Film Review: The World's End

the world's end

I finally managed to see The World's End last night. Not at a press screening but in a normal cinema with normal people. Or as normal as people in Brixton get. I was expecting to sit there irritated by phone calls and texting all around me, but maybe it was the quality of the film, maybe it was the specially-shot Alan Partridge request to turn off phones beforehand or maybe it is just the kind of people that go to the Ritzy cinema, but I didn't see one phone screen light up during the 109 minutes. Or maybe the good people of SW2 have simply been replaced by docile, well-behaved zombies...

Apparently critics were requested not to reveal "surprises, twists and actors" in the movie. Perhaps I read too many reviews from indiscreet reviewers as I didn't spot many surprises, but that didn't particularly dampen my enjoyment. Everyone with a passing interest in the oeuvre of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright will know the plot by now and will know that this is the third part in the 'Three Flavours Cornetto' Trilogy. It is fun to play spot the cameo – like Hot Fuzz this features a former James Bond – but it is even more fun just to sit back and savour the fizz, energy and fun.

The mood is very different to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. While Shaun... was a loving comedy homage to the zombie genre, I watched Hot Fuzz again on television the other night and had never noticed before how packed with clever/dumb one-liners and sight gags it is. It felt so much like a homage to the Zucker Brothers I almost expected Leslie Neilsen to pop up with a daft double entendre. The only things the trilogy share is fence-hopping and pub scenes. Pegg seems to adore old British pubs that only seem to exist in films like American Werewolf in London. I wonder what they make of these musty hostelries in American multiplexes (I saw the US trailer for TWE on YouTube, where they call the film's 12-pub quest a "bar crawl" – a phrase that makes my skin, erm, crawl).

The World's End, as befits the title, has a darker tone than SOTD and HF. Not massively darker, but Simon Pegg's character Gary King is clearly more troubled than previous Pegg incarnations. While his old friends from his Newton Haven schooldays two decades ago, played by Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman have gone straight, "sold out" and become varying shades of suited salarymen, Pegg is pushing 40 and still sporting his black trench coat and Sisters of Mercy T-Shirt, more Zodiac Mindwarp than Russell Brand. At the start it looks like he is being released from rehab. He clearly has a serious drink problem and despite acknowledging his issues doesn't seem to be very committed to cleaning up. 

As he has already shown, Edgar Wright can certainly direct an action sequence. There are some terrifically noisy femur-snapping fights here, particularly the first one in a pub toilet where blood of a rather unusual hue ends up being smeared on the walls. I've seen few suburban pubs like that in my time. The film has a strong, rhythmic pace, starting off as a normal ladcom and then moving smoothly through the gears when things in Newton Haven turn out to be rather different than expected. If anything, however, the action means that there is less comedy in the apocalyptic second half. In some ways I preferred the first half, which reminded me a little of Ricky Gervais's ode to small town life, Cemetery Junction. Props to Pegg et al, by the way, for playing against type. Pegg is very good as the not-always-sympathetic King and Nick Frost excellent playing it clever rather than fall-over-foolish for a change. And full marks for having a vanity reality check and not opting for wigs and corsets to play themselves as teenagers, instead getting a group of frankly much sexier young lookalikes to appear in the scene-setting flashbacks.

The youth scenes are certainly evocative of a period of time, as is the soundtrack, which is a bit of a love letter to pre-Britpop Britpop. The Soup Dragons feature heavily alongside The Housemartins and The Beautiful South. The World's End is smart, funny and frequently spill-your-popcorn hilarious and retains a distinctly English sensibility that I hope will travel. Could it have been better? Well, it could have featured Kevin Eldon, but it does feature that other comedy essential, Mark Heap. With the Alan Partridge movie on the starting blocks too, things are looking up for the British comedy film. Out of respect for the makers I won't give away the ending of The World's End, but I'm not going to sit on the fence. Needless to say if Pegg and co want to turn the Trilogy into a Quadrilogy I'd be happy to buy another ticket. 

Author's note. As this was a public screening I didn't take a notebook but jotted down some lines and thoughts on some paper in my pocket. Unfortunately this turned out to be on the other side of a letter for my doctor which I handed over this morning, so I could not refer to it when I wrote this review. Apologies to all if I missed a few tricks. I wonder what my GP will make of it when he reads – in red ink – the words "drinking fucking rain".


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