There are two types of moviegoers: Those who’ve been waiting for months to snap up tickets for The World’s End, and those inclined to dismiss it as a shambling, British-accented clone of This Is the End, the apocalyptic comedy that made its mark earlier this summer.
The first group knows The World’s End is the latest from the team behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — and that they do genre spoofs right. Granted, it takes extensive exposure to the clichés of zombie flicks and buddy-cop movies to get all the jokes in their first two collaborations, but those jokes come so fast and furious that it doesn’t hurt to miss a few.
More importantly, unlike most filmmakers in this niche genre (the Scary Movie franchise leaps to mind), cowriters Wright and Pegg craft parodies that work as stories on their own terms. In Shaun, for instance, the title character’s battles with zombies are but a backdrop for his tougher struggle to transform himself from an overgrown adolescent pub lout into an adult.
In The World’s End, Pegg plays a character who lost that struggle decades ago. We meet fortysomething Gary King in a support group reminiscing about his glory days, when he and his four teenage best buds fell just short of completing an epic pub crawl in their sleepy hometown. (The World’s End is the 12th pub they never reached.) “I knew life could never get better than that, and it never did,” Gary proclaims, oblivious to the shock and pity his confession elicits.
Childlike to the point of sociopathy, Gary still dreams of reassembling his Wolf Pack and conquering the Golden Mile, one pint at a time. If that means telling a despicable lie to his friend Andy (Frost), who is now a responsible adult and a teetotaler, so be it. Fueled by their fearless leader’s delusions, these five middle-aged guys will reach the World’s End — in more senses than one.
The World’s End begins like a darker riff on The Hangover, with Pegg as a less cuddly version of Zach Galifianakis’ Alan; Frost as his implacable, antifun antagonist; Eddie Marsan in the twitchy Ed Helms part; and Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine as their comparatively normal friends. The conceit quickly evolves beyond that, though, with a left turn into sci-fi B-movie territory. Suffice it to say that, like The Cabin in the Woods, Wright’s film pursues the absurdity to its logical conclusion — and doesn’t skimp on action sequences along the way.
Wright stakes out well-trodden satirical ground here, and the results don’t feel as fresh as Shaun of the Dead did, nor the supporting characters as well delineated as those of that film. But for fans of fast-paced, highly verbal comedy, The World’s End is worth it for a certain suave actor in a classic cameo, and for the ongoing banter among the five mismatched musketeers. The movie teems with acerbic quotables that are destined to be heard in dorm rooms — and, of course, on the internet — for years to come.
Pegg’s performance tests audiences’ loyalty to the comedy trope of the lovable man-child: Gary is clearly a dangerous fool. Yet it’s hard not to soften toward him as he stands up against the “Starbucking” of modern pubs and proudly declares his right to be a screw-up with dated tastes, lager on his breath and prominent crow’s feet. Let’s hope this crew from the UK continues to stand up against the Starbucking of movies.