With “The World’s End,” British director Edgar Wright completes his buddy comedy trilogy (dubbed the “Cornetto” trilogy because Cornetto brand ice cream is seen in each one) that began in 2004 with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” in 2007. As far as great comedy movies are concerned, I consider both “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun” two of the very best comedies around. Aside from their wonderfully zany situations (“Shaun” was a comedy set during a zombie apocalypse and “Fuzz” was an action/cop comedy) and their vulgar but not too vulgar brand of verbal comedy the best thing those movies did was formally introduce American audiences to one of the funniest comedy duos to ever grace the screen: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. With Pegg as the confident leader and Frost as the oafish sidekick the perfect onscreen comedic chemistry that they create each time is the essence of the Cordetto trilogy. No matter the scenario or the setting (all three of the films are in no way related to each other) they always play buddies and in one way or the other that relationship is always tested. It helps immensely that Frost and Pegg have been friends in real life since childhood. Watching them banter back and forth with one another (in some ways they resemble a modern day Laurel and Hardy) is like watching two real friends having a conversation, and cameras just happen to be rolling. With their impeccable timing, it never feels like they’re giving performances. No matter how ridiculous the scenario is their buddy comedy chemistry always remains authentic, and with Wright in the director’s chair, the trio has been unstoppable.
In many ways “The World’s End” is a meditation on the first two pictures, combining the supernatural element from “Shaun of the Dead” with the seemingly idyllic small town (that’s actually hiding a deadly secret) setting of “Hot Fuzz.” And while “The World’s End” isn’t as strong as “Shaun” or “Fuzz” story wise the comedic interaction between Pegg and Frost is just as great.
Pegg plays Gary King, a man in his early forties who just hasn’t grown up. On the last day of school in his hometown of Newton Haven Gary, along with his chaps, attempted a ritual called The Golden Mile. A ritual in which one must drink a pint of lager at all twelve of Newton Haven’s bars (ending with The World’s End, hence the film’s title) in one day. Sadly, they couldn’t finish and this failure has left Gary incomplete and so he has remained an alcohol and drug addicted adolescent. His friends on the other hand have grown up and gotten normal jobs. However, Gary somehow convinces all of them to come back to Newton Haven with him for one last weekend to finally finish the ritual.
The first ten to twenty minutes of “The World’s End”-- as Gary anxiously leads the rest of the lads around to each bar like a child-- is truly great because it’s like watching real friends having conversations and drinking. No crazy antics, just five guys having some laughs, maybe a little bit of arguing and more importantly reliving fond memories. In addition to Frost as Andy Knightley, (who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since a drunk driving accident) there’s Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan). All of them are fantastic together and even though the picture does get more and more ridiculous as it goes on, that genuine sense of friendship is never lost. The humor—for the most part—is achieved through rapid-fire verbal comedy, that again is vulgar but not too vulgar. Instead of overwhelming the audience with f-bombs and sex jokes like you see in most American comedies these days, they’re used sparingly and effectively in “The World’s End.” There are very few lazy physical comedy bits and there’s almost no gross out humor. Considering that the “five Musketeers” (as Gary calls them) gradually get more intoxicated as the night goes on it’s a relief that the movie doesn’t contain even one vomit scene.
At the halfway point things take a turn for the weird. Apparently, after the five friends left Newton Haven the town was taken over by an extraterrestrial force. Now, while the residents look normal on the outside they’re actually blue blooded, emotionless robots. As much as it pains me to say it, this sudden twist of events is where I start to have issues with “The World’s End.” The “Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque” premise isn’t nearly as fresh or inspired as the zombie apocalypse premise in “Shaun of the Dead” was, nor is the rest of the story as clever as the excellent, multilayered murder mystery in “Hot Fuzz.” The first bare-knuckled brawl the five friends have with a few of the robots (in one of the pub bathrooms) is funny and exciting because it comes completely out of nowhere, but after awhile the robot fighting gets to be a little repetitive and tiresome. Furthermore, the rest of the movie basically becomes one big exhaustive chase, as the lads go from one bar to the next.
Now, I’m not saying the rest of the movie (after the robots are introduced) is bad, there are still plenty of laughs to be had and like in the other two movies Pegg and Frost’s relationship is the central force. It’s just that it doesn’t quite match the great quality of the beginning or the great quality of the other two. In fact if the movie had just been about the five friends doing The Golden Mile without having to fight robots I would have liked it just as much, or even more than “Shaun” or “Fuzz.”
There’s more I could talk about but when it comes to comedies, the less you say the better. “The World’s End” is the lesser of the Cordetto trilogy, but considering how great the first two are and considering that this one is still a lot of fun, that’s not much of a criticism. Though the movie contains a wild and outrageous sci-fi premise the human element—Gary and Andy’s friendship-- still remains intact and we’re reminded yet again that Pegg and Frost are one of the best modern comedy duos.