“Just what is it that you want to do?
We wanna be free
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded
And we wanna have a good time
That’s what we’re gonna do
(No way baby let’s go)
We’re gonna have a good time
We’re gonna have a party”
The World’s End, Edgar Wright’s hotly anticipated bookend to the Three Flavors trilogy opens with this sampled bit of dialogue, originally spoken by Peter Fonda in the 1966 Roger Corman film The Wild Angels, as it appears in the seminal Primal Scream song, “Loaded.” While these lines have weight in the context of the story (first, as a thematic primer, and later, as one of Wright & Co.’s exquisitely executed callbacks,) the cult biker flick they first appeared in is irrelevant. Well, it might not be. I honestly just Googled the Primal Scream song for the first time and was freaked out that it was Peter Fonda’s voice, then I started thinking about his performance in The Limey, and ended up in a wiki-hole, but I digress.
Fans of Edgar Wright and his collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost already know what to expect from this film: an intricately plotted comedy whose early punchlines give way to emotional gut shots in the last act, with frenetic editing, sly pop culture references and smart, enviable genre twists. In this regard, The World’s End delivers, but, at least on first viewing, there is something missing. It’s doesn’t quite match Shaun of The Dead’s pathos, nor does it measure up to Hot Fuzz in terms of pure pop exuberance. After some casual discussion (read: VIRULENT HAND WRINGING) with the friends who I attended an early screening with, I’ve come to blame much of this on the film’s denouement, which I will not spoil here, for I am not a horrible person.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Simon Pegg plays Gary King, the wild, charismatic ne’er do well and de facto leader of a group of childhood friends rounded out by Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman. When the gang were still young and reckless, they attempted a massive pub crawl in their hometown called The Golden Mile, but circumstance kept them from achieving their goal. Twenty years have passed and now Gary, down on his luck and punch drunk on nostalgia, manipulates the estranged crew into one more shot at the Mile, but not all is as it seems when the prodigal songs return to their old stomping grounds.
The cast is absolutely aces, from Pegg’s exciting turn as the manic, lovable and frustrating Gary King, to Nick Frost’s tour-de-force as the straight man who turns into the #pinkhulk when the action gets going. There are some blink and you’ll miss them (or, more to the point, might not recognize them because they’ve aged and look different) cameos from the Spaced days, as well as one amusing turn from another ex-Bond. Marsan, who you may recognize from any number of British dramas, is the real scene stealer, with his vulnerable, endearing performance as the meek Peter. I love when a “serious” actor turns up in a goofy comedy, and portrays a role that could easily be a stereotype with the same subtle honesty and care he would give Hamlet. In this case it’s as much a credit to the performers, as the writing.
Wright and Pegg take what could easily be the backbone of a mediocre Vince Vaughn vehicle and manage to spin a yarn that functions adequately as both a sobering, bittersweet look at friendship and maturation as well as a summer, alien invasion actioner. If you’ve seen either of the previous Cornetto flicks, you’re familiar with the style employed here. Wright and Pegg like to use every throwaway line and obscured sign in the background as portentous building blocks for later plot machinations. In this film, more than any other, they’ve honed their skill to a frightening level of efficacy. What the film lacks in a certain je ne sai quos, it more than makes up for with it’s densely layered structure. The opening sequence of the film serves as an efficient prologue that sets up the tone and character of the piece, while also acting as a microcosm of the larger plot. While Shaun creates comical suspense out of waiting for the zombies to pop up and Fuzz opens right up with the ridiculousness, The World’s End gives you some real quality time with the film’s cast before the genre element rears it’s blue stuff filled head, which lends the film’s later dramatic moments a credibility that underscores the ambition on display here.
It may be too early to call it their best, but The World’s End certainly feels like their sharpest, most well made film yet. Wright has grown so much as a director, and Pegg and Frost as performers. The film relies far less heavily on pop culture reference and cheap Comic-Con leaning fan service, in favor of a deeply personal tale of friendship and growing up. It’s the ultimate ballad of Gary King, the perfect stand-in for every fuck up friend you’ve ever had, and how somewhere inside that fuck up friend of yours lies the absolute essence of humanity.
About as fun a movie as has been released in this calendar year, watch out for some real stand out moments, like the expertly choreographed Drunken Schoolyard meets WWE fight sequences, the Xzibit Pimp My Ride meme complexity callbacks, and perhaps the most galactically scaled interventions ever captured on celluloid. Now that Edgar Wright has wrapped up this trilogy, it’ll be exciting to see where he goes next, and no, I don’t mean Ant-Man.