I wasn’t disappointed.
The World’s End tells the story of Gary King (Simon Pegg), a middle-aged loser hell-bent on getting the old gang back together and recreating a pub crawl that they never quite finished. What starts out as a simple (and hilarious) character study makes a sharp genre shift as it turns out that their sleepy hometown is hiding some dark secrets. What makes The World’s End so good (and perhaps my favorite of the Cornetto Trilogy) is that it manages to simultaneously indulge in sci-fi action, pay tribute to/playfully rib films of that genre, and tell an original story with surprising depth.
Simon Pegg turns out his best performance of the his three cinematic collaborations with director Edgar Wright and actor Nick Frost. In the hands of a less talented actor, Pegg’s selfish, childish character Gary King would come off as wholly unlikable. However, Pegg gleefully embraces his character’s youthful hedonism and keeps us invested in Gary’s mad quest to complete the legendary pub crawl. As the film progresses and the town descends into chaos, Gary’s bravado and devil-may-care attitude gradually crumbles, exposing the truth behind his actions. Suddenly, we’re not laughing anymore at the man trapped in 1990, and we see what a man loses when he refuses to let go of what he thinks were the best days of his life.
These startlingly honest moments of bared emotions are a specialty of director Edgar Wright, who can turn the emotional tone of a scene on its head without giving the audience mood whiplash. Here, Wright displays his ability to deftly inject serious and even heartbreaking moments into hilarious scenes of over-the-top violence. In fact, much of the film’s humor comes from Wright’s filming style. His quick pans, cuts, and montages had me laughing as much as the performances did.
And let’s not forget the film’s brilliant soundtrack. One reason I think The World’s End is my favorite of the trilogy is its excellent use of music to underscore the events of the story. The scene where “The Five Musketeers” walk down the street in wary lockstep to the plodding saxophone beat of The Doors’ “Alabama Song” is a perfect marriage of onscreen action and non-diegetic music. Music plays an important role in the film, as evidenced by the cassette tape of The Soup Dragons’ “I’m Free” that Gary has hung onto for all these years, and the fact that Gary ends up quoting the lyrics to Primal Scream’s “Loaded” in a climactic monologue.
Like its predecessors Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End touches on themes of the individual versus the collective, and autonomy versus conformity. And while this film has the defiant, individualistic tone of the first two, it also has a uniquely melancholy air (the characters are coming to terms with middle age, with varying degrees of success). That’s not to say that The World’s End isn’t a barrel full of laughs and a ton of fun, because it is. It just also has the added bonus of being smarter than your average bear (Yogi Bear pun intended).