasn’t because Hot Fuzz was poor, in fact that cop comedy was pretty good, and actually funnier than the previous picture,even though it definitely suffered from packing too much into it. No , it was because after that Wright decided to make the atrocious Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, a tedious tribute to computer games with some of the most cringe-inducing moments in ages which constantly shouted at you: “look how cool I am”. It didn’t actually star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost unlike the other two films, but they hardly fared well elsewhere, appearing together in the shoddy Paul, as lazy and boring a comedy as they come.
So the omens weren’t good, but fortunately The World’s End is a distinct improvement, though in some ways it’s a little separate from Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. Yes, it has Pegg and Frost back battling baddies, this time alien robots [or not-robots, as they call themselves], and again manages to be unashamedly English while maintaining an international appeal. Again, you get Pegg trying to jump a fence and those short shot montages. However, it’s not really as much of a film parody. It may borrow from both Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives for its premise, and throw in a few movie references along the way from Casablanca to The Thing to The Lord Of The Rings, but isn’t explicitly a parody of a particular genre. Also, it’s a lot less funny, and this was clearly the intention, though some of the bits that are intended to be humorous fall a little flat. For example, Wright and Pegg fall into the Richard Curtis trap of thinking swearing is automatically funny. Folks, it’s not, it’s just a lazy way of trying to get laughs and appeal to the lowest common denominator.
For the first third at least, this is a surprisingly astute and biting variation on the oft-utilised premise of old friends reuniting, and seems to be telling us right from the offset that trying to recapture the past is not a good idea. Simon Pegg’s character Gary is not only a near-destitute alcoholic but an arrogant loudmouth who was always the leader of the group but was never really liked. It’s a surprisingly dark turn from Pegg, who I’ve always found pretty dull but is actually rather interesting here. He isn’t very likeable at all, yet you want him like mad to complete his pub crawl. Nick Frost also plays against type as a suited businessman, Gary, who has been sober for years. When danger threatens, it is Pegg who is sometimes relegated to the role of side-kick and Frost kicks major arse. Then you have Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan as his three mates, and you know that with three strong actors such as these the film certainly can’t be too bad. Throwing in the gorgeous Rosamund Pike makes it even better.
Well, the film is really good for the first third or so. Scenes tend to combine uneasy tension, boiling resentment and awkward camaraderie in a really strong way. The cast are simply amazing together and, as they begin their epic pub crawl, one might feel that the story won’t really need alien robots and chases and the like. I loved spending time with these guys, and, while as I’ve said before it’s not always very funny and not all the humour that is there totally works [in fact you’ve more or less seen half the jokes in the trailer], the more serious side of the writing is quite impressive and shows a maturity from Wright and Pegg. Unfortunately, the alien robots do show up, and to be honest matters take a nose-dive here, with originality in short supply, and the film not seeming to know what to do, while it ends up seeming to celebrate a character it initially seemed to rightly dislike. Our heroes battle the robots in a series of semi-comic fight scenes where heads and arms are ripped off amidst lots of blue blood, but while the martial arts sequences in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World were almost that film’s sole saving grace, Wright and his editor Paul Machliss decide to film the more bar-room brawl style melees here in that dreadful shakycam, one-second-edit style that is blighting cinema today. You can’t see what’s going on and, once again, I got sore eyes. Films like this should come with warnings.
The film seems to be climaxing fairly lamely, but then surprises with a downbeat coda that is very brave and refreshing. As I watched it, it occurred to me that you could easily make The World’s End as a totally serious film with only a few tweaks here and there. It would flow a lot better, for a start, and bring into sharper focus its more serious themes, though there are a few good comic moments that have a serious aspect to them, like when the group walk into the second pub and find the interior identical to that of the first. There is a feeling of nostalgia permeating the film, and not just because of its great soundtrack of hits from 1990 or the many cameos recognisable to any fan of Wright’s work going all the way back to Spaced. It yearns for a time when watering holes had their own identity, but also, bravely, seems to attack our increasing dependency on technology, both being things I feel strongly about too. Unfortunately, it also sees fit to include another of the worst things about cinema today, middling CGI which looks like it’s been added to too many scenes, while the odd more obvious effect often just looks very lame.
The World’s End doesn’t really work overall and often seems unsure of what it’s trying to do. However, there are things in it which are very pleasing, from the Jackie Chan-like sight of Pegg trying to nimbly fight off some robots while holding his pint to musings on things like growing up which are relevant to us all. It’s certainly worth seeing even if you’re not familiar with the other two ‘Cornetto’ films. Edgar, you have just about atoned for your last film.