Do you know what a Cornetto is? The guy in front of me at The World’s End (2013) does. His desire to communicate that fact may have exceeded his actual satisfaction. A Cornetto, for my non-UK readers, is a pre-packaged ice cream cone, a bit like a Drumstick. It played a bit of a recurring role in the first Edgar Wright–Simon Pegg–Nick Frost film and semi-cult favorite Shaun of the Dead (2004), a comic pastiche of zombie films, as a symbol (by my reading) of immaturity. It came up again in the follow-up, Hot Fuzz (2007), a mash-up of action-crime films (with a little bit of BBC mystery thrown in). And The World’s End is their (supposedly) final entry in genre-pastiching with a variation on the small-town-alien-invasion film. I’m sure that can be shortened somehow, but why try?
Gary King (Simon Pegg) is, to put it mildly, preoccupied with his childhood where he was “the King” and life was a cabaret of booze and babes. Or do I mean carousel? Back in Newton Haven, Gary was surrounded by his estimable entourage: Oliver (Martin Freeman) the old man, Steven (Paddy Considine) the second-coolest, Peter (Eddie Marsan) the rich kid, and Andy (Nick Frost) Gary’s best friend. Time has been, on the surface, quite kind to latter four and an avalanche of addiction for Gary. It’s been over twenty years since they left school and Gary’s got an idea. To go back and complete “The Golden Mile”, an epic pub crawl through twelve establishments and a beer in each. They tried it once and failed, but this time will be different. The four aren’t completely onboard, but are finally convinced (partly out of pity for Gary losing his mother a few weeks back). When they get going, things begin to unravel (even more) between them and they’re about to split up but things take a turn for the weird. The town seems to have been taken over by some kind of army of robots. Do you know what robot means?
The comic pace of this film is quite astounding. Boom boom boom, no stop, no pause, just boom. So, for British Comedy fans, this is a treat. A sugary treat. And exactly what you expect it to be so far as humor is concerned. And if humor is concerned, well then that’s a pronounced paradox. P-a-r-a-d-o-x, pronounced PAIR-uh-docks. But be not concerned, that’s what I’m saying. You or humor, or Homer. What are we talking about? That’s right, speed. Speed kills, but if it’s small enough, I guess it tickles as well. Tickles to death! And it’s a good thing, I think, that we’ve reached the terminus of this trim trilogy because while it races forwards, it suffers from some choice dissimilarity and, upon reflection, bruising similarity to its popular prequels. I like alliteration. A lot. I always appreciate a little alliteration.
In all of these films, there lies the theme of friendship, lost, regained, and appreciated. This is where the dissimilarity comes in because unlike in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the central friendship isn’t really so central nor as convincing. Is it because Frost is playing the role of straight-man and Pegg is the one trapped in arrested development? [And boy is he trapped in the most severe case of arrested development ever presented on film.] I think not, I think it’s a trick of the plot (written by Wright and Pegg) which spends eighty percent of the film presenting what might seem to many as a genuine tale of friends drifted apart and about ten minutes of the kind of lasting love and loyalty seen in the earlier films. Worst offense of the dissimilarity is the epilogue–and I’m afraid that it might have been dreadful–which, apart from the tonal break and complete inscrutability, is completely unlike the happy codas from Shaun’s Hot Dead Fuzz.
Why such a problem of dissimilarity? Because the structure of the film follows so neatly along the lines drawn up in Shaun of the Dead. Both Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End are survival stories with a cast of mostly-friends who are picked off one-by-one a la most disaster (zombie, alien, apocalypse) films. But while Shaun of the Dead strictly followed the parameters of character, The World’s End is led by a forty year old John Bender while Molly Ringwald‘s interested in Emilio Estevez. I think that’s what I mean. You might think that bucking the tropes would be an improvement, but the character dynamic that these tropes represent are needed. Without them, a vacuum of motivations and observations exists. The big revelation is brushed right into the resolution at hair-raising speed, thus completely cheating non-gag/action time of any value.