I will say this for Nick Frost and Simon Pegg: They loathe homogeneity. With The World’s End, the dastardly duo has completed a trilogy of films (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz preceding) aimed at comparing the current human race to some form of drone. In Shaun of the Dead it was zombies, in Hot Fuzz it was homicidal townspeople killing anyone who didn’t comply with their ideal of perfection. The World’s End bears a bit more similarity to Hot Fuzz in that Gary King (Pegg) and Andy Knightley (Frost) return to their childhood town, Newton Haven, to find it has been taken over by a group of “peaceable” robots.
A bit more macabre in terms of characterization, The World’s End begins with Gary narrating the events of the best night of his life, June 22, 1990, from his AA group. On this magical night in question, he and his four best friends, Andy, Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine), attempted tackling a pub crawl of twelve pubs known as the Golden Mile. As teenagers, the quintet failed, ultimately going their separate ways—though Gary did manage to shag Oliver’s sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), at one point during the evening as a consolation prize. Finishing his grand tale, one of his fellow rehab members asks, “Were you disappointed that you never finished it?” Realizing that completing the Golden Mile is his only life’s ambition, he gathers his old friends together to finish the job.
Andy, the most reluctant to have come on this jaunt, is duped into it after Gary tells him his mother died recently. The others are along for the ride for old time’s sake, doing what they always did best: Follow Gary’s lead. From the moment Gary picks them up in his ancient car, The Beast, the emphasis of the film becomes about the music of their adolescence. Blaring the quintessential Britpop song, “There’s No Other Way” by Blur, Gary solidifies his status as the eternal youth, plagued by arrested development. The soundtrack then segues into “I’m Free” by The Soup Dragons. This song sets the tone for the entire theme of The World’s End, which is, no one can tell humans what to do. Plus, there’s Happy Mondays songs galore, presaging the act of “twisting the melon.”
Punctuating the motif of cookie cutter sameness, director Edgar Wright also made it a point to take plenty of jibes at the globalization, so to speak, of pub culture. For the most part, all the charm and quirkiness of British pubs have been drained in favor of the Starbucks model. Maybe that’s also why one of the pubs serves the gang pints of Foster’s, prompting the question: What self-respecting Brit—let alone Aussie—would drink Aussie beer? In any case, Wright succeeds in driving home his point with every pub they walk into.
While, of course, the beautiful combination of Pegg, Frost and Wright can do no wrong as far as this viewer is concerned, it isn’t quite in the same thermosphere as their past projects, Spaced included. The real test of this trio’s genius lies in branching out to a new genre, preferably a tragic love story as opposed to a comedic horror one. Perhaps in the next trilogy.