It’s hard to recapture past glory, live up to our youthful potential and/or the expectations others have of us. These hobgoblins of the adult psyche, which we sense most acutely as middle-age approaches, plague not only Gary King (Simon Pegg) but the film he dominates: The World’s End. Not that this latest release from the team of Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright is bad, no, far from it! However, this high-energy comedy feels a lot like Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life; hilarious yet forced, lacking that spark which made its predecessors so outlandishly enjoyable.
Story-wise, The World’s End is essentially an Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, with the feel of having been written between questions at a pub quiz. Gary King, a man stuck in perpetual teen-aged rebellion, gathers four old friends to their sleepy hometown of Newton Haven to conquer an epic pub crawl they bungled some 20 odd years earlier. The night starts with Gary’s mates, Andy (Nick Frost), Peter (Eddie Marsen), Steve (Paddy Considine) and Oliver (Martin Freeman) all basically humoring their “loser” pal from the past. Thankfully, just as the rebukes and relationships edge towards genuine adult drama, this film launches into its true nature: an apocalyptic sci-fi comedy. The five friends find themselves running from pub to pub (it’s their only plan) evading blue blooded non-robot simulants of the townsfolk. These “simulants” are put together like life-sized G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls (or Action Man if you’re reading this in the UK), a concept both imaginative and disturbing. It seems while everyone was off building grown-up lives complete with careers, kids and divorces; and Gary was off doing, well nothing really; a quiet alien invasion has been taking place not only in Newton Haven, but all over the world!
Ultimately, it is up to a very drunk Gary to make the case for mankind and convince the homogenizing and exceedingly polite aliens that Earth doesn’t want to be groomed to join their galactic community. Gary’s words speak not only of humanity but of himself as well: yes we’re uncouth; yes we’ve spent much of our time on the planet so far screwing around; and yes, we know what’s best for us and we still don’t do it! BUT we want to be free, to do what we want to do, to have fun and get loaded and, well who the hell are you to tell us what we should be or do?! Piss off!
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have said The World’s End is the conclusion of a trilogy with their previous films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The connective tissue between the three is evident and there is a full-circle sense of finality to The World’s End. I will miss this team that made zombies funny, British coppers bad-asses and a pub crawl a world saving odyssey. Perhaps destiny will reunite Pegg and Wright; it was all over with Meaning of Life but it wasn’t with Return of the Jedi. (Hmm, Cornetto Wars, Episode One, The Phantom Whippy?)
The World’s End is great fun, with rapid fire humor, fights with life-sized action figure people and good running gags; but it is hardly the back-of-the-net goal that was the first romantic comedy with zombies. This film came dangerously close to being boring, with a group of friends gathering, re-opening old wounds and dealing with the perennial under-achiever. The first thirty minutes or so dragged as we got to know who these five were, have evolved into and what subtle animosities they harbor for one another. Thankfully, good action, comedy and solid writing came through in the third act and all that early, banal dialogue even turned out to be important. Maybe I’m being too hard on Pegg and Wright because of my unrealistic expectations of their work. It is hard to live up to your potential and other people’s expectations, especially once you’ve created a reputation for excellence. Like Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Pegg & Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream” finale may be damned to be an under-appreciated good time, judged by fans more for its failings than for its accomplishments.