Maybe it was too tall an order expecting The World’s End to reach the delirious heights of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Those first two films in Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s so-called Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy were fizzy blasts of self-aware genre movie-making, not quite spoofs of zombie and action films (respectively), but elaborate deconstructions of them that were rooted in strong character work, a wry sense of humor and a blast of the ol’ ultra-violence. The World’s End has all of those things, but they’re not nearly as expertly mixed. Hey, it’s always difficult to go three-for-three.
The movie stars Pegg as lifetime fuck-up Gary King, a brash, nearly-40 deadbeat whose late-teenaged glory days are long behind him. Back then, he and his four best buddies attempted a legendary pub crawl called the Golden Mile — a trek to 12 different bars scattered throughout their hometown of New Haven. They failed to make it to pub #12, named The World’s End, and everyone went on to grow up, move away and take on adult responsibilities such as career and family. Everyone, that is, except for Gary, who’s mired in perpetual, alcohol-fueled adolescence. But in an effort to reconnect with his buddies, Gary gets the gang back together for one more go at completing the Mile. His old friends reluctantly agree, but, as anyone who’s seen Shaun or Hot Fuzz could guess, bizarre shit interferes with Gary’s plans. There’s a bathroom attack that leads to Gary decapitating a New Haven resident who, it turns out, is some kind of strange, blue-blooded robot. Further investigation reveals that the town’s population is not what it seems, and if Gary and company intend to make it to The World’s End — and make it there alive — they’re going to need to reforge childhood bonds and, in Gary’s case, come to grips with mistakes long since made.
Wright and Pegg’s script tries to do a lot. There are the expected sci-fi shenanigans, with The World’s End riffing heavily on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, along with a great deal of serious stuff about alcoholism, depression, and what happens when they life you just knew you were going to have never materializes. By the end, it proves far too much for them to juggle. The sheer number of characters alone is a problem. Of the five friends, only Gary and Frost’s Andie feel three-dimensional. Rosamund Pike is tacked on to give the film a female presence, but her storyline is so telegraphed that it ends on a joke about how telegraphed it was. Pierce Brosnan shows up for a bit, but the role’s so empty you question why bother getting a former Bond to play the part. (Fellow 007 alumnus Timothy Dalton had it a lot better in Hot Fuzz.) It’s an odd thing that when some of the characters are replaced by robot doppelgängers, not only do you end up not caring, but the movie doesn’t even ask you to care.
Meanwhile, the action also proves problematic, as it all turns very samey very fast. The gang ends up fighting wave after wave of robotic New Havenites, but the battles are nearly indistinguishable from one another. They all end with heads being smashed like pumpkins and blue sludge flying everywhere. It gets old fast. There is also some thematic fuzziness involving the nature of individuality and whether Gary’s happy ending was properly earned or just another blip on a jagged character arc that doesn’t quite track. The latter is debatable, but, at the least, I think the movie can be faulted for being a little wishy-washy on what it’s ultimately trying say about Gary’s lifestyle choices.
Despite all of this, there are things to like about The World’s End. Regardless of whatever script issues there are with the character, Pegg is his usual manic, entertaining self. Even playing a massive douchebag, he’s fun to watch, and he sells some of the film’s more dramatic moments toward the end when we learn the full depths of Gary’s problems. The interplay between the five friends is snappy with some great throw-away jokes and deadpan deliveries from Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine. It’s just a shame that Wright seems to lose his grip on the many different things he’s trying to accomplish here. Whereas Shaun of the Dead‘s zombie apocalypse and its thematic subtext concerning the dangers of living a “brain-dead” life seemed perfectly married, the homogenized robots of The World’s End don’t couple nearly as well with Gary’s insistence that one of mankind’s greatest qualities is its ability to royally fuck things up.