One of the reasons I really liked The World’s End (besides the fact that it’s terrific entertainment) is it deals head-on with that issue of fruitless nostalgia that keeps people from moving on to more productive lives.
The World’s End is the third and final film in director Edgar Wright’s so-called Cornetto Trilogy (I’ve also seen it referred to as the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy.) that began with Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz. Despite the fact these films don’t tell a continuing story or share characters, they are connected by Wright and his co-writer Simon Pegg’s love of genre cinema. Those first two films are pretty ingenious as they both deconstruct their genre (the zombie and buddy cop films, respectively) while also working beautifully as examples of them. Shaun of the Dead follows in the footsteps of George Romero by using the zombies as a metaphor, in this case, the drudgery of adult life. There’s a great parallel sequence in Shaun where Pegg goes about his daily routine and doesn’t notice that zombies are everywhere. Hot Fuzz in particular does a marvelous job of morphing into a sublimely ridiculous version of the very Bay/Bruckheimer action pictures it spent the first two acts sending up. That’s interesting as Hot Fuzz is the least thematically interesting film of the three. The World’s End caps things off nicely, but it also has a subtext about letting go and moving on.
Pegg stars as Gary, an underachieving slacker who’s never really moved on with life. Twenty years after Gary and his friends failed to finish an epic pub crawl called the Golden Mile, he’s trying to get his friends back together to finish what they started. The problem is, Gary’s mates have all moved on to a world of adult responsibilities. In fact, Andy (Pegg’s co-star in all three of these films, Nick Frost) has given up drinking. The five return to their home town to find it oddly unchanged, never a good sign in a sci-fi movie, even one like this that’s subverting the genre’s tropes. It turns out the town is overrun with goo-filled robots and the Apocalypse is nigh.
As with the other films in the series, The World’s End has an embarrassment of acting riches with great, great English thesps lining up to get involved. The cast here includes Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, and Rosamund Pike, all doing great work that contrasts the ever-escalating lunacy of the action. Wright shoots these set pieces extremely well; it’s going to be fun to see him playing in the Marvel Universe soon.
Last year, I wrote a piece for FBC about the sad state of film comedy. While I think things are still pretty grim, The World’s End is the kind of comedy I want to see more of. It’s often very funny, but it tells a story that can support it’s running time, and it also has something to say. For all its ridiculousness, it’s got a very smart, well-structured screenplay. It’s not just a collection of sketches as most film comedies are today.
Oddly, The World’s End reminded me a lot of Gary Ross’s criminally underrated film Pleasantville, another picture that deals with false memory and nostalgia. In that film, old TV shows build a false sense of an idealized past. The World’s End gives us a protagonist that fears letting go and growing up. If you liked the first two films in the series, you’re going to really like this, too. Wright and Pegg have done something few people are able to pull off – they’ve stuck the landing and created a satisfying third part of a trilogy.