My, haven't we grown?
It's been six years since Hot Fuzz blasted onto our screen, John Woo-style, both guns blazing, and a further three since Shaun of the Dead introduced us to arguably the foremost British comedy duo in cinema today (sorry Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan). After a lengthy detour through the likes of Tintin and Cornetto-alike Paul, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back for the last of the trilogy. And, for once, it's Pegg's turn to play the funny man.
If Shaun of the Dead was a zomcom about settling down and Hot Fuzz a comedy actioner about finding the work-life balance then The World's End is sci-fomedy about rediscovering freedom as you approach middle age. Freedom is something that Simon Pegg's Gary has in abundance: he has no wife, no kids, no apparent job - he dresses the same way he did in his teens and drives the same car, all the way down to the mix tape in the deck. For a man seemingly without concern, however, one thing plagues Gary, namely the failure of him and his mates to complete their hometown's legendary Golden Mile pub crawl during their misspent youth. Gary, now well into a misspent adulthood, determines to get the band together and finish it... at any cost. Why it means so much to Gary isn't immediately evident - all we know is that things are going to get messy.
The World's End, more of an ensemble piece that its predecessors, features Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan as Gary's school friends - smooth Steven, oily Oliver, and pusillanimous Peter -, all of whom have very much moved on with their lives; in fact, they've barely talked in over a decade. There's a recurring joke about Gary not knowing the name of Peter's wife that stresses how out of touch they are with each other and also that Gary is, in fact, a bit of an arsehole. Such an arsehole, in fact, that Nick Frost's officious Andrew (cue end of alliteration) wants nothing to do with him. Gary is an obnoxious, juvenile loser, and its testament to Pegg's ability as an actor (comedy and dramatic) that, even as he pesters Rosamund Pike's Sam for a repeat of the bathroom quickie they shared twenty years before, you get a sense of how trapped he is, what a hash he's made of it all, of that toothy, desperate smile growing thin.
Though Gary and Co. are back to falling through fences (ala Shaun of the Dead), The World's End feels like a fitting culmination of the themes established in both Shaun and Fuzz. There's another oppressive rural village inhabited by a menacing force - though in this case it's pod people rather than the Village Green Preservation Society - and once again our survivors are making their way to a public house (twelve of them). The film cleverly manages to dovetail the twin plots of "pub crawl" and "alien invasion" together, often to surprisingly poignant effect, though having our protagonists growing increasingly bladdered as they romp towards the final act proves fairly effective on the comedy front. For an already packed genre mash-up, it certainly works in the drama, too.
Overall, The World's End probably isn't as good for as many laughs as its predecessors. The tone here, appropriately, is somewhat more mature, subdued even, despite Gary's callowness. Gary is a man with serious, likely unresolvable life issues and the schism between him and Frost's Andrew runs deep. There are humorous cameos by a whole range of recognisable faces (including Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley), among them a former Bond, but things have definitely changed since Fuzz. Probably the least quotable of the trilogy, too - "F**k off back to Legoland" aside -, End is still a whole lot of fun and probably all the better for a bit of depth. After all, a film that features a blue exploding doppelganger kick-punching a bunch of drunks was never gonna be Requiem for a Dream and, of course, it shouldn't aim to be.
With Pegg, Frost and director Edgar Wright all pushing forty, this feels like the right point to call a close to the Flavours series. Pegg'll soon be heading off to shoot the new Star Trek and Frost is teaming up with Olivia Colman (mega serious dramatic actress and former colleague of Mitchell & Webb) while Wright will be taking his cross-cutting montages with him into the Marvel playbox for his long-awaited Ant-Man. The Soup Dragons' "I'm Free" would seem to be Gary's unofficial anthem and The World's End poses the question, "At what cost?" Ultimately, though, it seems the better choice in a film that presents "freedom" and "conformity" in binary op position - you're either a rebel and a screw-up or a Body Snatchers' victim. If this doesn't quite ring true, it's a forgivable flaw: not many films give you explicit permission to move on, and, as much as we all want more Spaced, after The World's End it's time to draw this chapter in the Pegg-Frost partnership to a close. Who knows, maybe it's not the end of the world after all.