I remember that when I first heard the title “Shaun of the Dead” I rolled my eyes in disgust. “What is that” I thought “some sort of zombie focused entry in the Scary Movie franchise?” The fact that it was a British film didn’t sway my opinion either, in fact it made me all the more skeptical about a lot of the film’s early positive buzz; all too often I find that British stuff gets an easy pass by anglophile critics who associate that particular accent with sophistication (Guy Richie, I’m looking at you). I still think that “Shaun of the Dead” is a horrible title, but when I finally did see the movie I was fairly impressed. It’s not a perfect film or a particularly hilarious one, but it’s an excellent example of how you can make a comedy that’s funny while still being a quality film with characters you care about and a story that’s actually interesting. The next Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg collaboration, Hot Fuzz, was bigger and more confident but decidedly weaker overall. I wasn’t really impressed at all by Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, which was Edgar Wright’s first high profile project without Simon Pegg, and Pegg in turn has only had success as a supporting player without the assistance of Edgar Wright. As such, I’m left with the feeling that these two are better when they’re together than when they’re apart. And that puts all the more pressure on their first collaboration in over five years: the last film in their so-called “Cornetto trilogy,” The World’s End.
The World’s End concerns five men in their early forties who were best of friends when they were growing up in a smallish (fictional) town in the English countryside called Newton Haven. On their last day of school as young men these five friends went on a famous pub crawl through Newton Haven called “The Golden Mile.” Even though the group never made it all the way to the crawl’s final stop (a Pub called “The World’s End), the evening still left a big impression on the self-styled leader of this little clique, a man named Gary King (Simon Pegg) who apparently grew up to be something of an irresponsible jackass. As the story begins, King is attempting to round up his old friends Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Andy (Nick Frost), so that “the gang” can get back together and try once again to finish “The Golden Mile.” They reluctantly agree to this even though all of them have drifted apart and become productive citizens, but soon after they reconvene and begin the crawl they soon start to suspect that something is amiss in Newton Haven.
Those who’ve seen the trailer for the film will know (and Spoilers going forward for anyone that doesn’t know this little twist) that the secret of Newton Haven is that it’s been taken over by robots who look, sound, and behave just like the town’s former inhabitants. As such, this is a bit of a riff on science fiction stories like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, but it isn’t the all-encompassing genre spoof that Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were. And this is for the best. The less like actual spoof movies these films are, the better they tend to be, which is a big part of why Hot Fuzz is so much weaker than Shaun of the Dead.
First and foremost, this is a movie about old friends reuniting, and most of the comedy is derived from the fact that Gary King is still a fuck-up while all his friends have grown up. The role of Gary King is bit of a departure for Simon Pegg, who has mostly built his career by playing lovable nerds in films like Shaun of the Dead and in series like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. King is someone who thinks he’s a cool alpha-male, but who’s really just kind of a loser who’s been trying to recapture his youth. His friends are sort of the straight-men to his antics, especially Nick Frost’s character who has become straight-laced to the point where he seems to be compensating for past mistakes. The rest of the cast is perhaps a bit over-qualified given that their roles are mostly secondary, but they do well with the material given to them.
I can’t really help but to compare The World’s End to 2013’s other apocalyptic themed comedy, This is the End. This is the End was film that was extremely rough around the edges: it had some bad special effects in it, it went on meaningless tangents, there were bits in it that fell flat, but despite all that it was a film that I really enjoyed simply because it had me in stitches pretty much front to back. By contrast, The World’s End was a much better made film with a much more honed screenplay and much more solid craftsmanship all around, but I can’t say I laughed nearly as hard while watching it. The World’s End, like the other films in Edgar Wright’s Corenetto Trilogy, is simply one of those comedies that is designed to make you smile and chuckle rather than to make you laugh uproariously. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, entertainment is entertainment after all, and the film’s story probably wouldn’t have been as good if it was constantly pausing in order to allow the performers to improvise some joke or other. Overall, I was definitely entertained by The World’s End. In fact it might just be my favorite Edgar Wright film to date, though it should be noted that I never put his other three films on all that high of a pedestal.
***1/2 out of Four