The World Ends with Ice Cream

WITH a title as gravely portentous as The World’s End, one might fear that Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s concluding instalment in the so-called ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ is a film of cinematic spectacle over comedic precision, international marketability over homegrown wit and overblown set-pieces over barrel laughs. Maybe that’s just me.

Thankfully, the trio’s effort does not display such an ugly sense of self-worth, delivering precisely that which Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz did so well – namely, laughs, a Cornetto (don’t blink, you’ll miss it) and perhaps most surprisingly some serious emotional punch. Though it may not be as sharply refined as Shaun, balls-to-the-wall hilarious as Fuzz and a little more prone to indulgence than either, The World’s End comfortably slots alongside them both as a great comedy in its own right.

The plot in concept and execution is simplicity itself, immediately allaying any fears of bombast – five forty-something blokes, led by the monstrously narcissistic wash-up Gary King (Pegg), return to their hometown of Newton Haven to complete what their 17-year old selves could not: the Golden Mile, a legendary duodecimal pub crawl, starting with The First Post and ending with, of course, The World’s End.

But things have changed in their absence, not least themselves – everything looks exactly the same, its residents don’t recognise any of them and Gary’s intentions aren’t as well-meaning as they thought. Soon enough the gang uncover the sinister secrets of the town and it’s up to them to save the day.

If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know what the Affectionate Parody of the Week is – if not, it’s sci-fi, most specifically Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. Unfortunately, this bent does not prove nearly as effective as the zombie tribute in Shaun or the action movie appreciation of Fuzz, lacking the precision and deft comedic panache that those films had in such abundance.

While the general dialogue exchanges between the five main players retain consistency in hilarity and punch, when it comes to direct parody The World’s End proves lacking, resorting instead to over-indulgent (though no less impressive) action sequences and half-arsed homages. They don’t really take the piss either – it’s just there. It almost feels like the film is split in two – one half, the main plot, is a bittersweet reflection on the transience of youth, while the other is a loud, silly sci-fi abduction movie. The two seem, at times, entirely separate, skewing the balance that Shaun and Fuzz judged so finely.

This disconnection unfortunately detracts from the primary theme of the film: the power of nostalgia. Though the twain eventually meets in the conclusion after the film reaches its emotional apex, it is too little too late and comes off as rather trite and unsatisfying. It’s a shame they felt it necessary to sully the purity of this theme with leaden sci-fi references and a truly limp ending.

Despite these qualms, the main plot is fantastic and the interaction between characters is stellar and – yes – funny throughout. The slow-burn opening, though it may be a grind for some, allows the main cast to make a distinct impression upon the audience. Pegg and Frost could play off each other in their sleep at this point and they certainly bounce off the others well – Pegg is having the time of his life playing the biggest twat on the planet and his enthusiasm is infectious; largely unchanged from his teenage self, he is constantly at odds with the rest of his old gang, all of whom have long grown up, leaving him to wallow in his lost youth.

He embodies the theme of nostalgia, desperately attempting to rekindle the glory of the old days; Pegg plays him with an increasingly impressive emotional depth as the film progresses. Even when he’s being a complete dickhead he’s likeable, spewing out killer one-liners left and right. It’s a brilliant performance.

Frost plays against type by imbuing his role with scorn, exasperation and eventually abject loathing squared directly at Pegg. The welcome tension between the two results in some of the best comedic exchanges in the film and also the best dramatic exchanges, most notably near the end where an incredibly moving moment is shared behind the bar.

Though the rest of the five are fairly one-note, they hit their note well – Martin Freeman is… Martin Freeman in everything he’s ever done, Eddie Marsan is the neurotic coward and Paddy Considine is the lovelorn hero who pines after Freeman’s sister, played with no-nonsense gusto by Rosamund Pike.

There are some nifty cameos too, among them Pierce Brosnan, David Bradley, Bill Nighy and that fence (you know the one). It’s all anchored by a kickin’ soundtrack and Wright’s fine direction, lending a palpable sense of claustrophobia to his shots befitting the unease of the characters. Conversely, during the action scenes the camera becomes free-flowing and panoramic, allowing full breadth of the action. No shaky-cam nonsense; it’s all nice and clear.

Ultimately, despite plot imprecision, a propensity for excess and a very weak ending, The World’s End is a great laugh-a-minute comedy. While the sci-fi element comes up short, its razor-sharp dialogue and excellent performances carry the film over the finish at a crackling pace in 109 minutes. Watch it with a Cornetto in hand.