It’s not easy to sum up life-defining moments in words. However, for five young trouble-making friends, that moment could be summed up in three: The Golden Mile. In their youth, Gary (Simon Pegg), Andrew (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) attempted an epic pub crawl encompassing twelve bars and requiring of the consumption of twelve pints of beer. Not only did they come up short in this exercise in sensational debauchery, but the attempt caused a rift within the quintet that continued to widen in the subsequent decades. Now, the group’s most developmentally-arrested member Gary, is seeking to reunite the boys for a second go at it. Unfortunately, their hometown has since changed…dramatically.
Anticipation can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, filmmakers certainly want audiences to harbor anticipation for their latest projects; entire marketing teams are in fact assembled precisely to cultivate that anticipation. However, there is a point of critical mass wherein anticipation begins to foster expectations within audiences. These expectations can sometimes serve as major critical detriments; the movie we want versus the movie we think we want, et cetera. A large contingent of those movie-goers paying their two bits for a ticket for Edgar Wright‘s The World’s End are coming with an ample amount of anticipation, and yet one of the best things about the movie is that is defies all expectations predicated upon its predecessors.
That’s not to say The World’s End is an entirely different movie from either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz or that it doesn’t hold the same appeal. The distinctive comedy style of Wright, rapid-fire wit in the dialogue and joke couplets paying off with impeccable timing, are still wonderfully present and at times feel more energetic than they have in previous outings. The interplay between Frost and Pegg is also as sharp as ever, the pair now a finely-tuned joke machine. The result is an uproariously funny lark. And once again Wright is decoupaging the narrative with clever references to his favorite geek movie tropes; this time opting for a science-fiction bent.
Where the film begins to defy expectation in the best way is in the character work and the tremendous amount of genuine emotional significance. Particularly, Gary deserves applause both in concept and in execution. Pegg is likely the most naturally affable member of Wright’s mainstays, and yet Gary is the most despicable character he’s played to date, and yes, in making that statement I am considering that he previously played grave-robbing murderer William Burke. To borrow from the British vernacular, Gary is a right foul git. Yet just as you begin to get comfortable in the notion that Gary is a one-dimensional git, Wright introduces unexpected depth to the character that opens the floodgate for a torrent of legitimately moving insights into the others. Even more surprising is that this emotional weight doesn’t feel shoehorned, doesn’t detract from the humor, and in fact adds just the right amount of gravitas given the era conclusion that The Wold’s End represents.
It wasn’t until this final chapter that Wright’s collaborations with Pegg, Frost, and a smattering of other go-to performers availed itself of its true identity. This isn’t simply a case of a director and actors nestling into their comfort zones. Instead Wright’s team-ups with this group is more reminiscent of a traveling band of Shakespeare players. The faces are so familiar, and they are dropped into worlds so fantastical as to offer golden opportunities for the carousel of performers to have a blast wearing different costumes; their gleeful enthusiasm providing the energy and spark to these films that has kept fans so engaged. It isn’t just Pegg and Frost who once again speak the speech for Wright. Members of his Spaced cast turn up in small but prominent roles and Considine and David Bradley, Filch himself, make themselves Wright regulars after appearing in Hot Fuzz. It’s always exciting to see where our favorite players fit in among the ever-changing scenery.
If The World’s End has a fault, it’s in the pacing. There are a couple of lulls in the plot that will test the patience of those expecting an unbroken parfait of comedy and action. These moments aren’t pockets of dead air, but rather important character beats that, admittedly, could have been tightened just a bit. It’s not the lengthiest of chapters in this trilogy, but it may feel that way at points.
NEXT PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS, BE FOREWARNED
It’s uniquely fitting that the final chapter of the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” would center upon the conceit of pod-person-like robo-doppelgangers. Body snatcher movies remain timeless because at their core, they speak to a fundamental and universal fear of losing one’s identity. While we can all relate to horror of suddenly being severed from who we are, it’s an especially scary situation currently facing Wright as an artist. He is saying goodbye to this strange universe he’s created with Pegg and Frost, the universe that jump-started his career; opting for an apropos apocalypse as a fond farewell. The World’s End beautifully communicates the mixed emotions of its creator. It’s no coincidence that The World’s End utilizes the most nostalgia of any of the Cornetto films. It’s literally Wright looking back at where this odd journey began and, like Kevin Smith bidding adieu to New Jersey in Clerks II, keeping a brave smile on his face as he navigates through the bittersweet final act.
Wright has no need to fear of course, his future is bright. A Marvel film in the works is no small triumph. Not only that, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, his only previous film taking place outside of the Cornetto universe, was a movie much championed by critics and fans alike. Interestingly, Scott Pilgrim actually seems to have done a great deal to inform The World’s End, particularly in the thoroughly ambitious group fight sequences in the pubs. Wright uses what he learned on Scott Pilgrim to further his long-standing ability to craft genre comedies that are adept at both the comedic aspects and capturing the crowd-pleasing conventions of the genre with which the comedy is combined.
The Upside: A hilarious and surprisingly poignant sendoff of Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”
The Downside: A few moments of narrative doldrums
On the Side: Don’t look, but listen for Bill Nighy’s excellent cameo.