Review: 'The World's End'

The clock reads “14:58.” Europe’s funny that way. Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steve (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) meet up at the train station. It’s been years; they’ve all done fairly well for themselves. Their fifteen minutes aren’t nearly up, but Gary’s (Simon Pegg) are, and naturally, he’s running a bit late for his own reckoning.

It’s been over two decades since these five lads attempted “the Golden Mile,” a 12-pint-long pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven, which they failed to complete in spectacular fashion. Gary hasn’t moved on, though, and he’s gotten the gang back together so as to finally finish what they started in 1990. Andy isn’t having it. He’s been sixteen years sober since he last saw his childhood chum. Oliver, Steve and Peter aren’t exactly keen on drinking either, each saddled with wife, kids, proper responsibilities, but none can deny that Newtown Haven has become something closer to Stepford in their absence...

Assuming that anyone reading this has seen the trailers by now, it’s safe to confirm that -- just as “Shaun of the Dead” riffed on the horror genre while “Hot Fuzz” gave American actioners their due -- Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End” is an out-and-out sci-fi comedy that pits yet another slacker lead against both a literal and figurative apocalypse. Though “End” spends about as much time in introducing its characters before working in the primary genre elements, more care has been taken to establish Gary’s lamentable reputation for living in the past and his delusional determination to follow through on his juvenile dreams. He has exploited and abused these people over the years with such recklessness, and yet he hardly seems to care, nor do they care to prevent him from wasting away in either a London rehab center or a Newton Haven pub, each one seemingly indistinguishable from the last. (Steve refers to such insidious corporate influence as “Starbucking.”)

Bracing yourself for this year’s “Oslo, August 31st?” Don’t! Wright’s terrifically precise approach to comedy remains as well-honed as ever, no less rewarding on repeat viewings for its impeccable production details and Coen-worthy knack for lively sound design. His screenplay, co-written with Pegg, trades in rampant innuendo and farcical misunderstanding to an endearing degree, while the entire ensemble (including Rosamund Pike as Oliver’s sister and Gary’s schoolyard crush, Sam) shares a vital sense of dormant chemistry and lingering resentment with Pegg, a sadder slacker than his Shaun was, and Frost, for once playing the responsible compatriot. Fans of Ben Wheatley’s work in particular should appreciate the faces chosen to populate the various pubs, and anyone of remotely the same age as Wright, Pegg and Frost should recognize the ‘90s-steeped soundtrack selections ranging from Teenage Fanclub to the Soup Dragons.

Much like “Shaun,” a violent accident awakens our protagonists to the town’s looming threat, masses which proceed to dismantle our crew piece by piece until a pub-set heart-to-heart encourages the middle-aged layabout to get with the program, and there’s an overarching preservation of the greater good (...the greater good...) that echoes the sinister schemes at work in “Fuzz.” One scene manages to be a canny amalgam of vital moments from “Jaws” and “The Thing” while also making explicit reference to “Aliens,” while the almost-too-chatty climax owes a debt to Douglas Adams in terms of both tone and talent. All of that is well and good, and plenty funny, but Wright’s collaboration with his “Scott Pilgrim” stunt team results in a handful of riotous and legitimately awesome fight scenes that put much of the summer’s large-scale spectacles to shame.

Furthermore, the emotional core that June’s “This is the End” snuck in amid much self-deprecation is placed front and center here. Gary’s anxiety over shedding his teenage mindset for a rational adult existence is palpable throughout, countered equally well by Frost’s long-simmering frustrations over his comrade’s self-destructive tendencies. Both kinds of fights offset a certain degree of familiarity with the formula of Wright’s informal blood-and-ice-cream trilogy. A knowing take on movies and maturity alike, “The World’s End” is just as thoroughly thoughtful as those which came before it, and maybe more than ever, you’ll find yourself laughing to keep from crying.

SCORE: 8.7 / 10

“The World’s End” is currently playing in UK cinemas and will open in the US on August 23rd.