The Cornetto trilogy comes to a minty conclusion in this typically homage-heavy sci-fi comedy about bars, buddies, brawls and beer – lots of beer.
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost followed-up their cult TV series Spaced with the 2004 rom-zom-com Shaun Of The Dead, a slice of genius that embraced George A Romero’s Dead films while at the same time doing something truly original with the formula.
They teamed up again three years later for the even more successful Hot Fuzz, an action comedy that winked in the direction of cop buddy movies like Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys, but was still very much its own quirky beast.
As the years have ticked by, Wright, Frost and Pegg especially have eclipsed their humble TV beginnings to become Hollywood figures, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting the band back together one more time for this long-awaited final chapter in the Cornetto trilogy (so named for the appearance of the famous ice cream brand in each film).
The film starts with a lengthy exposition-heavy voiceover from Pegg’s Gary King, the rebellious cool kid who led his four mates Andrew, Steve, Oliver and Pete on an epic post-school quest to traverse the ‘Golden Mile’, a perilous pub crawl encompassing 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven. Despite a brave attempt, the gang failed to make it to The World’s End, the Golden Mile’s final watering hole.
Now approaching 40, Gary tracks down his estranged buddies and convinces a reluctant Andrew (Frost), Steve (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Pete (Eddie Marsan) to finally conquer the Golden Mile. An uncomfortable start to the crawl, made more awkward by the arrival of Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), suddenly takes a loony turn for the dangerously extraterrestrial.
It would have been so easy for co-writer/director Wright, Pegg (also a co-writer) and Frost to have reheated the magic that made Shaun… and Hot Fuzz so adored, but to their credit they instead go off in another direction entirely, while still delivering the sort of joke rate that most ‘comedies’ don’t get anywhere near.
Gary is a pathetic character, an adult straightjacketed by stubborn arrested development who’s never been able to get past 1990. Still wearing the same goth clothing and still driving the same clapped out car he had as a teenager, Gary’s obnoxious, hard edges are softened out by Pegg’s sympathetic portrayal.
The top-notch cast work splendidly off each other, each bringing their own unresolved baggage to what gradually turns into a painful, but necessary reunion for them all. Normally cast as resentful and/or angry, Marsan lets his hair down in a role that actually allows him to have a giggle, while Frost shows that when he’s given the right material (usually co-written by Pegg and Wright) he’s an actor with range.
The film cleverly manages to have it both ways; in the one hand it drums home the message that there’s little point dwelling on the past, while at the same time wallowing in the nostalgia of its early 90s soundtrack, in particular Primal Scream’s seminal track Loaded.
Wright has cited the legendary sci-fi writer John Wyndham as a big influence and there are definite nods to his paranoid tome The Midwich Cuckoos (turned into the classic movie Village Of The Damned), while other 1950s sci-fi classics Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Thing From Another World are also interwoven into the film’s DNA.
Despite being very amusing, The World’s End isn’t as instantly likeable as either Shaun… or Hot Fuzz. Maybe it was the special effects getting in the way, or the increasingly bonkers plot, but something felt missing. That being said, the first two chapters in the trilogy improved with age, so there’s no reason to think The World’s End won’t become a richer experience on repeated viewings.
Where Wright, Pegg and Frost go together from here who knows, but as the Cornetto trilogy’s final flavour The World’s End is sweet indeed.