Thursday 18 July 2013

The World’s End review

The World’s End (15/R, 109 mins)
Director: Edgar Wright
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The movie-making team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright has been one of the biggest success stories of British cinema of the past decade.

With Shaun of the Dead and then Hot Fuzz they showed that home grown products can be original, imaginative, entertaining and, significantly, capable of drawing a sizeable and appreciative audience.

Now they're back with the long-awaited third of what’s become unofficially known as the Cornetto trilogy, with Pegg once again co-writing with director Wright for what could be described as a bit of a blend of Shaun and Fuzz, combing the first’s monster-bashing with the latter’s sinister small town setting.

Pegg returns alongside his co-star Nick Frost and joining them are Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, completing the group of five friends whom we first meet as youngsters in the early 90s. Living in a sleepy small town, they're a rowdy but likeable group who set out to tackle the Golden Mile, a challenge to drink a pint in every one of the dozen pubs in town, from The First Post to The World’s End.

They never made it round all 12 but now, over 20 years on, Gary King (Pegg) is determined to recreate their crawl. But the rest have moved on, becoming respectable businessmen and family men. With little else going on in his life, Gary drags them back to their old stomping ground to try to relive their youths.

That would be enough for a lot of films, but Pegg and Wright are more ambitious than that. So on top of that setup, the lads quickly discover the town seems to now be mostly populated by aliens, or robots, or robotic aliens, in some Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style takeover.

The result is one of the year’s best comedies, hitting the mark in the early stages through the other guys’ reluctance to take part in Gary scheme, then later when they're facing down their enemies. But it’s also able to hit some strong dramatic and emotional beats. Fittingly, since we’re now dealing with guys who’ve left 40 behind, it’s even more thematically mature than the first two films, tackling aging and regrets, old memories and wounds, as lessons are learned and growth achieved.

Yet it’s still impressive that Frost and Pegg have kept their characters fresh from film to film, Pegg going from layabout Shaun to Fuzz’s hotshot cop to near-destitute alcoholic here. Frost has gone from an even bigger layabout in Shaun to a dim but sweet sidekick to a suited businessman, albeit one with a few smackdowns in his arsenal.

If there’s one level on which The World’s End doesn’t quite hit the bullseye it’s aiming for, it’s in the character of Gary. Set up in the beginning as someone who’s meant to grate, he’s positioned for a clear journey to reformed hero, which is fine but never quite impacts in just the way intended.

But we’re mostly on board for laughs, and this is a film that never forgets how to be funny for a second. Physical gags are brilliantly timed, humour is drawn from the characters, and every actor shines, although Pegg does bag himself many of the top lines.

It also manages to be an exciting sci-fi horror at the same time, while throwing in raucously choreographed brawls, even if everyone suddenly seems to have the fighting skills of Jackie Chan.

In the end, the second apocalypse comedy of the summer is not quite the perfect send-off the trilogy merited, but it’s a pretty close run thing. Pegg and Wright represent all that’s good about British genre filmmaking, and when it comes to collaborations between them, it would be a shame if this is the end.

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