The World’s End is occasionally hilarious, and features a masterfully madcap performance from Simon Pegg that could be his funniest in a lead role, including the previous two entries in the so-called “Blood and Ice Cream trilogy.”
But it also drags as it lumbers towards its oddly unsatisfying finish, and thus, much like a pub crawl with one too many stops, the experience doesn’t live up to the promise of fun in its wacky premise.
Pegg plays Gary King, a 40-something man-child who in his budding youth led his four best mates in an attempt to conquer “The Golden Mile”, an epic pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven. That first attempt to hit all twelve stops on the crawl, though it ended in failure, turned out to be the best night of Gary’s life. In an attempt to recapture the glory of that quest, and also to finish what was begun so long ago, Gary sets out to get the “band” back together and take on the Golden Mile again. In his mind, the idea’s so brilliant that he can’t imagine any of his old pals refusing.
Problem is, those old pals, unlike Gary, actually grew up, and so each one — henpecked family man Peter (Eddie Marsan); meticulously coiffed Oliver, or O-Man (Martin Freeman); old-time rival Steven (Paddy Considine); and former best mate Andy (Nick Frost) — is initially dubious of the “fun” to be had in pretending it’s 1990 and they’re teens again. Eventually, however, they all find themselves piling into “The Beast” — the same car Gary drove in their glory days — and reluctantly following their fearless leader into what they know will only end in sour stomachs and painful hangovers.
Only things are not quite as the “lads” remember in Newton Haven. The pubs themselves have changed with time, looking more like Starbucks locations than hole-in-the-wall watering holes. The bartenders they used to know so well don’t recognize them. People about town stare at them with curious intensity. Something strange has happened, certainly, but none of it seems to phase the fast-talking, never-wrong Gary, who’s aware of nothing save the quest and drinking as much as possible along the way.
That is, until the boys and O-Man’s lovely sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), discover that the changes in Newton Haven go far beyond simply the passage of time and modern progress. No, this town hasn’t just moved on into the 21st Century. It’s been taken over by …
… wait for it …
Evil alien robots! (Though the robots will be the first to politely correct you if you call them such. The word “robot”, roughly translated, means “servant” or “slave”, and they don’t particularly care for being referred to in that manner.)
Thus, the movie about five childhood friends reliving the past and trying to come to grips with their present suddenly turns into a battle for the future, theirs and apparently the whole planet’s.
See? Told you the premise was wacky.
Of course, you should expect no less from the furtive imaginations of the men who brought you Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). The writing team of Pegg and Frost, working with director Edgar Wright, have once again brought to life a film full of quotable moments (if you can keep up with Pegg’s near-maniac pace of speech, that is), memorably funny scenes, and surprisingly fun action, and the cast seems to have a ball wading into frenzied fight scenes, chases, and blue “blood” from the “Blanks”, as the robots come to be called, flying everywhere. Pegg, in particular, is mesmerizing on-screen as the compulsively irresponsible and impulsive Gary, who cheers, cajoles, charms, and quips his way past logic and reason at every turn to keep the quest alive, even in the face of assimilation by inhuman but exceedingly well-mannered and well-meaning alien conquerors. He’s always great fun to watch, but here, arguably, he’s at his best.
But about an hour and 30 minutes into The World’s End, you start to sense that the writers perhaps couldn’t decide on how to bring their tale to an end, and so it continues on and on until finally it concludes by taking the form of something resembling a mash-up of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods, and amazing as that might sound to some, it’s not necessarily a good thing for this film.
For all the laughs Pegg and company bring out, there are just as many lulls in the film’s pacing that eventually drag it down to … well, a crawl, and the ending, which also serves as the writers final attempt to drive home the social commentary aspect of their comedic sci-fi tale, by then just feels tired and bedraggled, much the way you’d probably feel if you tried to drink twelve pints at twelve pubs in one night.
Score: 3 out of 5
The World’s End
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Cosidine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike. Directed by Edgar Wright.
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references.