Back in high school, we all knew a guy like Gary King. He was the swaggering kid whose youthful bravado seemed to have its own gravitational pull, with a loyal group of satellites constantly orbiting around it. He was peaking just as most of his classmates were coming into their own, but did he realize it at the time? The closing chapter of Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (or the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy for us Yanks),
The World's End displays all of the heart, action, and humor we've come to expect from the folks who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this time served up in the guise of a rowdy, drunken body-snatcher parody. It's as endlessly quotable as its quick-witted predecessors, displays just as much replay value thanks to an onslaught of lightning-fast sight gags, and, perhaps most surprisingly, actually uses its nostalgic conceit for something more than fashionable irony. Two decades ago, Gary King (Simon Pegg) and his pals embarked on the ultimate drinking marathon. But the beer got the best of them and they failed to drink their final pint at the World's End pub. Now, as die-hard rebel Gary approaches middle age, he summons his old friends Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) back to their hometown for another round. With each pint down, Gary and the gang take another step toward reconciling with the past. Yet just when it starts to look like their goal is in sight, the pals realize that a much larger struggle is currently taking place, and that the future seems particularly grim -- not only for them, but perhaps for the entire human race as well. Genre cocktails are a tricky business, but co-screenwriters Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright sling them with the skill of Tom Cruise in a neon-soaked bar. Though most creative teams would have run out of steam after working together for nearly 15 years, the duo that first turned the sitcom formula on its head in the 1999-2001 cult BBC comedy Spaced show few signs of lethargy here. Working with perhaps their best ensemble feature cast to date, Wright and Pegg attack the paranoid sci-fi genre with as much playful, anarchic energy as they did the zombie film in Shaun of the Dead, and their skillful attention to detail makes this outlandish story resonate with a rare warmth. They have a knack for making even obnoxious character traits oddly endearing, as when Gary slyly borrows money from three of his friends to pay back the fourth or uses one of them for cover when confronted by a cop. None of this would mean much if Gary and his gang were strictly two-dimensional, but Pegg and Wright succinctly give us a sense of the full personalities behind the quirks as we watch this gang come together for the first time in decades. Of course, with players like Freeman, Marsan, Considine, Frost, and Pegg tasked with bringing those characters to life, it's no wonder that all five have their memorable moments. They all play tipsy and vulnerable with equal skill, and Pegg and Wright don't simply use the reunion plot for simple nostalgiabation, but to contrast our adolescent ideals against our adult realities in ways that speak to the reasons why some of us cling to our youths while others choose to let go. Then there are the robots (though they quite vocally prefer not to be called that). At once reflective of fears about maturity smothering individuality and the perfect foil for a booze-soaked bar fight, they're portrayed with a fragility and simple stylishness that perfectly lend themselves to the team's rowdy brand of physical comedy (which once again plays flawlessly against the dexterous dialogue, delivered with verve by all involved) while offering humorous commentary on the perpetual argument that the next generation at best lacks taste and at worst lacks soul. All the while, Happy Mondays and Soup Dragons fans alike will be tapping their toes to the infectious '90s-Britpop soundtrack that, combined with Paul Machliss' snappy editing, keeps the pace upbeat as the plot bounces forward. Perhaps the most satisfying part of The World's End is the fact that even while tackling sensitive issues such as alcoholism, bullying, and the consequences of nonconformity, Pegg and Wright never take themselves or their characters too seriously, effectively keeping the tone of The World's End just on the right side of comedy. Sure, it's bittersweet to see this trilogy come to a close, but it's hard to be sad since it's such a strong conclusion. Much like Gary King reflecting on high school, we may grow a bit sentimental while pondering "the best of times," but that doesn't mean that the future won't be a hell of a good time too.
All Movie Guide - Jason Buchanan