I know this review is a few weeks late, but here we go :)
I am a huge fan of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost horror comedy Shaun of the Dead. It is funny and scary and smart all at the same time. Their follow-up, Hot Fuzz was not as good, but it was still better than most comedies.
And now we have the final in what they loosely call a trilogy: The World's End. And the result is underwhelming.
The story centers around Gary King (Simon Pegg) who was a high school bad boy but has never really grown up. He decides that he will reunite with his old school crew and try to complete something they never could: the Golden Mile, which is a pub crawl to 12 different pubs in a small town before dawn. Gary cajoles his now-grown-up friends to come along. There's Andy Knightly (Nick Frost) who is a now a tame nerd. Also there is Oliver Chamberlin (Martin Freeman) who is constantly doing real estate deals on his blue tooth. Along with them is Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) who always gets shown up by Gary. And then there is sad sack Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) who is bullied by is thoughtless wife). Also added sporadically into the mix is Oliver's sister Sam (Rosmund Pike) who both Gary and Steven vie for affection.
The film starts off well enough. Shaun of the Dead has ruined one aspect of the narrative. There has been much internet ink spilled on how the entire plot of the Shaun of the Dead is laid out in the beginning of the movie. The same is true here, only it is a little more punctuated. Each pub the group goes to touches has a name that touches on that particular plot point ("The Old Familiar" looks exactly like the pub before it and "The Mermaid" has sexy temptresses alluring our heroes). You will find this story device either charming or annoying depending on how much you engage the film.
The plot turns when at the beginning of the second act, the heroes discover that people in this small town have been taken over and replaced by alien robots. This discovery is made in a great humorous and action heavy fight in a public bathroom. But rather than immediately getting back in their car and heading out of town, Gary convinces the group that they need to continue the crawl in order to not draw suspicion on themselves.
I know that this is a necessary device to continue to plot, but I could not buy it. With no strong impediment to their escape, continuing on the crawl was simply stupid and dangerous. It became very difficult for me to engage in the rest of the story with that giant plot hole dangling.
Edgar Wrights kinetic style is as sharp as ever, but what really holds this movie together is actually the acting. Simon Pegg turns in one of his best performances ever as Gary King. His is rude, selfish, egotistical, immature, and broken. Pegg shows you the obsession in his eyes as he really sees the Golden Mile as an Arthurian quest to reclaim the joy of youth. And his friends can't help but be pulled in to help him by that invisible chain of fellowship.
Though it does seem like a waste of a great cast. Martin Freeman, in particular feels horribly underutilized and many of the other characters are painted in broad, 2-dimmensional strokes. Despite that, Wright fills his film with some wonderful visual metaphors for lost youth, adult angst, and growing up.
But my biggest problem with the movie is the ending. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD.
I will not get into much detail, but after the big final confrontation there is an epilogue. What happens after is dark and dour, but that isn't the problem. There is a huge disconnect between the events and actions of the movie and how the characters behave afterwards. It isn't simply that they are changed by what has occurred; that is something that should happen. But the movie has our heroes ripping apart these robots with their bare hands and then at the end the movie condemns people who hate the robots. It is such a strange thematic disconnect that I left the movie horribly puzzled rather than delighted.
Of the Wright/Pegg/Frost Trilogy, The World's End is easily the weakest. But if you enjoyed their other entries, you may want to spend a little more time with them on the Golden Mile.
2 and 1/2 out of 5 stars