You swallow me whole with just a mumbled hello… The World’s End #review

Simon Pegg
Simon Pegg (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Back in 1990, Gary King (Simon Pegg) was the coolest guy in high school.  He partied, he slept around, he had fun.  Upon graduating, he and four of his friends decided to undertake The Golden Mile: a pub crawl through their village with 12 pints in 12 pubs, finishing at The World’s End.  Alas, their quest was incomplete, only making it to 9 of the 12 pubs.

Following high school, King and his friends drifted apart.  Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) is a partner at a luxury car dealership.  Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) is a boutique real estate agent.  Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) owns a construction company.  And Andrew Knightly (Nick Frost) — formerly Gary’s closest and dearest friend — has become a corporate lawyer.  Where his friends have gone off to become successful, Gary’s life is not so grand.

So Gary comes up with a plan: reunite the old gang and conquer The Golden Mile.

The World’s End is a spectacularly good right up until the last 25 minutes.  The plot is deceptively simple and provides space for a character-driven story.  Gary wants to recapture that spirit of invincibility that he had when he graduated school.  By completing The Golden Mile, he feels that this will give his life the hard reset that he feels he needs.  At times, this feels like we are watching somebody’s midlife crisis — or, worse, the man-child exploits of an indulged Peter Pan.  But at other times, it feels like Gary might be correct.  His friends seem like dried up, crustier versions of their younger selves.  The five guys at the centre of the story are intricately detailed and are very satisfying as characters.  Ultimately, the film is about how they reconnect with each other, with the people that they used to be, and with their old home village.

At the same time, this is a splendiferous action film.  Having recently seen The Wolverine, I was pushed to work out which film had the better action sequences.  As with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the film is really two genres mixed together for the juxtaposition.  About half way through the pub crawl, they discover that not everything is entirely kosher with the village.  It’s here that the characters discover their innate ability for drunk-fu and begin several sequences of unarmed combat.

It is not common for a film to so perfectly grasp the reasoning behind my Frankenstein complex, and the film is a pointed criticism of transhumanist Utopian fantasies.  Technology isn’t dangerous because it can be used to kill us in exciting new ways from orbit; it’s dangerous because it coddles us into a passive state and makes our indulgent dreams reality.

This is where the film presents a complicated philosophical position.  Gary’s desires are entirely adolescent and hedonistic, but the village wants to suppress those adolescent and hedonistic attributes by fulfilling them (creepiest sexbots ever put in a film).  Gary’s rejection of the village’s offer is not because he doesn’t want his adolescent desires fulfilled, but because he wants to fulfill them himself.  In Camus’ terms, he wishes to find his own way through the labyrinth.

The film never finds a satisfactory resolution to this tension.  The ‘villain’ of the film is implausibly powerful and doesn’t really have much in the way of a flaw.  Instead, the film has to rely on increasingly silly deus ex machina interventions in order to conclude.

Shaun of the Dead perhaps had the best resolution of the Cornetto trilogy.  The premiss of the film is that the world has been irrevocably changed by the intrusion of a non-rational element into the rational world.  To resolve this problem, the characters have to adjust their way of life to incorporate the non-rational into the rational.  The World’s End tries a similar approach in a sense, but doesn’t quite nail it.  The film is ultimately unsatisfying due to this flaw.

Should you care?  Absolutely not.  Nick Frost’s performance entirely justifies any other flaws in the film (including the woeful Martin Freeman — please stop putting him in things).  And the action scenes — which seamlessly integrate violence with the absurd — are absolutely first rate, making you forget that the only female character is must less detailed than the fraternity at the centre of the film.

Hot Fuzz remains my favourite of the trilogy, but The World’s End will age well.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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