Drink up lads – ★★★½
The problem with making a cult classic is that fans won’t leave you alone until you’ve followed it up. And then imagine the pressure when marketing people got a hold of things and declare “It’s definitely going to be a trilogy!”.
With 2004’s Shaun of the Dead Edgar Wright outed himself as an exceptional populist film-maker capable of making motion pictures that were great fun first time around but demanded to be seen multiple times. It was a rare feat and to read EMPIRE or Total Film at the time you would think he was British cinema’s messiah as they put him on such a pedestal that you wondered how he could ever see the same success again. His follow-up with stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost Hot Fuzz (2007) wasn’t as note-perfect as its predecessor but it was still a damn good film.
In The World’s End we meet Simon Pegg who plays Gary King, a troubled soul who is on the verge of hitting forty and wants to take one more crack at completing a pub crawl in his sleepy old hometown of Newton Haven – something that he and four friends tackled on the last day of school back in 1990. Andy (Nick Frost), Steve (Paddy Considine), Ollie (Martin Freeman) and Pete (Eddie Marsan) were his partners in crime back then and all came on board again with varying levels of enthusiasm. Also in the mix is Ollie’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), a girl whose suitors included Gary and Steve back in the day. The problem, as with any reunions, is that recapturing the energy and magic of a time and place is always going to be hard, especially when it transpires that Gary never really grew up and whose self-destructive tendencies slowly reveal themselves on the pub crawl. That all changes when he gets in a fight in a toilet with a local youth and knocks his head off revealing a robot running on blue blood. Yup, more or less the whole town has been taken over by some higher power who is replacing any non-compliant beings with faux-bot versions of themselves.
It’s hard to take on-board at first but you quickly buy into it. The film you’ve seen for the first half an hour is quite introspective and darker than you would think with all the major players getting on in life and clearly looking inward for inspiration. Pegg is always watchable but here he’s remarkable, managing a pitch-perfect balance between cocky jack-the-lad and down-on-his-luck loser – plus he was co-writer and managed to give himself a heap of the funny lines. The supporting players are all fantastic with brownie points for making room for Michael Smiley (playing a former drug dealer), David Bradley and Steve Oram.
With the exception of a heavy final fifteen minutes, the film nearly feels more like Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block or Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers than either of the two earlier Cornetto trilogy entries. Edgar Wright and World’s End producer Nira Park actually produced Cornish’s film so it’s no surprise to see similarities.
It’s hard to say but throughout the film there’s something there that just doesn’t sit right, and it’s just hard to pinpoint why it doesn’t click as it’s a film that has clearly been put together with love. The middle third really starts to drag and while it’s all good fun spending time with these brilliant characters, it doesn’t always feel like the film has too much of a structure or game-plan, which you know shouldn’t be the case with Wright and Penn on screenwriting duties. And without giving anything away the ending is bonkers but just about holds up, though we could have done without the thinly veiled attempt to condemn alcoholism and addiction.
Expectations were high and Wright/Pegg/Frost have delivered a solid film which you imagine with hindsight will be something you’d go back and watch again. For now, it seems best to move on and let these guys see other people but not before raising a glass to them for delivering a film that is tonally different to its predecessors, but still incredibly charming and entertaining.
Released nationwide in Ireland on July 19th 2013