The World’s End: One Last Cornetto For The Road

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost appearing together in a movie has become a pretty safe way to get me interested in seeing the movie. The two almost never fail to have a hilarious dynamic going in whatever movie they team up in, and this has been quite evident in their now-complete “Cornetto trilogy”, consisting of Shaun of The Dead, a send-up of zombie movies mixed with a romantic comedy, Hot Fuzz, a tribute to action cop movies combined with a fish-out-of-water story, and now The World’s End, a science fiction spoof mixed with a bar-room comedy.

The World’s End is the story of five old high-school friends, Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), and Gary King (Simon Pegg). After graduating from high school in their youth, the five attempted to conquer the “Golden Mile”, drinking at all twelve of the local pubs in their hometown in a single night, but failed. Years later, the group are all approaching their forties, holding down respectable, high-paying jobs and social lives…except for Gary, who has not grown past his high-schooler mentality, and is now a washout in a support group. Becoming convinced that failing to complete the Golden Mile was where everything started to go wrong with his life, Gary tracks down his old friends and manages to convince them to join him on one last pub crawl to “finish what they started”. Despite all of his former friends having outgrown Gary, they reluctantly agree, and return to their hometown to meet up and drink together for the first time in years. As they begin their half-hearted pub crawl, however, the friends stumble upon an alien invasion replacing the townsfolk with robots.

Story-wise and character-wise, The World’s End bears some resemblance in places to Shaun Of The Dead; while the zombies have been replaced with alien robots that have some mannerisms of the Body Snatchers, it is still telling a tale of a group of friends trying to sort out their troubled relationships (particularly with a friend that can’t or won’t grow up and get himself together) amidst a horde of pursuing monsters, and the folly of trying to wait out the apocalypse in a pub. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg appear to have switched roles for this film, however, with Simon Pegg playing the more level-headed straight man while Simon Pegg takes the role of a zany manchild whose antics exasperate the group and get them into trouble. The film seems to take roughly equal time for the science fiction plot and showing the story of Gary trying desperately to relive the glory days of his youth before his life went down the drain while his friends are dragged along for the ride, trying to deal, with increasing embarrassment and irritation, with how little Gary seems to have changed while they have all grown up. Gary manages to be a little more nuanced and sympathetic than Nick Frost’s similarly immature character Ed from Shaun Of The Dead, as while he does come across as a loser stuck in the past, there are scenes that develop him to show his behavior springs more from being deeply unhappy with his life than simple childishness. The group has a good dynamic going, with the four grown-up friends having a warm sense of camaraderie seeing each other again and each of them bouncing off of Gary’s immaturity in different ways. Nick Frost in particular steals the movie as Simon Pegg’s foil, and watching how their broken friendship develops over the movie provides both good humor and some surprisingly heartfelt pathos to contrast it. While I felt that The World’s End was retreading some old ground on the story and character fronts, I still feel that it did so well enough to get a pass, and there are clear differences from Shaun Of The Dead that help it stand out more.

Of course, this is a comedy, so story and characterization need to be measured alongside a more important question: is it funny? I definitely give The World’s End a thumbs-up on this one; there were a number of times I was left laughing out loud in the theater, and a lot of the character interactions evoke a good chuckle. Like Hot Fuzz, the action in this movie also does an interesting job of spinning between funny and awesome, and the five inebriated friends brawling with the robots is a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes the humor in the film is undercut by some rather sad scenes, but in some ways these scenes help the humor in the film by giving it a contrast, especially as the evening grows more and more surreal for the characters.

The World’s End has is problems, though, and “surreal” is among the criticisms I had of the film as a whole. Meshing a science-fiction plot with a story about old friends having a night on the town makes for a great contrast, but The World’s End feels a lot more “out there” than Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz a decent portion of the time, particularly when the ending crosses over to just downright weird. Some of the comedy also struck me as cringe comedy, too; Simon Pegg plays a total loser so believably there are times you don’t want to watch what he’s going to do next or sympathize all too well with the others’ impatience with him. The film feels less focused in its parody and doesn’t have the same elements of tribute that can be observed in other Simon Pegg/Nick Frost team-ups like Paul, Hot Fuzz, and Shaun Of The Dead. These factors can make The World’s End feel a little more awkward than its siblings were, which can dampen one’s ability to enjoy the jokes to their full extent. While it doesn’t delve into weirdness so deeply that it completely loses the ability to be funny, like some “comedies” I’ve seen, I feel that fans of the other “cornetto” movies might find The World’s End a little more absurdist in its approach to comedy, which works for some people but not for others.

On the whole, I enjoyed The World’s End but felt its flaws kept it from being as good as Hot Fuzz. The movie is definitely funny and has a number of good moments to offset the weird or awkward ones, but I wouldn’t say The World’s End is a “see-in-theaters” movie; I’d recommend waiting for DVD and renting it to see how well the movie plays for you.

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