First, a confession: I didn’t like Spaced. I was not a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead. I didn’t even watch Hot Fuzz. It’s important to get this information out in the open in order to deal with accusations of prejudice appropriately: I really wanted to enjoy this film.
For this man of a certain age, a movie about reuniting the old gang and returning to the shit-hole town of their birth has a particularly personal resonance: our annual pub crawls have only recently ended thanks to births, marriages and disapproving spouses. With my man-crush Paddy Considine on board and a soundtrack borrowed from my youth, The World’s End would surely be the film which finally convinced me of Pegg, Frost and director Edgar Wright’s charms.
The story is a simple one: Simon Pegg plays Gary King, once Newton Haven’s biggest big-shot, but now desperately trying to recapture his youth by recreating what remains the best night of his life. That night saw Gary and four friends fail to complete the Golden Mile pub crawl, falling just a few pubs short of their twelve pint target. Here, he reassembles the gang to finish what began so many years before.
Obviously, the crew have moved on significantly since that ‘legendary’ night, assuming comfortable lives at the helms of various businesses. They’re a stereotypical, crudely drawn bunch – but thanks to the actors filling the roles this can almost be forgiven. Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan are always charismatic presences, although they’re given little to do here save for one touching speech from Marsan.
Rather, the focus remains firmly on Pegg’s Gary. This is his story and he is central to everything that happens.
This would not be a problem if he were not such an insufferable wanker. Obviously this is, in some part, deliberate. Gary is an alienating presence whose presence divides even his friends. But the problem here is that there is no warmth in the character: he does not deserve anyone’s sympathy. Even in flashback, Gary is a bit of a prick – just why did anyone like him in the first place?
Thankfully, if you throw enough mud some if it sticks.There are some clever moments: incorporating song lyrics into the script is a neat in-joke which reveals much about Gary’s character; a neatly choreographed fight scene sees him struggle to beat off dozens of aliens without spilling his precious pint.
Oh yes, the aliens. It transpires that Newton Haven has been taken over by robot aliens intent on beating the shit out of our increasingly drunken gang. It’s a familiar trope, but has been done so much better so many times before. From Dusk Til Dawn did it with vampires and everyone has done it with zombies – including those concerned here.
The action scenes here are zingy and well filmed, but rapidly become repetitive and dull. There is no real sense of genuine peril and the enemies are less than terrifying. Perhaps the whole film would have worked more effectively if they’d accentuated the political and societal satire touched on: conformity and homogeneity are gently mocked, but there is scope for truly biting satire with such subject matter.
Instead, The World’s End takes the easy way out – not least with a truly atrocious final battle which demonstrates a lack of imagination and absolutely no dramatic impact at all. Thankfully an epilogue is added which dilutes the pain of the terrible concluding conflict.
Above all, however, The World’s End’s problem is this: it is not funny. I genuinely did not laugh. The audience around me sniggered just three or four times. Not funny, no emotional heart, dislikeable characters – a bad film all around. Thankfully Pegg/Frost/Wright have indicated that this is the final part of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ – the success of the previous films have caused them to become self-indulgent and lazy. Enough is enough.