Arriving as the third installment in the critical and cult “Cornetto trilogy” started by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End had a lot to live up to: its forebears served roles as genre parodies and social satires with equal aplomb. The series’s capstone is the least of the three in both those respects, it is every bit their equal, and a magnificent conclusion to what has proven the best trio of comedies since Jacques Tati’s Hulot cycle.
The World’s End tells of Gary King (co-writer Simon Pegg), who as a young ne’er-do-well took four friends down the Golden Mile, a crawl through 12 pubs and pints that they never finished. Two decades later Gary — now a middle-aged ne’er-do-well with the same fashion, same drunkard habits, and same tapes in his tape deck — wants to reunite his domesticated friends Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), and former best friend Andy (Nick Frost), take them back to their hometown of Newton Haven, and finish the crawl once and for all.
This mostly plays as an aging-male dramedy. In fact, the zaniness that marked Shaun and Fuzz is largely gone from The World’s End, which calms down their hyper-active camerawork and editing. It’s a little surprising coming from director and co-writer Edgar Wright, whose Scott Pilgrim vs. the World seemed a logical apotheosis of his crackerjack style, but in very sudden twists, the town turns out to be infested with robot impostors, and The World’s End turns into the breakneck action movie we all expected.
Edgar Wright handles the action scenes with frantic, close-up camera movements, extending shots into loopy, delirious fistfights. Wright, in his second collaboration with Matrix cinematographer Bill Pope, puts every dollar of their $20 million budget on the screen in the way that Adam Sandler’s ugly-ass $100 mil comedies could only dream of.
And when the robots’ blue blood (“it’s more like ink,” observes the nebbish Peter), the cast — particularly Pegg’s inveterate wild child and Nick Frost’s embittered family man — breaks down from their dramedy manners into caricatures of themselves. They conclude that escape from the town is impossible and, true to Cornetto Trilogy form, conclude that they’re best off acting normal and doing what they were going to do anyway. “Nobody has a better idea, so fuck it,” slurs Andy as he punches his way through a glass door.
That satirical current has run through all three films — “You’re all zombies! You’re like an uppity cult! You’re a bunch of robots!” — and The World’s End brings it to its logical conclusion. Wright and Pegg’s script is literate, unconventional, and unrelentingly bleak, and yet somehow carries a light tone throughout. The whole trilogy is a sort of exercise in anti-character arcs, portraying a classist, complacent culture that is unmoved and unchanged by peril and tragedy, where nothing can change anyone’s daily habits. Not even an alien invasion.