Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and co-writer/director Edgar Wright have re-united for the third in the genre-bending “Cornetto” series, which I refuse to call a “trilogy” because I want them to keep going. In case you’re listening, guys: Please.
“Shaun of the Dead” was a romantic comedy with zombies and strawberry Cornetto ice cream. “Hot Fuzz” was a sort of deranged meta-buddy cop film with blue Cornetto ice cream. And now we have “The World’s End,” a comedy about a group of high school friends who get together to re-create a legendary pub crawl in their suburban home town. Twenty years after their high school graduation, they go back home to have a pint in each of the twelve pubs that constitute the “golden mile,” concluding at one called The World’s End. And yes, that is foreshadowing.
Things go badly. Things are not as they remembered. When the group arrive at the first pub on the list, it is depressingly generic. In the decades since they left, everything has been homogenized into sterile, interchangeably dull corporate decor. The second one is indistinguishable from the first. Gary has always cherished the notion that they were legends in the town. But no one seems to remember them, not even the high school bully.
Then the robot aliens show up and things get worse.
Co-write Pegg plays Gary King, who is now only dimly realizing that the qualities that lead to popularity in high school do not equip one for success thereafter. This is particularly the case when those qualities are essentially limited to creating the kind of experiences that result in watching the sun come up with bloody knuckles, a hangover, and vomit on your shoes. You can still do that after high school, as Gary’s current status as an inpatient in a substance abuse clinic attest. It’s just that it no longer makes him a hero to his friends. Now all respectable men with jobs and, for most of them, families, they have moved on and have no interest in going back.
But Gary, who thinks he lost his way when they failed to make it to all twelve pubs in “the golden mile,” manages to persuade the other four to come with him and try it again. For no other reason except for pity, survivor guilt, and perhaps some wish to revisit a carefree past, they decide to come along. It is possible, though, that they envy Gary’s freedom as they are constantly checking with their watches, their phones, and their wives. There’s car dealer Peter Page (Eddie Marsan — all of the characters have royal court-related names), realtor with a permanently embedded bluetooth earpiece Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman of “The Hobbit”), recently divorced Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Gary’s former best friend Andy Knightly (Nick Frost), whose hostility indicates that a revelation about some horrible misdeed lies ahead. Also in town is Sam Chamberlain (Rosamund Pike), Oliver’s sister, who was there for an important part of the legendary pub crawl in 1990.
Gary is darker than the previous roles Pegg wrote for himself, which mostly had him as an amiable, if immature and socially inept doofus (although in “Hot Fuzz” he was a very buff and straight arrow variation). He clearly relishes playing a completely dissolute character who cannot seem to figure out why a system of doing or saying whatever will get him what he wants at that moment without any regard to the consequences for himself or others is not working for him anymore. It is also good to see Frost playing something different as well. His Andy is responsible, dignified, and quietly competent and confident. He also turns out to be very good at fighting the robot aliens.
It’s a delicious mix of understated British humor and over-the-top craziness, with witty lines, some knowing digs at Hollywood, and razor-sharp satire. It also has the only credible explanation for hideous public sculpture I’ve ever seen. I hope they end up with at least as many in the series as there are flavors of Cornetto ice cream treats.
Parents should know that this film has constant bad language, including crude sexual references and a homophobic insult, a lot of drinking and drunkenness, drugs, and mostly comic peril and violence with some disturbing images.
Family discussion: Why did Gary’s friends agree to come back? Why was the pub crawl important to Gary?
If you like this, try: “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Paul,” and the television series “Spaced”