The final instalment in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto series — a trilogy of films written by Wright and Simon Pegg, starring Pegg and Nick Frost — further tests the director’s mettle as a genre-merging innovator who specialises in dressing up B movie tropes with sassy contemporary packaging.
If Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the world’s first rom-zom-com (romantic zombie comedy) and Hot Fuzz (2007) cut the ribbon on the buddy cop comedy / small town cult conspiracy pic, with Timothy Dalton as the kind of character who shuffles papers in an office during the day and quaffs lamb’s blood at night, The World’s End toasts the premiere of the apocalyptic pub crawl movie.
Wright can barely contain his affection for a premise that provides logical justification for characters to keep drinking; what exactly that is one ought to discover for themselves.
A group of lads reunite to attempt a “golden mile” of liver-busting drinking 20 years after failing to complete the challenge. Simon Pegg leads the gang as party hardy man-child Gary King, who spearheads a band-back-together plot involving five former pals (Pegg, Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine) who return to their hometown with a boozy mission: slam down pints at a selection of pubs and cross the finishing line at the eponymous watering hole, The World’s End.
For a long time the title of the film is its only indication something big is in the mail. After knitting together relationship padding between reacquainted friends (old grievances, past indiscretions etc) [pullquote position=”right”]The World’s End takes a 180 degree boogie into splatter and mayhem. It’s gut-bustingly good: a smart and playful schizo sci-fi[/pullquote] from a director on a hot streak.
Wright and Pegg’s screenplay dips into a grab bag of sci-fi bits and bobs, with flecks from Village of Damned (1960), Soylent Green (1973), Dark Star (1974), The Thing (1982), The Book of Eli (2010) and many more. The beauty of the film’s structure is it begins as a reverse Twilight Zone: the town hasn’t changed but the blokes have, a familiar message about reaching out to something lost in time. Then Wright pulls an about-face and the parameters around character and context are spectacularly realigned.
The World’s End has most in common with, of all movies, 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine, in which the characters’ desire to relive a watershed beer-drenched evening kickstarts a story about what happens when that night is revisited but the circumstances around it have irrevocably changed. John Cusack, who dosed up on magic mushrooms and mumbled gibberish like Hunter S Thompson, and now Simon Pegg, forever necking beers and ales, are the common man’s Gatsby, woozily holding onto a memory viewed through a fog of nostalgia.
Wright is not an intuitive action director. His staging of limb-flinging carnage is choppy and brusque, but due to the way he approaches genre — the sharp shifts in tone a consequence of the world his creations inhabit — this becomes an odd virtue. It’s as if he too has been caught off guard, handling surprise events with the same “what just happened?” mentality of his characters.
The bait is fun dialogue and breezy chemistry between his cast — particularly Pegg and Frost, who could make a recitation of a TV instruction manual entertaining — and the switch is a technique I call the Titty Twister. That name comes from a key location in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) where the story swings wildly from a road movie to a monster splatter fest.
Wright performs his cup and ball routine with slicker maneuvers, syncing characters, themes and comedy before eventually throwing the shit at the fan. His movies feel big, but they’re stuffed with small glories.
The World’s End’s Australian theatrical release date: August 1, 2013.