The World's End is, by turns, a nostalgia-infused buddy comedy, a slapstick chop-socky action flick, and a trenchant critique of commodification and globalization.
It's also pretty blasted funny and a fine finale to director/cowriter Edgar Wright and star/cowriter Simon Pegg's so-called "Cornetto Trilogy."
The film begins in 1990, when a quintet of freshly graduated schoolboys take on the Golden Mile: 12 pints in 12 bars, starting at The First Post and wrapping things up at The World's End. As youths, the boys couldn't finish things up, a fact that has haunted Gary King (Pegg) ever since. The preceding story is told, by King, to what appears to be an AA meeting.
Determined to triumph where he failed 20 years before, King gets the gang back together. Best mate and corporate attorney Andrew (Nick Frost), car salesman Peter (Eddie Marsan), real estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), and architect Steven (Paddy Considine) all join King in his mad quest to recapture their youth, one lager at a time.
Something's not right in their hometown, however. The people are a bit too friendly, the pubs all a bit too similar. One of the blokes jokes that it's a result of Britain's tendency in recent years to strip local public houses of any identifiable flair—Starbuckification, they call it—but it's more than that. There's something sinister going on, something Stepford.
As King and his court discover what's happening, they are given a choice: allow the events in town to proceed for the benefit of humanity or wallow in their childish, destructive ways and face the consequences.
As with Wright's previous films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the comic timing is perfect. Quick cuts, cutting jibes, and askance looks are the order of the day. And Wright is again working within a genre while also subverting genre expectations. The Cornetto Trilogy consists of a zombie flick, a cop flick, and an apocalypse flick, yes—but so much more as well.
Without spoiling too much, there is an interesting subtext to the Stepfordification of King's hometown, one that neatly reflects ongoing efforts at, and ongoing concern over, globalization and the European Project. I imagine Paul Cantor—the University of Virginia professor whose Gilligan Unbound addressed The X-Files‘ concern with similar themes—will find much to chew over in Wright's latest picture.
Pegg excels as the man-child King. He's that guy who never quite grew up even as everyone else moved on with their lives. His desperate grip on the past is both poignant and pathetic, paying off nicely when the group reaches The World's End. Frost plays a fine straight man. As do Marsan, Freeman, and Considine, frankly: They're all riffing off of Pegg's frenetic personality. He has enough manic energy for a whole team of Abbots, it seems.
Those familiar with Wright and Pegg's previous collaborations will find much to enjoy here; there are several Easter Eggs, including an amusing cameo by Cornetto regular Bill Nighy. Newcomers will also be pleased, assuming they are into the very British style of comedy present throughout.
The World's End may be the funniest film of the summer—though there wasn't particularly stiff competition in that regard this season.