Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's joint-forays into genre-features have coasted on an almost-intuitive sense of how the genres they're homaging should play out: From Shaun of the Dead's take on the zombie genre—which found a guy more caught up in his own personal mediocrity than the hungry apocalypse around him—to Hot Fuzz's super-cop-forced-to-work-in-a-small-town subversion of the genre that, in its third act, totally earned an a hyper-violent genre-worthy assault. The duo seem particularly skillful in taking a well-trod premise and making it seem fresh and new, even before taking it for a left-hand turn.
So if The World's End doesn't quite have the same impact as those films, then, it's likely because the platform itself seems weaker: Pegg is Gary King, once a small-town tough, now just that guy who's refused to mentally move on from those days. We first meet him in an AA meeting, yet his thoughts linger on the Golden Mile drinking challenge of his hometown of Newton Haven: the goal is to have a pint at each of the 12 pubs around town, something that King and his mates tried and failed to complete it theirheyday. King gets it in his head to give the Golden Mile another go, so he lies and coerces the rest of his old high school mates—still-boyish Peter (Eddie Marsan), kinda-boring Steven (Paddy Considine), gabby realtor Oliver (Martin Freeman) and bullish, now tee-totaler Andrew (Nick Frost)—all established in various levels of respectable adulthood, to meet up and make one last run at it.
The issue off the top is that there's so little sympathy for King. Pegg plays his alcoholic character with acrobatic facial expressions, an always-ready retort and an 'i'm never wrong' way of steamrolling a conversation that's a bit grating to watch. Little to make you feel much pathos for a manchild just acting like one.
But still: what starts out as a kind-of rote, “childhood friends attempt one last night of overdrinking like teens” flick morphs into a way more interesting sci-fi comedy, somewhere between The Stepford Wives and The Wicker Man as seen though the bottom of a growing pile of pints. It's here that the film picks up immensely, finding humour, and drive and, finally, some pathos for Pegg's King as it gets weirder. There's some clever comments on the homogenization of small-town culture, and just how divorced your memories can be from the reality of a place. It's just takes a while to make you care about any of it.
At World's End
Directed by Edgar Wright