When Gary King was a teenager, he was the king of "cool." As a sort of James Dean "Rebel Without a Cause" figure, his friends idolized him and looked up to him as a leader. The only problem is, Gary is now well past his teenage years, but he stubbornly refuses to grow up, clinging to a free-spirited sense of adolescent irresponsibility. Although none of his friends really respect him anymore (some of them no longer even particularly like him), that doesn't stop Gary from trying to reunite his now middle-aged friends for an epic pub crawl.
Known as "The Golden Mile," the pub crawl consists of 12 pints at 12 pubs in the friends' hometown of Newton Haven. The friends attempted the pub crawl in their youth but never made it to the final pub, known as "The World's End." Though no one shares Gary's enthusiasm for the plan, they all pile into Gary's beat-up old car anyway and head for Newton Haven. That's when they begin to realize something might be wrong with the seemingly sleepy little town: all the pubs have been commercialized, the locals are behaving oddly, and no one seems to recognize Gary and his friends. Then, about halfway through the pub crawl, Gary makes a shocking discovery about a sinister conspiracy going on behind the scenes in Newton Haven. The pub crawl suddenly becomes more dangerous, and the friends begin to realize "The World's End" may be more than just the name of the final pub on their trip — they have inadvertently helped to unleash the apocalypse.
"The World's End," along with the zombie/horror romcom "Shaun of the Dead" and the cop movie satire "Hot Fuzz," rounds out Edgar Wright's "Cornetto" trilogy (named for the brand of ice cream that's an in-joke in each of the three films). Wright has gained a cult following for his delightfully off-kilter film making style, and his films typically feature an unexpected blend of movie genres and a healthy dose of dry British wit. With a fun, sci-fi flavor and a strong ensemble cast, "The World's End" offers plenty of quirky, apocalyptic fun for fans.
There is quite a bit of exposition in the beginning of the film, but viewers' patience is rewarded once Gary and his friends hit the road. As the film goes on, the plot gets more and more ridiculous — but I mean that in a good way. I thought the film's trailer gave away a little too much about the sci-fi elements of the story; the less you know going in, the more fun the revelation of the "conspiracy" will be. Although Wright's famous quick-cut editing style is perhaps a little more toned down here than in "Shaun of the Dead," it's used to good effect in one particular scene to communicate Gary's horror when one of his friends orders water at a pub instead of a pint.
Wright's frequent collaborator Simon Pegg both stars as Gary King and co-wrote the film. Pegg doesn't shy away from the fact the character is a self-centered jerk, but he makes Gary just lovable enough we can't truly hate him. Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan also are great as three of Gary's friends: an uptight real estate agent, a wistful construction foreman, and a mild-mannered car salesman and family man, respectively. However, the standout this time may be Nick Frost, another frequent Wright collaborator. Though Frost often plays the goofy best friend opposite Pegg's straight man, this time, Frost gets to play the responsible one, and he brings a nice amount of nuance to the more serious role, without losing his sense of humor.
The film does contain some major shifts in tone, moving quickly from comedy, to sci-fi action, to thought-provoking drama, but this didn't bother me. Despite the humorous and crazy premise of five friends trying to complete a pub crawl during the middle of the apocalypse, Wright manages to work in some interesting, heavier social commentary. He critiques Gary's irresponsible lifestyle and his refusal to acknowledge his juvenile behavior and his alcoholism. Though Gary pretends to be carefree, deep down there's a sense of sadness and emptiness, and we come to pity him. However, on the flip side, Wright also critiques Gary's friends, who have perhaps become too complacent. Tied to their smart-phones and focused on their careers, they've forgotten how to stay connected to what really matters.
Though "Shaun of the Dead" is still my favorite of Wright's films, I thought "The World's End" was a refreshingly different comedy and a fun way to end the summer movie season. One thing I do wish Wright would have added was a "Doctor Who" reference; considering the sci-fi elements of the story, it would have been fun to have David Tennant running out of one of the pubs on the pub crawl, or a blue police box just sitting in the background. ;)