Back in 2004, the world was changed forever when three film geeks, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost released the finest zombie comedy to ever hit cinemas, Shaun of the Dead. Since then, these three have shot forward in the public consciousness with much gusto! Wright is now making waves in Hollywood, about to direct his script for Marvel’s Ant-Man; presumably to kick off the third Avengers phase. Frost has gone on to host his own television show and has appeared in Hollywood features such as varied as Snow White and the Huntsman and Tintin. And Mr Pegg is on his way to A-list status, recently cementing places in the Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises.
For the final chapter of their ‘Blood and Ice-Cream Trilogy’ the group are in an entirely different life phase than when they produced Shaun and Hot Fuzz. You can tell watching the film.
I’ll tell you right off the bat that The World’s End is a damn fun film. Even so, it feels a bit isolated from its predecessors. The group are starting to shy away from the tropes of the past two films and their latest entry seems to be barely clinging to the ideas that are common to the Cornetto films. While Hot Fuzz took the baton from Shaun of the Dead and ran with it, waving it in our faces the whole time, The World’s End picks it up and holds it behind its back; instead, opting to pave its own humour and style. These guys are unique in that they don’t want to make the same movies over and over again, they want to do something new and unique. At the very least, you feel like you’re watching something fresh when this film starts playing.
In The World’s End, Simon Pegg plays Gary King: once the greatest man his friends had ever known, now an aging alcoholic stuck in the cigarette end of his teens. When Gary realises the extent of his inner depression, he goes on a King Arthur-esque quest to reunite his old gang and complete the pub crawl that never was: The Golden Mile. When Gary shows up to his now successful friends, he is a ghost from the past. Using a variety of dishonest manipulation tactics, he manages to lasso his doubtful friends back to his old home town, ready for the fabled pub crawl to begin. Things don’t kick off like he expected, however, as his friends memories of growing up are very different to his. Gary clashes particularly with his estranged ex-best friend Andy who is played with fierce rage by Nick Frost. Things don’t get any easier when the gang realise their hometown is now inhabited by a mysterious army of robot-like creatures whose intentions are best left a surprise.
The biggest departure that this film makes from its predecessors is its surprising darkness. While Shaun and Hot Fuzz gave us a very light tone and had seemingly minor consequences by the time the credits rolled, The World’s End hits us with strong emotional punches. As things start to unravel towards the end of the film, the extent of Gary’s personal crisis becomes shockingly real…even with some rather insane sci-fi antics framing the whole thing. These characters aren’t happy-go-lucky; they’re real and, at best, satisfied with their lives. The casual deaths of supporting characters is common to the first two Cornetto entries…but this time around, it actually feels kind of upsetting to realise the fates of these people. The overall ending isn’t happy or sad…I would say it’s bittersweet. It lives up to it’s title, but not in the way you’ll expect.
Of the three films, I would be most tempted to label this one a black comedy. The humour reflects this. There aren’t as many laugh-out-loud moments by a long way! The dry humour of the trailers is pretty much the overriding style of this entry. That doesn’t mean there isn’t absurdity. The final ‘face-off’ with the villains is one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen (keep in mind that the characters get increasingly drunk as the film progresses). But, above all else, the jokes in this film rely on our empathy with the rather pessimistic leads, particularly Gary, who is by far the most mean-spirited character Pegg has ever played. Overall, the wackiness is toned down and is replaced with the kind of humour that you almost feel bad for laughing at. As someone personally related to an alcoholic, Gary’s behaviour in the climax struck me as simultaneously hilarious and tragic.
As a result of the toned down wackiness, the gore of Shaun and Hot Fuzz is almost completely absent. No human mutilation is seen in this film. All of the ‘gore’ involves the destruction of the robot-like creatures and the blood of this film is, essentially, ink. The deaths of certain characters are implied to be rather gruesome, but are not explicitly shown. Much like Hot Fuzz, the motivations of the villains are brilliantly unique. I constantly want to shake the hands of Pegg and Wright while watching these films as they seem to have a knack for taking genre tropes and giving them original direction. The outcome of the film’s overriding external conflict is brilliantly anti-climactic and epic at the same time…you’ll really have to see the film to understand this.
Something that struck me as being particularly bizarre was the inclusion of a Pierce Brosnan cameo that didn’t seem to assist the story nor the humour in any way at all. His character serves only as an exposition device, mid-way through the film that wasn’t really necessary as all the required information becomes clear later in the film anyway. In fact, the absence of Brosnan would have been beneficial to the film as it would have prolonged the sense of mystery that surrounds the antagonists. The other actors are all brilliant and believable as a group of old friends. Martin Freeman, Paddy Consadine, Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike all do perfect justice to the script they are given.
The opening scene strikes me as particularly inventive as Pegg and Wright map out the entire film very subtly with their recount of the original pub crawl, without compromising the mystery and suspense that will come into play later on. Even more neat is that the film features reverse set-ups and pay-offs. Jokes and easter eggs that you would only notice if you’d seen the film before (or had it spoiled for you). As far as references to other films go…there are almost none. Pegg has often stated that he doesn’t like being seen as a parodist; so don’t expect to see a lot of sci-fi easter eggs.
As I said, the film is a huge departure from the rest of the ‘Blood and Ice-Cream Trilogy’. The dynamic between Pegg and Frost seems to have been intentionally diminished this time (they spend two-thirds of the film hating each other) and the overall style of this entry is unique, only just falling under the umbrella of its Cornetto predecessors. Even the Cornetto reference itself reflects the status of this film in relation to Shaun and Hot Fuzz. Thematically, its a fitting end. This is a story about letting go of your past and moving on to new things. Will the Cornetto gang ever regroup for another comedy? Hell yes they will. I spoke to Simon at the film’s international premiere and he enthusiastically responded “of course, but our next film won’t have to come under this umbrella of [blood and ice cream]“.
Verdict: Is The World’s End the perfect send off for the trilogy? No, it isn’t. It is by far the weakest of the three. But it is, thematically, the most logical. Best of all, its still a damn entertaining piece of cinema. I would gladly recommend this film to others, fans of the trilogy or not. This is the perfect place for the Cornetto films to end, the series is starting to show its potential for decay, but it’s still got enough energy to go out with a bang! And if it’s not the best film in the trilogy, at least it’s not the end of the world…
The World’s End opens in UK cinemas on Friday but not until August 23rd in the US.
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