When writer/director Edgar Wright works with the combination of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost good, and often hilarious, things are bound to happen. Although it might not quite reach the levels of hilarity in either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, The World’s End doesn’t disappoint in providing plenty of big laughs in a story about old friends, a robot invasion, and lots and lots of beer.
Pegg stars as Gary King, the former leader of a motley group who have all moved on with their lives. Unable or unwilling to grow up, Gary has been left behind by his former friends and is obsessed with a desire to recapture the glory days of their youth – especially a magical night where the five friends attempted, but failed, to complete the Golden Mile (drinking a pint of beer in all 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven).
One by one Gary cajoles, lies, tempts, and pleads with his old friends (Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan) to join him for one more night of debauchery which is interrupted by old arguments and alien robot replicants.
Wright and Pegg’s script has quite a bit to say about the common phrase of “You can’t go home again.” Aside from King’s refusal to grow up the script has several nice nods to the passage of time including the corporatization of several of the small town’s bars (which the group’s leader fails to even notice) and the fact that despite their “legendary” past exploits, no one in the town remembers the once rowdy bunch at all.
Of course part of the reason no one recalls King and the gang is nearly everyone in the town has been replaced by alien automatons (leading to a prolonged drunken conversation on the meaning of robots and what to call the Newton Haven creatures). Unable to leave the town, and needing to continue to act as normal as possible, the group continues their pub crawl (and keeps drinking, leading to further absurdity) until all hell eventually breaks loose.
The film plays on several levels by touching on the ideas of out-of-touch old friends, the desire to recapture lost youth, and the insanity of a an all-out robot invasion. Much like Shaun of the Dead, Wright gleefully embraces the damage our five heroes can dispense on the hordes of non-living enemies which the group gets increasingly good at dispatching.
Although other familiar faces pop-up, most notably Rosamund Pike (as the sister to Freeman’s character who is also an old one-night stand of King’s) and Pierce Brosnan (as the group’s old professor), the storyline is mainly concerned with our five old friends, particularly Pegg and Frost, who aren’t nearly as young, or friendly, as the used to be.
Nearly a decade after the success of Shaun of the Dead, the director and his two stars reunite to capitalize on a very similar tale that replaces Pegg’s slacker apathy from the first film with a similarly selfish character who just wants to remember, and hopefully be bathed once more in, the love and adoration of his old friends. In a year without a true stand-out live-action comedy The World’s End fits the bill nicely and the ridiculous robots and ever-increasing inebriation our core characters allows for the kind of drunken rants, bizarre discussions, and questionable choices that provide several of the year’s biggest laughs.