The best thing about The World’s End is that it is a lot like Shaun of the Dead but unfortunately that is also the major downside.
Taken in isolation this is a very funny film but it is tricky to see this without thinking of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s other films. They don’t want you to either, this has been sold very much as the conclusion of their ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ and people are very aware of this judging by the audience reaction I saw when said confection appeared in this film as it had in its predecessors Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The problem is that this film is both derivative and incomparable to those two.
This creative partnership clearly started with Spaced which was my favourite TV show for a while (this was before Sherlock you understand). Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson) created a programme that both built on the tradition of British situation comedy and celebrated contemporary geek culture. There were references both obvious (The X-Files, Star Wars, The Matrix, Buffy, Tekken, Fight Club, The A-Team) and subtle (Jurassic Park, The Littlest Hobo) and it was fourteen half hour slices of brilliance.
Wright, Pegg and key cast member Nick Frost took the sensibilities of Spaced and put them up on the big screen in the form of their brilliant North London zombie comedy and the deliciously overblown Michael Bay style cop movie set in rural Somerset.
In interviews Edgar Wright has said that they were keen to get together again and make another movie and I think this could be part of the problem. It seems it was this desire to reunite that has prompted the creation of The World’s End rather than it starting out with a strong and original story idea. The narrative is certainly weaker than we have seen from them before with a lot of the reasons why characters do certain things making very little sense.
One of the great aspects of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was the affectionate lampooning of the genres they adopted. The World’s End once again aims to show us ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, this time with extra terrestrial androids, but while their are plenty of sci-fi tropes in the film they are not really mocked. The nature of an invading alien army is not highlighted as ridiculous in the same way that the massive street gunfights were in Hot Fuzz.
Granted there is great amusement to be derived from seeing ETs bringing destruction to a quintessential English environment but again we have seen this before in Attack the Block, which I have to say was a better film. That movie also had suspense and a strong sense of peril which The World’s End does not and it derived believable drama from seeing normal people battling against a much stronger enemy which is another area in which The World’s End falls short. The everymen here have some pretty impressive but unexplained fighting skills and their adversaries come apart like Lego.
While I’m being critical I also need to point out that along with the encroaching murderous hordes we have also seen the pub setting exploited much better before, in these guys’ work and in the little seen gem Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. The pathos among the humour is not as powerful as it was in that final scene between Shaun and his Mum and the closing scenes are very reminiscent of that film too. The resolution isn’t great either, it’s a bit too much Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and as Eoin Colfer and even the Red Dwarf team showed, no one writes that kind of comedy like Douglas Adams. Right, having skipped through those last few points I can now move on to the other stuff I need to say.
Disappointingly familiar as this film is, picking up on many of the same beats as Shaun, it is still very funny and a subpar Pegg, Frost and Wright film is still better than most other comedies. The lengthy set up of the film is an enjoyable watch as the five old school friends reluctantly reunite to complete a twelve stop pub crawl that they bowed out of twenty years earlier. Not all the jokes land but several of them are laugh out loud funny. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have also reversed their normal roles of the sensible one and the pathetic one to good effect. The supporting cast is like a little list of great male British film talent with Eddie Marsen, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman, and Rosamund Pike shines making sure her part doesn’t play like the token female. (Unfortunately no Olivia Colman this time.) Also Edgar Wright’s direction is more assured than his writing, with many shots wonderfully composed but with a restraint we’ve not necessarily come to expect from the auteur behind Scott Pilgrim. Finally there is the soundtrack which will be particularly appreciated by anyone who ended their teenage in the early 90s.
So the film plays like From Dusk ’til Dawn with two very distinct halves, one all talk and one all action, and it is the former that is better. It isn’t as good as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (or Scott Pilgrim Vs the World) which makes it a disappointment but those are high benchmarks so that doesn’t mean it won’t give you a fun time. Next time though, can we please have something new.
Is this one for the kids?
No, it is a 15 and while the dismemberment isn’t quite up there with Shaun of the Dead, the swearing goes to places that most films (other than Kick Ass) are not prepared to go.