The World’s End (2013) – Directed by Edgar Wright – Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Pierce Brosnan, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, and Bill Nighy.
The third and final film in the Cornetto Trilogy from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost is both the best and worst of the three films. It is the best made of the three, the most professionally composed and executed, but it also has the weakest lead, as Simon Pegg’s Gary King is several steps past insufferable for too much of the movie. Do you want to laugh? Go watch Hot Fuzz. Do you want to see the best developed characters? Then WORLD’S END is the choice.
THE WORLD’S END is a good movie, but it’s a misshapen one. It’s lead character is it’s worst character, and it’s not until the film kicks into high gear with the revelation that the town of Newton Haven has been taken over by alien robots that King becomes tolerable. At that point, King starts working with his four friends from childhood, and the film turns into an action film with wonderful, subtle character bits, keeping things moving fast enough that Gary doesn’t have much time to be a jerk.
There’s also a dark attempt at employing pathos – Gary is an alcoholic (which we know right from the start, as we see him in group therapy) and yet the whole quest of the movie is for Gary to take his friends back to Newton Haven and complete “the Golden Mile,” a pub crawl comprising twelve (get it?) bars that they attempted back when they were kids but never completed. So we know he’s an alcoholic and have to watch him engage in self-destructive behavior for nearly two hours. We know he treated all his friends like shit back in the day, and now we have to watch him treat them like shit all over again. Is it suppose to make it better that Gary’s dickishness is predicated more on his selfishness than in being a bad guy? It’s also just plain sad to watch a guy whose life has come off the rails continue to try to drive that train. Is it realistic? Sure, but realism isn’t always fun. When things are going crazy, Gary is still determined to finish the Golden Mile because he traces his failures back to failing to complete it twenty years earlier.
It makes Gary a bit tough to stomach for the opening 40 minutes or so, to be honest, because the one guy who really wants to party is the one guy who shouldn’t be partying. WORLD’S END never sinks to the voyeuristic depths of Darren Aronofsky’s mean-spirited Black Swan because of it’s superior supporting players, and the fact that, as much of a jerk as Gary is, they still want to help him. In my reaction to Black Swan, I wrote that the movie: “makes us complicit voyeurs in the mental unraveling of a young woman who needs help and gets nothing except encouragement to unravel further. At its core, Black Swan is a psychological snuff film where Nina’s spiral into madness is served up for our enjoyment.”
Thankfully, WORLD’S END isn’t a snuff film, and Gary is offered help at nearly every stage of the story, which helps to make the jokes go down smoother. (So, yes, I just suggested that offering an alcoholic help serves as a cinematic chaser. I’m not a nice guy, either.) We see him in the group session, we see him get his old friends back together, we see him finally come clean to his former best friend, Andy (Nick Frost), and ultimately we see him embrace a position of leadership with a new group of comrades at the film’s end. There’s help to be had for Gary (help Nina never had in Black Swan), even in the form of aliens who want to discard the current Gary and rebuild a new one using only the best memories.
Gary is offered help constantly, but it only takes when he decides he needs to change his ways. In this, WORLD’S END is gets better as it goes along, and we see the charismatic hold that Gary has on his friends taken to a dangerous conclusion, as they become convinced to stay and finish the Golden Mile instead of running for the border as soon as they learn the truth of what’s going on.
It’s fitting that the final film in the Cornetto Trilogy engages the subject of maturity. The five friends depicted here: Gary, Andy, Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Oliver (Martin Freeman) are all accomplished actors and they work easily together. They are able to convey lots of history through small talk, which creates the best part of the movie.
It’s easy to see Gary as a nightmare version of the previous films and the respective careers of the three men (Pegg the leading man, Frost the sidekick, and Wright the unseen creator), and the end of WORLD’S END makes a nice bow on this stage of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s careers. It’s important that the end of this film makes a point to separate our leading men; in the film’s final sequence, we see Andy telling the story we just watched to a group of young kids around a campfire. He makes a point to say that he doesn’t know what happened to Gary, as he hasn’t seen him since they all tried to make their way back to London after the world’s technology collapsed with the retreat of the aliens. As the trilogy ends, then, we have Nick Frost as a (semi)-contented family man, Simon Pegg off on his own, leading a new band of adventurers, and the world the Edgar Wright has created effectively sent back to the Dark Ages.
These three men, the film screams, have separate lives and separate journeys.
The happiest ending is reserved for Steven and Sam (Rosamund Pike), who work as stand-ins for the audience. The backstory with these characters is that, back during the original attempt at completing the Golden Mile, Gary and Sam hooked up in a bathroom at one of the pubs before discarding her shortly thereafter. Steven, for his part, has always been in love with Sam, but was forced to take a backseat and watch the Gary/Sam drama unfold. At the end of the film, Steven and Sam have finally come together, satisfied to be together. It’s the equivalent of the audience walking out of the theater and going back to their regular lives, the 2 hours spent in the dark with Frost, Pegg, and Wright now over and done with.
THE WORLD’S END isn’t as clever as Shaun of the Dead and it isn’t as funny as Hot Fuzz, but it does show the growth of these three men as filmmakers. It’s a well-made film, and one I enjoy more with each re-watch, but whenever I shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s going to be the least watched of the trilogy. THE WORLD’S END wants to make sure we know that nostalgia is a fool’s game in the face of maturity – it’s a nice place to revisit, but it can’t be recaptured. Staying the same, the film tells us, isn’t healthy, which is a gentle but definitive way for Pegg, Frost, and Wright to tell us all it’s time to turn the page.
Even if the best parts of the film are just watching five old friends hang out.