The 'Cornetto Trilogy' that began with SHAUN OF THE DEAD and continued with HOT FUZZ reaches a ribald conclusion with Edgar Wright's THE WORLD'S END, again starring 'double-act' Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. This time Pegg plays fortysomething wastrel Gary King, whose adult life stagnated following a 1990 pub crawl with four mates—Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andrew (Nick Frost). 23 years after their failed attempt to complete the infamous "golden mile" of twelve pubs, Gary returns to reunite his grown-up pals and relive the best night of his life.
In many ways, it's harder to live up to expectations with the third entry in a body of work. HOT FUZZ wasn't as strong as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but it was bigger and wisely tackled a very different genre, while maintaining the Trilogy's loose theme of male friendships and the fight against conformity. First it was suburban zombies, then a village cult, now a small town infested with doppelgängers from outer space. I'd ordinarily be mindful of spoilers, but none of THE WORLD'S END trailers have shied away from revealing the twist that the pub crawl takes place during an INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS-style scenario. It's a twist that reminded me of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN in terms of how it'll give some viewers cognitive whiplash when it happens. You'll either squeal with inner joy when a straightforward comedy-drama suddenly involves blue-mouthed robots, or you'll wonder why the SHAUN triumvirate have made a film about learning to grow-up that bows to an adolescent love of sci-fi aliens.
Me? I went along for the wild ride, mostly because the shift in both tone and gear arrives just as the mileage of a drinking comedy began to flag, but also because the characters keep things settled and engaging. Pegg's character has divided audiences because he's not inherently likeable, but I found him very sympathetic and amusing in his refusal to accept the passage of time. I can identify with a man who's stubbornly refused to move with the times, and now finds himself stuck in a personal time-warp. In the same way I found plenty of humour in how four responsible adults with families, mortgages and important jobs slowly remember how to have fun, value their friendships, and appreciate their shared history.
Wright directs with his signature zip and panache, which remains a curious pleasure when applied to such humdrum locations in his British films. The incongruousness alone is funny on a subconscious level, and naturally the actors raise the material and help push it through a slightly repetitive second act. By the time the film's channelling Douglas Adams with added lewdness and a piece of modern art's stomping around like Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, I was having a great time. The film's extended denouement is love-or-hate TWILIGHT ZONE-y silliness, but I applaud the audaciousness at the very least. The Cornetto Trilogy stayed on a downward slope, meaning this is the lesser entry, but it's still a fun time and clearly made with care and attention.
It erases the stench of PAUL, too.
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