Can Life Go on After ‘The World’s End’?

With The World’s End, director Edgar Wright’s The Ultimate Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy concludes with a more somber look at friendship, albeit with the same skewed view of reality presented in Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). Shaun of the Dead refers to strawberry in tribute to all the blood splashed during the zombie apocalypse, and Hot Fuzz acknowledges the boys in blue with a nod to British Cornetto ice cream’s blue-packaged original cone.

Although green is meant to refer to the finalé film’s aliens, who steer the buddy road trip in a different direction a third of the way into the film, The World’s End is truly mint. That is, a classic Simon Pegg and Nick Frost comedy, written by Wright and Pegg.

Although Pegg’s character usually is the hero, Frost is far more than the awkward sidekick. His influence brings out the best in his friend, as Pegg’s character eventually is forced to mature.

In The World’s End, Pegg’s Gary King needs a lot of guidance to mature beyond his rowdy teen persona. An emotionally fraught reunion with the friends he assembles for a final pub crawl provides him the opportunity both to make amends and finally grow up. Gary may be a king in his own mind, but he is far from a prince among men. As each former friend is dragged toward the fateful reunion, King’s role in their youth, especially that of former partner in crime Andy Knightley (Frost), is gradually and horrifically revealed. Nevertheless, King has always managed to stir up his friends’ lives, and as these men face middle age, the suited assortment of businessmen mired in routine could use a bit of a shake-up.

Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) works in his father’s car dealership. Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman, who ends up with one of the film’s best sight gags) is a Bluetooth-addicted real estate agent. Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) supervises a construction project; he frequently and proudly alludes to dating a young fitness instructor. Andy, now a partner in a law firm, has redeemed himself from his misspent younger days and become a teetotaling model of restraint.

Despite their reservations, each agrees to re-enact what, to Gary, was the best night of their lives: a “quest” to drink 12 pints in 12 pubs, each with a foreshadowing name like The Famous Cock, The Trusty Servant, The Two-Headed Dog, The King’s Head, and, of course, The World’s End.

Among the trilogy’s many themes are a recurring aversion to robotic, “Starbucked” suburban culture and characters’ recognition that they really cannot go home again. The World’s End presents the friends’ home town, Newton Haven, as the place where, Andy says, “nothing ever happened”.

When the five return, they quickly realize that the town is not as they remember it. Is that because they are now older and see it with visitors’ eyes, or has Newton Haven fundamentally changed? The answer is both, according to Wright. As might be expected, something weird is going on, and the King’s men must learn the truth, about themselves as well as the townspeople.

As Gary comes to understand, growing up means not only seeing what is wrong with the world but accepting responsibility for doing something to change it. The World’s End also provides closure to the trilogy by emphasizing the importance of friendship above all else and striving to answer King’s question early in the film, “Why should getting older affect something as important as friendship?”

Frost and Pegg lead a stellar comedic cast who take the audience along for an entertaining road trip, but they also deal with issues like midlife crises and faded friendships amid the comedy. The World’s End allows Pegg to play a more repulsive character than he usually tackles, and he makes alcoholic, manipulative, chronic underachiever Gary worth watching, although not likeable. His manic maneuvers and “little white lies” illustrate how fast he must keep moving in order to avoid dealing with adulthood, a performance which results in more empathy for the character than such a person would likely receive in real life.

Frost convincingly plays Andy’s understated solidarity with his former best friend and makes the climactic scene at The World’s End believable. As a casting bonus, the film showcases Pierce Brosnan as a “cool” teacher and Bill Nighy in a clever voiceover role.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes the now-requisite multiple formats: DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD with Ultra Violet. However, the special features go beyond what audiences now expect or require of such a set by divulging an exceptional number of details about the film’s origins and production, as well as the typical director and cast commentaries. As is fitting for a final installment in a trilogy, the “making of” elements are bittersweet to fans who would like to see the series continue indefinitely, instructive to young filmmakers looking for tips, and especially meaningful to fans of Pegg, Frost, and Wright.

At 48 minutes, the “making of” segment is truly a film itself and presents rehearsal footage and insightful interviews with the principal cast and director. It has been added to both the DVD and Blu-ray discs. The DVD’s extras are trailers and television spots, plus a feature commentary with writers Wright and Pegg. The Blu-ray provides far more bonus materials, including a deleted scene, outtakes, four featurettes (such as “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” discussing the series’ development), hair and makeup tests, rehearsal footage, and storyboards.

Those who enjoy analyzing actors’ interpretation of a role should be especially interested in the “bits and pieces” segment that shows, for example, Pegg or Freeman giving different line interpretations in several consecutive takes. A nearly 28-minute feature about the film’s special effects and stunts shows how fight scenes were choreographed and rehearsed and how effects artists brought Newton Haven’s strange residents to (or back to) life. Altogether, the bonus features offer more than two hours of additional entertainment.

Although each film can stand alone, the Cornetto Trilogy illustrates how Wright, Pegg, and Frost have matured as film artists in the past decade. As The World’s End not so subtly suggests, the (cinematic) world may end, but the legend of Gary King — or, more likely, of Wright, Pegg, and Frost — lives on.

RATING 8 / 10