The three major genres of blockbuster films are horror, crime and science fiction, and here with the third flavour of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s loosely linked Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, we arrive at the mint chocolate chip of science fiction, as a reunion of five schoolmates, Gary, Peter, Oliver, Steven and Andrew to complete the failed pub crawl of their teenage years in their hometown of Newton Haven uncovers sinister changes.
Despite the new flavour, The World’s End sticks closely to the established recipe, opening with a flashback montage of the events of the night of June 22nd 1990, soundtracked to a collection of hip period hits, introducing the characters and the twelve drinking holes they have made their quest. Flash forward to the present, and the gaping hole in the film is revealed as we meet the adult Gary King in another quest of twelve steps.
While it is normally Pegg who plays the more responsible character (though sometimes only marginally) and Frost the slacker who rides his tailcoats, here the roles are reversed, and while it is good to see them playing against expectation, that doesn’t mean that Gary is in any way good company. An unpleasant, irresponsible, deceitful alcoholic who has refused to mature or progress with his life, his demand that his few remaining friends recreate what he sees as his glory years rapidly become tiresome.
Much as Gary has a dependence on drink, many of the often telegraphed jokes require the audience to be similarly appreciative of intoxicated behaviour, otherwise the exercise rapidly becomes as exasperating for them as for Gary’s cajoled companions, the repetitious scenes often feeling more like a prompt for a drinking game than a film, and it is they who keep the film lurching in a relatively forward direction.
That the other actors involved manage to establish themselves despite their boorish leader is testament to the roster of British talent, with Eddie Marsan (Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes) completing the quintet, Rosamund Pike (Wrath of the Titans) as Oliver’s sister and Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen), Darren Boyd (Dirk Gently), David Bradley (Doctor Who), Steve Oram (Sightseers) and Michael Smiley (A Field in England) as locals, plus a supporting role of one time 007 Pierce Brosnan as a former teacher of the lads, following on from Timothy Dalton’s similar role in Hot Fuzz.
With aspects of Quatermass II and The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, possibly due to the presence of both Freeman and the disembodied voice of Bill Nighy, both of whom featured in the film adaptation of that novel, the principal touchstone of the plot of The World’s End is actually transatlantic, the suburban nightmare of The Stepford Wives, the only observation that moves it away from that amalgamation of capitalism and misogyny the acknowledgement that the term robot derives from the Slavonic rabota, servitude.
Not as sharp as Hot Fuzz, where every throwaway line in the opening act is picked up as a plot point in the final scenes, The World’s End is undeniably an improvement on Paul, the Pegg/Frost collaboration sans Wright, obvious and juvenile, a failed attempt to blend their humour to a Hollywood template. As the magnitude of the menace escalates, it seems less to raise stakes than to drive overseas marketing of the film.
Unlike the celebratory final scene of Hot Fuzz, the aftertaste here is as bitter as that of Shaun of the Dead where the sacrifice entailed overshadowed any victory which might have been won, King and company deciding that their inebriated arrogance grants them ultimate authority, showing no consideration for the seven billion people they share the planet with. While hardly an uplifting way to close the trilogy, it can at least be said that it does confirm it as an undeniably British work.