"By now, we understand each other's way of working and we're on the
same page perhaps more than ever," says Pegg, adding that it didn't take
long to hone his irritating character. "Edgar and I joked about how in
reunion films, like 1983's The Big Chill, there's a corpse because someone's
just died. In The World's End, Gary basically is the corpse."
Interview with co-writer and star, Simon Pegg, Nottingham Post
The World's End is a curious beast. Its marketing hints at a science fiction staple as its plot-bedrock (Invasion of the Body Snatchers writ blue); this is spiced up with character-based comedy delivered by several well-tested practitioners of the craft. What it fails to mention (unsurprisingly) are; the anorexic nature of the McGuffin (aliens as galactic corporate asset managers, a wafer-thin plot hinge swept, nay, thrown away by a celebration of laddish boorishness); an eerily similar vibe to the film that preceded it; and the appallingly unsympathetic nature of the lead. I can't figure out if Simon Pegg is comfortably confident that the humour output of his irredeemable creation (Gary King) will successfully overshadow his utter awfulness as a human being. A saving grace is his wide-eyed stupidity. If Gary were any more aware of his own ineptitude and shallowness, he'd have entered the doors of pub number one and just sat in a corner quietly whimpering.
Flashback; five youngsters start an epic twelve stop pub-crawl and cock of the hoop, Gary King, remembers the experience twenty years on with an over abundance of nostalgia and the feeling that life hasn't served up anything as meaningful in the intervening decades. He can be safely described as socially stunted, stuck with and sticking to his teenage persona, from a time when he may have ruled the roost. Twenty years later? Not so much. He recruits his four pals all of whom have been molded by decades of life having taken very different paths than Gary's stalled psyche ever considered. It's time to restage the pub crawl for a second round in their old hometown but this time Gary is determined to go all the way, something the boys failed to do the first time around. Like Hot Fuzz before it, it doesn't take long before the town starts to serve up some oddities that the boys have to deal with, preferably with bar stools as makeshift weapons. In the first thirty minutes we are treated to Gary's hyper-selfish behaviour as seen through the astounded eyes of his friends. It's hard to see Pegg's character as anything close to likeable but as long as his conduct has the same effect on his friends as it does on us, we're presumably reassured. The influence of this completely dreadful character on the film is not quite as bruising had he been played with someone without Pegg's inbuilt charisma. But the 'arc' of the character becomes that much more expected, demanded even and curiously this happens in two finger snapped events not the slow leakage of vulnerability that might allow the audience to feel for him a little more. He is (almost) an asshole to the very last.
That said, the support in the form of Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Nick Frost and Eddie Marsan as the reluctant friends is never less than assuredly entertaining. Rosamund Pike gives Pegg and Considine someone to argue over and she breaks up the man-fest with a deft if short turn at incredulous comedy. And this is where the film scores. The World's End is, at times, laugh out loud funny. Too often the reliance is on the well timed use of the 'f' or 'c' bomb but when they detonate, they resonate. By far the most identifiable character is Nick Frost's ex-best friend. Andrew. Tee-total, he waters his way through the pubs while others cheerfully beer until things get a mite hairy and shots are shot down as his resolve fires up. Frost is a very instinctive actor and in a way I wish I didn't know that he and Pegg have been best friends for a long time. I'd think more of his easy natural screen presence knowing that he was in fact 'acting'. But then the best make the craft seem effortless.
But to be blunt, the movie is mostly on Pegg's shoulders and the script has to do some absurd and illogical contortions to leverage his insane determination to reach the final bar into the plot and not have him and those who follow him seem utterly deranged. The other 'end of the world' comedy released a few weeks earlier, the Seth Rogen vehicle, This Is The End, adhered to the most simplistic religious iconography (do good, you go up to heaven in a ray of light etc.) but at least Rogen and company stuck with the premise wholeheartedly. The alien presence in The World's End is Bill Nighy's voice and lots of lights and precious little else. The violence (lots of robotic blue bodily fluids and limb rippage) is beautifully choreographed and you feel each crunch but the alien sub-plot feels so under developed it almost wanders in from another flightier, gossamer-light movie.
But then, in search of a grin and guffaw, is that so important? It would have been more satisfying if the alien angle had been a little more than a way for an obnoxious bastard to save the day with his obnoxious bastardry. But again, bite into a soufflé and expect fillet steak and you will not be satisfied. That said, there is an absurd expletive filled line referencing Legoland for no good reason at all, a line which had my son and I laughing like idiots on the way home. The bottom line; if you like Pegg and Frost then you'll enjoy The World's End. If their irony-loaded and knowing puerile shtick leaves you cold then give it a miss.