The World’s End, director Edgar Wright’s third collaboration with actors/co-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in their unofficial Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, is not only exciting and laugh-out-loud hysterical science fiction; it’s defiant in its originality. Unlike third entries in many trilogies, The World’s End refuses to play by the rules set by the other two films or Hollywood as a whole.
Like the other two films in the spiritual trilogy, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End takes a movie genre and puts a unique spin on it, honoring previous entries while injecting new ideas and original comedy.
This time, the story focuses on Gary King (Pegg), a burnout whose last great memory was a pub crawl he failed to complete with high school friends in their sleepy British hometown of Newton Haven. In search of recapturing his high school glory, Gary rounds up the estranged gang of friends to recreate the pub crawl known as The Golden Mile. However, their plans are sidetracked once they stumble upon an alien robot conspiracy taking place in their old hometown.
That alone should give you a glimpse at the original ideas at play in The World’s End. While ideas of alien takeovers and conspiracies are not new in film, they have never been done this way. Mix those concepts in with ideas of addiction, recovery, lost friendships, the dangers of nostalgia, and our society’s increasing difficulties with growing up, and the film is both the most exciting and deepest of Wright’s trilogy.
While the film can be viewed on a more superficial level, with action, laughs, and unique fights taking center stage for much of the movie, these deeper ideas inform everything about the film. Gary and his friends, all perfectly played by Frost, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes), and Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz), each have unique struggles directly tied to their youth. As the gang moves through the pub crawl, they are forced to confront their issues and temptations head-on due to the sci-fi trappings they have found themselves in.
Some of the other issues are present in the film in much more subtle ways. Gary must complete the crawl through 12 pubs, a connection to the 12 steps of recovery he must complete while battling his alcoholism. Even the names of the pubs give hints about what is about to happen, creating stronger themes and Easter Eggs that encourage multiple viewings.
While the film jumps out of the gates with a fast and kinetic introduction, it slows down for a large portion of its first act. While it may seem tedious at times, the emotional groundwork that is laid helps support the film once it goes nuts.
As for the villains — alien robots known as The Blanks — they provide a strong antagonist that embodies the desire for recaptured youth and memories. The Blanks refuse to conform to movie traditions, with their easily broken frames, glowing eyes and mouth, and interchangeable parts, making them toy-like in nature. Fights between the gang of friends and The Blanks are both thrilling and funny, with robot limbs flying, blue ink-like blood covering the walls, and the heroes using anything and everything within reach to fight the overwhelming hordes.
When it comes to characters, The World’s End continues to not play by the rules. Pegg’s character is not immediately easy to like, with his manipulative actions and inability to move on with life, which creates life-and-death situations for his former friends. But his real world struggles help the audience sympathize with him as he stubbornly grows. Frost also brings great emotional depth to the character of Andy, Gary’s former friend who slowly reveals his struggles and scars. In between bashing in robot brains, each character gets time to create laughs and emotional investment. Considine is a great supporting character who has his own strong arc, intertwined with Rosamund Pike, who plays an alternative kind of love interest.
Like Wright’s other films, even quiet dialogue-filled scenes are kinetically filmed and cut. However, The World’s End shares fewer connections with Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead than those two share with each other. A few choice gags like fence-jumping, surprise cameos, and the placement of a Cornetto ice cream tie the film to the trilogy, but there are less connections than ever.
Most importantly, Pegg and Frost are not fast friends, but rather must repair a long-damaged relationship. Their character arcs create real emotional resolution in the end. With fewer connections to the trilogy and more hard lessons, The World’s End is the most mature of Wright’s films. But that doesn’t stop it from being hilarious through and through. Nearly every scene features at least one great line, and a few are sure to be quoted for years to come by the film’s fans. Without spoiling anything, the film’s climax features one the most unexpected and uproarious close encounters between man and alien on film.
By the time the film closes, Wright, Pegg, and Frost have created a fantastic entry into the sci-fi genre, one of the funniest films in years, one of the most original films in a decade, and a perfect ending to their trilogy.