They say you can’t go home again. That, of course, is because you’ve changed, whether the place you come from has changed or not, and the experience of being there will never be the same as it was in your youth. But that’s only the beginning of the story for five former high school friends returning after 20 years to the scene of their adolescent glory in The World’s End. The final entry in a genre-mash-up trilogy from the British creative team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (which began with 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and continued with 2007’s Hot Fuzz), The World’s End bravely ventures into the cinematic territory of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Village of the Damned. Social science fiction is what they called these people-centered movies in their late-1950s and early-1960s heyday. The World’s End updates the sub-genre for the digital age. A more fitting time for its rebirth as full-on satire would be hard to imagine.
The World’s End refers to the name of a pub in the fictional English town of Newton Haven, the last stop on the town’s “Golden Mile” circuit of twelve renowned watering holes. The five friends reunite to improve on their failed attempt at completing the circuit on their last day at school, with one pint imbibed at each stop as the requirement. Their fearless leader, then and now, is Gary King (Pegg), who also happens to be the only one in the group who never grew up — the other four all have traditional careers and home lives. But things are about to change.
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King provides the focal point for the film’s barrage of comic one-liners and asides, all delivered in a pleasingly brisk and dense style by an ensemble that operates like a well-oiled machine. Much credit goes to the warm and naturalistic script Pegg co-wrote with director Wright. King pushes the group forward with the ultimately pointless quest even though the unique character of the small-town pubs has been usurped by the soullessness and uniformity of corporate chains. That’s the ultimate sign of our times. And it’s almost bad enough to make you imagine that alien robots are taking over the world.
The film’s title will likely cause some confusion and work against it finding an audience stateside, which is a shame given the lackluster competition from Hollywood this summer. There have just been too many end-of-the-world movies on the big screen in recent months. And The World’s End actually bears some resemblance to This is The End, the recent James Franco and Seth Rogen apocalypse comedy. Think of The World’s End as that American film’s smarter and funnier British cousin. There are too many barroom brawls in The World’s End, and the ending fizzles where it should have scored big. But any movie that manages to draw credible sci-fi from a pub-crawl buddy-movie probably deserves to have its shortcomings overlooked.