Not having been a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, I was not overexcited at the prospect of Act 3, but for about an hour, I was enjoying myself. After that, less so.
The good thing about The World’s End is that Simon Pegg makes his character, Gary King, so profoundly unsympathetic. He’s the kind of guy for whom the last days of school when he was king of the world, are golden. He had his mates, they ruled the roost, and nothing could go wrong. Over 20 years later, everything has gone wrong, but the main problem is that the everyone else has grown up – except Gary. His old mates – Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine ( a great supporting line up) – have all got jobs and wives and responsibilities and suits. Dull, but real. Gary dresses like someone half his age, wears shades all the time, owes money to everyone, and is an alcoholic.
So when he starts approaching his old mates to get together for a second crack at the Golden Mile – 12 pints in 12 pubs – they are all wary of getting involved, though Gary assures them that Andy (Frost) his best mate with whom he has fallen out, is going to be there. And of course they do all reassemble in the dull provincial town of Newton Haven, from where they have long since escaped, and reluctantly set off on a middle aged pub crawl. This is the best part of the film; the banter, the uneasy agreement to go along with Gary’s half-baked idea, partly out of residual loyalty, and partly out of a sense that their current lives are rather full. And Pegg pushes the envelope of our willingness to tolerate his rudeness, his immaturity and his complete indifference to anyone else’s feelings.
But of course this was never just a film about a bunch of old friends going for a drink. Just as Shaun of the Dead was a zom/rom/com, and Hot Fuzz was a pastiche of cop movies, The World’s End is based on films like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Newton Haven has been taken over by beings from another world, and it’s only a few pints into their progress that the lads discover that there is a problem. At which point the film begins to lurch into action/comedy, and rather too many scenes of fights in pubs, which end when an alien’s head is pulled off, releasing an ink-like substance. The joke wears thin with too much repetition.
Rosamund Pike makes an appearance as a token female, Martin Freeman’s sister, lusted after by at least two of the group. Her role is nothing special, but the same could be said for the latter part of the film which descends into a frantic race against time (for Gary to neck all 12 pints), and a rather prolonged and unamusing showdown with the voice of the alien commander. It’s a film of two halves in other words, the excellence of the first half offset by the mediocrity of the second.