A fitting conclusion to The Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End is a funny, exciting, emotional and bold film that, whilst not exactly a comedy, is still one of the best films that I’ve seen this year.
It doesn’t disappoint.
That’s all that a lot of you are reading this review to find out and I am ecstatic to report that Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, producer Nira Park and everyone involved in The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy have not suddenly dropped the ball with The World’s End and, if nothing else, it is at least on the level of Hot Fuzz in terms of quality (and I adore Hot Fuzz). But The World’s End has bigger ambitions than simply making you laugh. Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely funny, but I would hesitate to call this a comedy for, as the film barrels towards its final act, the laughs start drying up in favour of a surprising sincerity, sadness and heart for an ending that I absolutely did not see coming.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The film opens recounting one night in 1991 where Gary King (Simon Pegg) and his school friends, Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) attempted The Golden Mile, an epic pub crawl in their hometown of Newton-Haven consisting of 12 pubs and 12 pints, a pub crawl that they never finished. Twenty years later and everyone has moved on with their lives, holding down steady, successful jobs and in relationships of various kinds. All except Gary, who still holds up the night as the best of his life and is determined to recreate it.
So, Gary hunts down his friends and convinces them all to join him back in Newton-Haven for a reunion and one last attempt at conquering The Golden Mile. They’re all happy to see each other, but far less excited to see King who, as it turns out, has almost quite literally not moved on from that one night twenty years back. Each member holds a various grudge against King, each member holds some negative memory from that night and each member is less than thrilled to be back in their hometown. However, as the night goes on, they start to realise that something is very, very wrong with the town they used to know…
What said thing is has been shown in every single trailer, but I don’t plan on spoiling here because the film takes its sweet time getting there and, if you’ve somehow managed to get this far blind to what “the twist” is, you do not want me to spoil the part where sh*t hits the fan. Instead, the film spends the opening 30 or so minutes setting up the character dynamics, letting us all grow to care about each of them in various ways and very subtly planting clues that things are absolutely not what they seem. It’s a slow burn opening and one that builds a great atmosphere whilst still making time for some great jokes.
Because, and I cannot stress this enough, The World’s End is still a very funny movie. It’s not as immediately quotable as either Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz; there aren’t a tonne of one liners going around here, so you will be disappointed if you’re expecting tonnes of them. Instead, the jokes come from the characters, how they interact with each other, their individual personalities and how they react to the events of the plot. There are still a tonne of laugh out loud moments, but they play just as much as character beats this time around. Eddie Marsan gets the best of these joke/beat hybrids just before the third act which also doubles as one of the best brick jokes I’ve seen yet in a 2013 movie.
However, I mentioned near the start that I, personally, wouldn’t class The World’s End as primarily a comedy and there is a very good reason for that. For one, it doubles as a surprisingly great action movie. If there was any doubt in your mind after Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that Edgar Wright doesn’t know how to stage and shoot a fight scene, World’s End will have put those silly thoughts to rest by, if not the first or the second then, the third fight scene. What could have just been a series of bar brawls, something that would have gotten very repetitive, actually turn into some of the most inventive, gleefully violent and well shot action sequences I’ve seen in ages. Yes, there’s shaky-cam and, yes, there are some rapid cuts, but Wright never overindulges in these, preferring some slightly longer takes than we’re used to in a mainstream Summer action movie and for us to actually know where everyone is in relation to each other in the scene. Consequently, these action scenes pop and are very exciting in addition to being hilarious (why are they hilarious? …I’d really rather not say because the other “wait, what?” moment that occurs when the first one starts is worth the ticket price alone).
As for the acting, almost everyone involved gives a fantastic performance with the standouts being Pegg and Frost who each give career best performances by, essentially, switching the roles they played in Shaun Of The Dead. This time, Pegg plays the slacker who leeches off of his friends and refuses to grow up whilst Frost plays the straight man who would do much better to get shot of the friend who is dragging him down. Of course, if it was just that, their characters would just be one joke. A clever joke, but a single joke, nonetheless. But the script actually deepens the pair of them by getting to the sadness at the centre of them and both Pegg and Frost seem to relish getting some genuinely dramatic material to share together, giving it absolutely everything in the final act. The supporting cast are no slouches, either, although some are given less to do than others, particularly Rosamund Pike whose character mostly just kind of wanders in and out of the plot in order to further Gary and Steven’s character development.
Again, though, everything about The World’s End comes down to the final act, which I cannot say enough nice things about. It’s not a laugh-fest of a third act like Hot Fuzz’s was and it’s not as much of a straight genre homage as Shaun Of The Dead’s was. Instead, it goes bolder. It starts asking tough questions, it turns into a social satire, it really delves into why exactly Gary King is so insistent to complete the pub crawl, it pulls the trigger on a third act choice that most films like this released at this time of the year wouldn’t dream of pulling, and its epilogue has enough ideas in it to sustain an entire film all by itself. There are still some laughs, some big laughs, if that’s all that you’re looking for, but by this point the film ties these laughs into the bigger, overall message that is successfully driven home in a manner that I still cannot believe they managed to pull off without becoming preachy.
The World’s End is a triumph, ladies and gentlemen. More immediate than Hot Fuzz, this is a stunning film full of big laughs, great action sequences, superb lead performances and an incredible final act that is funny, heartfelt and bold all at once. Time, and repeat viewings, will tell if it’s as good as Shaun Of The Dead, a film that I’m still finding new things in a decade on, or if the script is as tight as Hot Fuzz, a film whose third act makes the seemingly rambling first act completely make sense in retrospect (what with just how many Chekov’s Guns are paid off), but right now I can sit here and tell you that The World’s End is quite possibly the best film I have watched so far this year. I… I honestly believe that. I thought really hard about whether I truly believe that sentence but I can find no evidence in me to argue against that feeling. The World’s End is exactly that good.
Go and see it. Just go and see it.
Callum Petch wants to get loaded and he wants to have a good time. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!