12 Pubs, 5 guys, 1 Apocalyptic Night
In the final installment of the “Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy,” The World’s End, Simon Pegg is a nostalgic man-child, fueled by alcohol and a skeptical moral code. He wears a trench coat, slicked back black hair, and still drives around his high school motored sweetheart which he calls “The Beast.” His name is Gary King and he’s the antithesis of the strict, responsible, blonde-haired characters Pegg has embodied in director Edgar Wright’s first two genre parody films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. For the third time around, Pegg sheds his superego, straight-man skin for a scheming screwy id. You can tell the apocalypse is nigh.
Gary King is thus the black sheep of his group of friends, once a teenage pack of drinking buddies, now isolated grown men tethered to wives and jobs. Except for Gary of course, who spends the first twenty minutes or so trying to corral his scattered ol’ mates and complete the pub-crawl they never finished in their fictional hometown of Newtonhaven. In 1990, the group only managed three quarters of “The Golden Mile,” the meandering path spanning 12 pubs and ending with one named “The World’s End.” After stints of unsuccessful rehab and living with an interminable arrested development, Gary is hungry to return and complete the feat at all costs.
Their hometown is a perfectly manicured re-creation of idyllic British flavor without the tourist postcards of clock towers or red buses. In the now three films Wright, Pegg, and co-star Nick Frost have manufactured, they have never repurposed their locations for a trans-national audience, finding international success despite their more insular backdrops. The film relies on this mocking perfected English village. It’s smart comedy. In all three, there are inside jokes with thick accents but they always feel accessible and inclusive. It’s not laugh-out-loud kind of funny, it’s the kind that sticks in your bones and lets you ride an amusement high for two hours.
Pegg and Wright, who wrote the script, slightly change the formula this time so that flesh gore is at a minimum while slapstick sight gags and more analogous morals can be told. The common denominator is the returning group of actors. Andy (Nick Frost) is on the wagon, Oliver (Martin Freeman) is attached to his bluetooth, Steven (Paddy Considine) is dating his gym instructor, and Peter (Eddie Marsan) is a dull car salesman. Much of the pleasure is watching the gang reunite and recall old times juxtaposed against their now humdrum experiences before Gary begins his ego-inflation.
He is the kind of guy who makes code words like “Dr. Ink” to explain his intentions at the pub. “You remember the Friday nights, I remember the Monday mornings,” says Andy who decidedly drinks water while everyone slugs down a beer. But something isn’t right. The pubs, once unique and homey, are not as they remember, and neither are the bartenders and patrons, who can’t remember the five aged men. A quickly violent encounter in the bathroom helps clarify the situation when a pack of teenagers become exposed as blue-blooded robots.
Of course these robots aren’t limited to teenagers in the bathroom. They litter the town’s population with mechanical docility, the most subordinate crowd of heavy drinkers you will find, wary of any human intruders. In an ode to Shaun of the Dead, Wright stages the five in their attempt to fit in, drunkenly aiming to walk sober to avert trouble, as Pegg and co. did to avoid suspicion amongst zombies. Rosamund Pike as Oliver’s sister shows up in this chaotic turn of events, former affections of Gary and Steven, still smitten with her presence. Regardless of the conspiracies and apocalyptic events, relationships always take priority in these films, even in the most comically dire situations.
The conceited outrage here is the homogenization, or “Starbucking” of the local pubs, and for that matter the robots themselves. They are metaphors for the dull, static, vanilla lifestyles Gary despises and sees happening to his friends, or at the very least to his memory of them. The robots, bursting with blue neon lighting from their eye sockets and mouth, want a uniformed planet, explained in a preachy finale. How bizarre that an immature, nostalgic drunk is the representative of our earth’s individuality and diversity.
Wright isn’t as punchy or pithy with his material as in the past, but I suppose that’s how most alcoholic benders go. It’s at least refreshing to see a film as silly as it is serious. Most people don’t get to face their nostalgia as shelled robots but Wright and Pegg are the masters of catharsis. Gary consistently refers to his group as the “Five Musketeers,” and it seems apt that he champions the literary heroes’ slogan, “All for one, and one for all.” Maybe he never grows out of his pint chugging days, but he’ll make sure everyone can join him for them.