It’s not hard to see how The World’s End is meant to be an unofficial sequel to 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Featuring the same lead actors (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) and the same writer/director (Edgar Wright), The World’s End also features the pub as a backdrop for a bunch of ordinary British blokes working through personal drama while a matinee-movie apocalypse is happening around them. (Thank God it’s not zombies this time — when will that horrid trend die already?!). This time around, Pegg plays a character named Gary King, who’s trying to relive an epic pub crawl with his four high-school buddies from 20 years ago. Remembering it as the greatest night of their lives, King wants them all to complete the 12 pub, 12 pint tour in their old home town of Newton Haven. Unfortunately, the others have moved on to careers and family but Gary still acts like nothing has changed in the intervening decades. When they arrive at the first pub, it’s been oddly sanitized and little do any of them know that there’s much more going on in the old town than they could ever have suspected. Somewhere between the dredging up of old grievances, regretting of missed opportunities, and coming to terms with the inadequacies of the present, a science fiction story is also being told about an alien invasion of sorts. Like Shaun and its fellow in the “Cornetto Trilogy”, Hot Fuzz, Wright is having a great time mixing a genre story with a heartfelt and humourous one. I think that’s the secret formula that makes these movies (along with always-wonderful performances by Pegg and Frost) so enjoyable.
One other surprising delight in this movie is the soundtrack. I got hooked into Gary and the gang’s nostalgia trip because of my own fond memories of tracks by The Beautiful South, Charlatans UK, The Stone Roses, The Sundays, The Soup Dragons (that one was actually specifically mentioned in the script) and of course, the Housemartins. Not only did those bands and songs perfectly complement the theme and milieu of the film but they were also great pub songs from the late 80s and early 90s.
I haven’t said much about the sci-fi, invasion part of the movie (which takes up a large part of the film) because I want to keep it as much a surprise for everyone else as it was for me. There’s a very clear (almost jarring) moment when this movie goes from real world comedy, to something outlandish, but you probably won’t see it coming. The sci-fi in this movie is nothing too elaborate or complicated. It’s not full of high-brow concepts or blockbuster-scale effects, but it is kind of fun and the actors get to do a lot of action stuff as well. After a summer of relatively disappointing movie-going, The World’s End succeeds mainly because it keeps things simple, and keeps things modest. The script is well-conceived and well-written (I love the scene where they try to agree on names for the aliens — typical British humour to be concerned with such a trivial thing in the middle of a deadly crisis). I wish we’d had more movies like this one (4 out of 5).