Edgar Wright ends his so-called Cornetto trilogy on a sci-fi-tinged apocalyptic note with his old pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Their two previous outings tackled zombies with Shaun of the Dead and cops with Hot Fuzz, and have given fans an idea of what to expect, but The World’s End disappoints by deviating from a winning formula.
Revolving around Pegg’s immature Gary King who lives in a state of alcoholic-ridden arrested development, he seeks to finish a pub crawl that he never got to complete in his youth, what he considers the heydey of his life. Roping in his old friends (including the starry line-up of Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) in a long expository montage, they finally set off towards the town of Newton Haven where things are not what they seem, friendship is tested, and tempers flare to boiling point.
Unfortunately this film is not as funny or smart as their previous two entries, and stifled with tons of exposition. The thirty minute preamble to get the characters moving, the entire point of the story, is a slog to get through. It’s crammed with exposition on who these people are, what the state of their lives are, random anecdotes, and though its directed in true Wright style with plenty of snappy transitions, it’s simply not as fun to watch as Shaun or Fuzz.
Neither of those two films had to grind the film to a halt by explaining stuff. World’s End does it numerous times, even incredibly in the climax of the film! Though the climax feels like a riff of Douglas Adams Hitchhiker humour, it’s such a deflated way to end a feature film, I was both chuckling at their balls to go through with it, and shaking my head at how empty it made me feel as a viewer.
The trilogy is built on, aptly, a trio of people: Wright, Pegg and Frost. With Shaun and Fuzz, Pegg and Frost’s characters were the focus. With World’s End, we have a larger group of friends, and though the emotional heart of the story boils down to Pegg and Frost’s characters again, they’re still surrounded by a motley crew of buddies that need set-ups and pay-offs. Which they get, but as a result the film can’t explore Pegg and Frost’s characters to the degree that we got with Shaun and Fuzz.
It may be unfair to constantly compare the way The World’s End handles its story and characters with the previous two films, but considering everyone keeps referring to this as a trilogy, I think it actually is fair. The plots are completely disparate, but the two previous films worked due to a winning formula, and with this final entry they’ve changed things up to mixed results.
There is a lot to like about the concept of an epic pub crawl; having characters deteriorate and get more and more drunk throughout the story is a mine that is only moderately, well, mined for fried gold.
You have individuals with unresolved issues, and though most of them are resolved, the character arcs feel too concise and wrapped with a bow tie. Frankly there’s too many characters for their arcs to feel substantial. Did we really need to follow five people? Why not three? Besides this, when concerning itself with the journey of the main character, the film does a 180 and goes in the opposite direction of what you expect, and it feels like a waste of time. All for a punchline.
Admittedly, it’s one hell of a punchline to end the movie on, it does not hold back on its resolution, ending things on an apocalyptic note, but crucially the biggest character arc of all, the one of a man in arrested development is left in a weird kind of status quo, and it feels like a waste.
Gary King is basically a wanker all throughout the film, which is only funny for the first 30 minutes. It’s hard to root or care for a guy who treats everyone around him like shit and is responsible for death and destruction. His mates make all the effort, and he gives nothing in return, except when its convenient. He has tiny redemptions sprinkled throughout that don’t feel cathartic and he never feels heroic.
The film just feels forced. Like Pegg and Wright wanted to do a sci-fi story, and they wanted to round up their Cornetto trilogy with the culmination of their take on men growing up to take responsibility, and ultimately forced the pair to meet in the middle. No doubt it’s possible to combine any topic or theme with any genre, but they’ve jumped through hoops to tie the silly robot invasion with the theme of leaving the past behind and growing up. Not all of the sub-plots even tie into this theme, so as a result it feels messy, represented by the comical punchline at the end.
Watching this with a tepid smile on my face and not laughing out loud once during the entire runtime, it felt like the world’s end for me. I’m a big fan of everyone involved, and I love sci-fi, so it sucks for me basically. Yet there is still much to like with this film, the fight scenes are Wright-inspired madness, and Nick Frost gives the best performance, totally giving his all to his character, but the uneven structure of the script is a consistent dark cloud over the whole thing. Rosamund Pike’s character is pretty worthless too, merely there to be pined for. The characters are separated and killed off in unsatisfying ways, the last few pubs are raced through, as if they realised they needed to wrap things up already, and a character pops up at the end as a deus ex machina, which is like the final kick in the balls.
Everyone involved with this film is a brilliant artist, and I look forward to what they cook up next, but here’s hoping for new beginnings and no world-destroying endings.