Film Review: The World's End

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg complete their trilogy of genre sendups with a very amusing tale of a nostalgic pub crawl that transforms into a sci-fi free-for-all.

The skewed sense of humor of writer-director Edgar Wright and writer-star Simon Pegg is on display in the name they’ve given their series of comedy collaborations: “The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” inspired by a brand of ice cream that has only fleeting cameos in their movies (with an irreverently high-falutin’ nod to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy). That mix of film-literacy and goofy nonsense is alive and well in The World’s End, their third genre sendup after the zombie romp Shaun of the Dead and gonzo buddy-cop adventure Hot Fuzz.

This time around, the fond salute is to alien-invasion movies, but as in their other comedies, the fraught situations are essentially a peg (or Pegg?) on which to hang their portraits of endearingly quirky village types that seem to thrive in Britain. Pegg and his frequent co-star Nick Frost here welcome three substantial U.K. actors to their brotherhood: Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan. Pegg play Gary King, a 40-year-old with a severe case of arrested development, a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt-wearing slacker who is determined to reunite his boyhood friends for an epic pub crawl they never finished back in their home town of Newton Haven. His four former mates have all attained a certain degree of middle-class respectability: Andrew (Frost) is a successful attorney, Oliver (Freeman) is a busy real-estate agent, Steven (Considine) oversees construction sites, and Peter (Marsan) works at his father’s auto showroom. Appealing to their younger, wilder selves, Gary persuades them all to take a nostalgia trip and agree to the challenge of downing a pint at each of the 12 pubs on Newton Haven’s “Golden Mile,” culminating with the final stop at the appropriately named establishment called “The World’s End.”

Along the way, the quintet discovers that several of the town’s fabled pubs have been robbed of their distinctive ambiances—and that many of the residents have lost something essential too. If classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Village of the Damned come to mind, you’re on the right track.

That’s as far as we’ll go with spoilers, but part of the fun of The World’s End is the way it suddenly pivots (in a startling and frenetic restroom sequence) from a fairly naturalistic look at the regrets and frustrations of men of a certain age to a sci-fi chiller which grows increasingly outrageous. As in Shaun of the Dead, however, quaffing a good ale remains a high priority, no matter the dire situation. (In a barroom brawl for the cinematic ages, Gary’s determination to finish his pint is an irresistible sight gag.)

Because of its melancholy take on middle age, The World’s End isn’t as consistently riotous as Wright and Pegg’s previous films. But the tradeoff is a more mature outlook and the addition of some excellent new acting colleagues. Hangdog Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky, Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) is an asset to any film, Considine (In America) is the smoothest of the gang, and Freeman (The Hobbit) applies his nervous energy well. And mixing up the formula somewhat, Frost isn’t Pegg’s best bud this time, but a guy with a major grudge against the irresponsible Gary. Holding her own quite well with the guys, and gamely joining in the second-half chaos, is Rosamund Pike (An Education, Jack Reacher) as Oliver’s sister Sam, who is pursued by both Gary and Steven.

Once again, Wright’s direction is wonderfully playful and energetic, and the script he and Pegg have contrived is full of surprises (including a villainous role for a very familiar Irish actor). And all bets are off in the final half-hour, which features a hilariously rude debate between Gary and the mysterious powers who’ve taken over Newton Haven—and a conclusion that lives up to the movie’s title.