Shaun of the Dead was released during the height of cinema’s zombie boom and quickly established itself as a witty, funny little movie, a genre-bending zom-rom-com born from a love of George A. Romero. It was a critical success for its creators and stars – Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – all three having previously worked together on the wonderful Spaced – and became the start of what was later coined the ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,’ followed by police-action parody Hot Fuzz and now, science-fiction spinning The World’s End. Both Shaun and Fuzz were enjoyable, funny movies, and whilst The World’s End isn’t quite in the same league, it’s got a lot going for it and for fans of the trilogy, is certainly worth a watch.
The film focuses on a group of friends who, as teenagers, attempted to complete the Golden Mile – a pub-crawl through the twelve venues of their small hometown, Newton Haven. The pub crawl wasn’t completed, but to the gang’s leader Gary King (Simon Pegg as an adult) the day became a legend, and the best of his life. Now in his 40s, Gary, despite not speaking to the group in years, decides to get his old friends back together – Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine – to take on the Golden Mile again, reliving the glory days with the ultimate dream of reaching the final pub – The World’s End. Past tensions are soon put aside when it becomes clear that Newton Haven has changed, and that the old residents are no longer quite the same. Science-fiction focused end of the world chaos ensues, all the while Gary is determined to reach that final bar.
As with the previous movies, the cast are great here, and The World’s End is interesting for switching the roles of Pegg and Frost, with Frost playing the straight man for once. Whilst this does allow Pegg to have a great deal of fun in his role, it hurts Frost, who feels restrained for most of this movie. The two lack the dynamic they’ve had in previous flicks. Pegg’s character too is fairly loathsome, and is played so loudly that he distracts from all the other cast members, who are given very little to do. Rosamund Pike in particular is underused, though it’s nice to see Pierce Brosnon here, the second shady Bond to appear in the trilogy after Dalton in Hot Fuzz. Martin Freeman plays his usual loveable self and there are some great British cameos throughout too.
The concept of The World’s End is clever, with each pub name serving as a metaphor for the action of the plot and of course, the World’s End standing in for well, the world’s end. The film is slow to start, taking a considerable amount of time to get off the ground as we get to know the characters, with subtle Shaun of the Dead style clues as to what’s actually going on in the background, before the radical From Dust till Dawn style switch of gears occurs and the robots begin to attack. The World’s End is a homage to numerous science-fiction classics – noticeably, The Stepford Wives, Village of the Damned, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and has a lot of fun by transporting these traditional science fiction elements into a contextually out of place small English town. Wright understands the material he’s referencing and the parody comes with heart, which explains how it works so well.
The film works also as a commentary on growing up, and will be relateable to anyone whose moved on from their small town roots. Wright and Pegg get a lot of mileage out of the idea of everything being the same whilst being completely different, working with a Joss Whedon style literal metaphor as the town’s residents are actually both the same as they were, and yet not the same people at all. This is a great commentary and works in a similar style to Wright’s Scott Pilgrim, which played with the idea of ex’s actually being evil. Like Pilgrim, the fight scenes are excellent here, kinetic and well designed.
But whilst the concept is fantastic, you get the feeling there could have been more done with it. By the time the film finds its momentum it already feels too long,with the science-fiction elements falling into the movie far too late. The exposition throughout is clumsy too and the dual plots – pub-crawl, world’s end – don’t gel very well together, meaning that the character’s actions start to feel pretty contrived towards the end. One of the main issues is that Shaun and Fuzz had elements going for them beyond their parody – Shaun had its love story and ended with a genuinely threatening zombie invasion, whilst Fuzz had its central murder mystery to keep audiences hooked – World’s End lacks this second layer and so it’s harder to stay invested in it. The ending, tacked on in the last five minutes from a different movie, doesn’t work at all either.
The science-fiction and apocalyptic elements never go as a big as the recently released This is the End and the film feels smaller by comparison, and is actually, surprisingly less funny. And that’s probably the biggest complaint against the film – for the greatness of the concept and the smartness of the movie, there’s not actually many laughs, besides a few digs at the cookie-cutter commercialism of the British pub and some witty wordplay. It’s a shame really, that whilst this isn’t a bad movie by any means, World’s End feels a bit half-hearted, with less passion than the previous two movies, and much less laughs. There’s nothing here for example, as good as Hot Fuzz’s Romeo and Juliet.
It’s certainly a likeable movie and one worth watching however, just not quite as fully formed as it could be. The World’s End does, however, remain a nice closing film for the trilogy, and hopefully won’t be the last time these people work together. A nice little science-fiction movie, just not a hugely funny one.