by Thom Yee
I like British stuff. British cars, British landmarks… even British people. There’s just something about their fundamental sensibilities, a mix of pride, integrity and understanding combined with an over-developed sense of perversion. Now that’s pretty easy to say having not grown up there and having never visited, but everything British I’ve been exposed to — whether it was the Daniel Craig James Bonds, football hooligans, Warren Ellis, or even Top Gear — all seemed to have a certain wit (even if it didn’t need to), a certain understanding that there’s always more under the surface and that that’s where everything important is. When it comes to British comedy, it’s not about landing jokes, it’s about hiding something funny in everything you say and the certain understanding that the only audiences worth pursuing are the ones picking up what you’re putting down. It’s not about fast-paced wisecracks or sophistication (and in many ways it’s the polar opposite of those), it’s the winking notion that you only really recognize if you get it. That moment at the end when you lay your soul bare to the only person you’ve ever really cared about, and all they say, all they have to say is, “I know.”
I could clearly identify two distinct audience reactions as I walked out of The World’s End screening. One side couldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was, recounting their favourite moments, and arguing over which scenes were the funniest. The other couldn’t muster a reaction more positive than “It wasn’t that bad.” To the former: I’m glad you liked it. To the latter: everything that anyone would ever need to know about your group is contained in the phrase you guys used repeatedly while beating the whole thing to death: “I know, right?”
The World’s End is the capper in the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” that began with Shaun of the Dead and middled with Hot Fuzz. Though there’s nothing saying that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost won’t work together on any more movies (and I’m sure they will), by the time you get to the conclusion of The World’s End, it’s pretty clear that this particular brand of movies has come to its natural close. The hallmarks of the series are all on full display, including messy violence, friends getting drunk, and eating ice cream treats as hangover cure, but more importantly, the less overt thematic through-line of the trilogy — that people aren’t really running their own lives — is followed to its logical end. In Shaun of the Dead it was becoming zombies, in Hot Fuzz it was a secret cabal micro-engineering a closed society, and in The World’s End it’s robots covertly replacing a small town’s citizenry. And while these are all external factors for why the world is the way it is, what really makes the trilogy meaningful (and the movies are still pretty good in a non-meaningful way) is its deep understanding that even though we, as individuals, are the ones most responsible for where we end up, a lot of what the world’s done around us really isn’t helping our individual causes.
To be clear, Three Flavours Cornetto is a spiritual trilogy rather than a literal one. You can pick up any one and enjoy it on its own, but it really does mean more if you watch them all in order. If you liked one, you’ll like them all, but you’ll definitely have a favourite. And if you liked one, there’s absolutely no good reason for not seeing the rest.
This time around, Simon Pegg plays Gary King, a former high school god who’s never gotten over his former glory in the small town of Newton Haven. The greatest night of his life was his last day of school when he and his four friends — Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (some guy you’ll probably recognize, but you won’t know from where), and Peter (some guy you’ll definitely recognize, but you won’t know from where) — attempted to finish the Golden Mile: an infamous 12-establishment-strong pub crawl. Twenty-or-so years later he gathers his high school friends and former flame, Sam (Rosamund Pike) — all of whom have jobs and relationships and better things to do — back to Newton Haven to finally finish what they started. Except now everyone in the town’s been replaced by robot duplicates (or “blanks”) and the only way out is to complete the mile and make it all the way to “The World’s End” pub.
Now if you’ve seen The World’s End’s trailer, seen the first two in the Trilogy, or are even just broadly aware of the series, you’d be forgiven for thinking that The World’s End is just another romp in a series of movies that can be described with terms like “madcap” or “whimsical”. And you’d be wrong. The World’s End is surprisingly heavy, and it fully embraces the thematic through-line I mentioned earlier rather than just broadly glossing over it like in its predecessors. Gary isn’t a healthy guy. The movie starts off with Gary describing his old friends and that best night of his life to a group of alcoholics in rehab. He’s not Shaun, a guy who just needs a bit of a push. He’s not Nick, a guy who finds true friends and becomes a better person. While alcohol plays a part in his ongoing problems, Gary’s a guy who just doesn’t know and probably would never have found out how to live anything approaching a proper life. Like Shaun and Nick, Gary’s lucky to be given a chance to become the hero when the world around him goes crazy, but even if he manages to make it through the robots, through the bad guys, and through the Golden Mile, things aren’t going to end well for him if he doesn’t make some serious changes. It’s still a pretty funny movie, and I’d say a little sharper than Shaun or Fuzz overall, but there’s just a lot more going on this time.
Something director Edgar Wright does exceptionally well with the film is time management. He manages to give all six of the main cast members the time they need for the audience to care about them. Remember, these are all realistic characters we’ve just met, so giving each a complete story and enough screen time for us to empathize with them is a trick that most movies don’t pull off. And even with the townsfolk having been replaced by mellowed-out robot duplicates, there are enough funny little moments for side characters, especially David Bradley (who most of you probably know as the man behind the Red Wedding) as crazy old Basil. It’s also nice to see Pierce Brosnan make a brief appearance as a former favourite high school teacher turned blank. Along with Timothy Dalton (who I like to call TDalt because I think it’s mildly clever and I’m taking that general sound back from what I always thought was a stupid thing to call Toronto) in Hot Fuzz, there’s a nice little Bond connection going on.
As for the ending, I’d imagine there are going to be quite a few people out there who found it to be pretty polarizing, and while I’m not going to give it away here, I will say that I think the movies in this trilogy play around in realities that are flexible enough for the ending to mean whatever you want it to. For me, the movie really ends the scene before, with Gary and Andy back on the hill they ended their night on 20 years earlier, looking down on Newton Haven. What follows is pretty much just a funny, self-aware conclusion that exists mostly so we don’t have to follow Gary to his natural end.
Ultimately, The World’s End is an almost incredibly sad film about someone who will never grow up and is using his friends as an excuse to drink himself to death. But it’s not a downer. It’s a fun movie that can be enjoyed in a number of ways to a number of people, so long as you’re all paying attention. It’s funny, action-packed and sincere, and it’s only as profound as you want it to be. It’s probably better than Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz all things considered, and it’s the perfect ending to this unofficial trilogy, one that really shows you how much more everyone involved from the beginning way back in 2004 is capable of now almost 10 years later.
So if you ever start talking about movies and the conversation starts leaning towards the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, tell them how awesome you thought The World’s End was. You’ll know if it’s a conversation worth continuing (and a person worth knowing) if they say, “I know” without adding, “…right?”
The World’s End final score: 9
On the Edge
-In reviewing the pubs’ names, beginning with “The First Post” and ending with the titular (“titular”) “World’s End”, I couldn’t help but wonder about what kind of bar owner would so deliberately make their establishment the end point. It seems like designing your place to be the end point of a challenge most people don’t make is a bad business strategy.
-Too bad Roger Moore wasn’t in Shaun of the Dead.
-Ed talking to Shaun about losing Liz in Shaun of the Dead: “I’m not gonna say there’s plenty more fish in the sea, I’m not gonna say if you love her let her go, and I’m not gonna bombard you with cliches, but what I will say is this… it’s not the end of the world.”
-“Wide on.” That is all.
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