It is so long ago (six years to be precise) since the release of Hot Fuzz, that the film, and Shaun of the Dead, are now part of the endless repeats on ITV2, along with Notting Hill and Bridget Jones. The work of the triumvirate of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost has become an integral part and huge commercial export of British comedy in the last ten years. Therefore, the pressure on the trio for their long-awaited third part of the Cornetto trilogy, The World’s End, is perhaps greater than ever before. And it doesn’t disappoint. It’s funny, very funny. Possibly the best of the three.
The set-up (hard to miss, given the aggressive media campaign): five childhood mates reunite in their former hometown to complete a legendary crawl of 12 pubs, finally finishing in The World’s End. Things take a turn for the worse, though, when not everything is as it seems, and it might really be the world’s end. There is certainly a vogue for near- and post-apocalyptic films: This is the End, Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium coming soon, and the huge blockbusters (with not so huge profits) World War Z, After Earth and Oblivion. It seems that the film’s release date is more of a coincidence – Wright has said this has long been an idea of his, indeed the real life gang have only just got back together: Pegg’s been in Star Trek, both him and Frost in Tintin, and Wright preparing to pen Ant-Man for Marvel Studios’ Phase Three. Given their huge stardom, largely off the back of the success of Shaun and Fuzz, I, for one, was worried about their having sold out to the big studios. Fear not!
The World’s End is very much a British film, without an American compromise in sight. There’s the standard English suburb of Newton Haven where the action takes place, the quintessentially English quirky townsfolk, much like in Hot Fuzz, and the monotony of daily life, as best exemplified in Shaun of the Dead and Spaced. Everything is as you would expect in a typical TV sitcom or drama, that element of realism. There’s a great gag about the similarity of public houses in 2013, particularly in comparison to the feeling of being local in the 80s or 90s – perfectly summing up the classic British annoyance at a lack of character and history. The cast are certainly some of the best Britain has to offer: Martin Freeman and Rosamund Pike are similarly A-list Hollywood stars, and there were cheers in the audience at old favourites, like David Bradley, and Mark Heap.
And this is still primarily a character drama, as Wright and Pegg’s work always is. We really see the tension and the brotherly love between Pegg’s goth Gary and Frost’s uptight lawyer Andy; their relationship broken down after years apart after a terrible accident. Along with Freeman and Pike are Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan; everyone puts in fabulous turns to complete the supporting cast; all the characters matter and have their own personal stories to confront, even if some have a happier ending than others. It really does feel like the gang are being reunited; that they had as much fun as we did.
In terms of comedy, you’ve got gags quicker than you can count. The sci-fi element will please fans of the genre, with clear allusions to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One of the most impressive features is Wright’s unique directing style, making the mundane shots less televisual and more cinematic. How many directors can shoot someone pulling a pint from a dozen different angles on several different occasions, and make it into an action sequence? In fact, the fascinating way in which he does it actually lends to the comedy; us, the audience, are laughing at how impressive we are finding the pouring of a lager. This style of shot is then equally applied to the thrilling fight scenes, where every punch is felt and every smashed glass pierces your ears. If you’re hoping for the blood and gore of the previous two instalments, however, you’ll be disappointed, instead be prepared for copious volumes of blue gloop.
It is almost perfect. The characters are a little too obviously designed: you can tell who will end up with whom, what the resolution for each character’s personal difficulty will be, like Marsan’s confrontation with his childhood bully, but this is hardly a film relying on its twists for the entertainment factor. Also, the final climactic scene goes on for far too long. I might be in a minority – the screening I was in, everyone howled with laughter throughout the 10-15 minute sequence – but playing the straight-talking British man in the face of the apocalypse can only run so far in a huge barnstorming finale.
This is a film much greater in scope, less homely and cosy, because of the sense of finality from the subject matter, but it feels like a natural progression of the film trilogy. It is a huge epic movie, distinct from the community feel of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, and yet it is quite clearly a film of that unique Wright-Pegg-Frost genre (the appearance of the mint Cornetto gets the biggest laugh of the film). We do not lose the laughs though, and this is certainly a summer blockbuster to savour.