If there is one lesson to be learned from all three features writ- ten by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg in the last decade, it is that looks are always deceiving. In Shaun of the Dead (2004), the titular Shaun treks to the corner store to buy Cornettos— the U.K. equivalent of Drum- sticks, and a recurring motif in each of the films— oblivious to the fact that a zombie apocalypse is occur- ring around him. Similarly, Hot Fuzz (2007) played upon the superficial innocence of a sleepy English village. The creative duo revisits these themes of lurking malevolence in The World’s End, this time waxing Sci-Fi while simultaneously exploring one man’s yearning to return to his golden youth. The result does not disappoint.
Pegg stars as Gary King, a 40-year-old alcoholic deadbeat who tries to relive the greatest night of his life by dragging his high school bud- dies, now successful businessmen, back to his hometown of Newton Haven. They plan to finish the ambitious 12-stop pub crawl, culminating at the aptly named ‘World’s End’ that they failed to complete 20 years ear- lier. Yet an unlikely obstacle stands in their way: body-snatching aliens have settled in Newton Haven. The concept works brilliantly as we watch King gallop from pub to pub, his resentful friends trailing along behind him and berating his idiocy as they are forced to battle with malicious humanoids.
Also key to this film’s appeal are excellent performances on the part of Pegg and the remainder of the film’s entire supporting cast. Pegg perfectly portrays King’s groan-inducing immaturity and desperate nostalgia as he enters middle age, while his buddies provide other moments of hilarity. Martin Free- man is excellent as the Bluetooth-sporting Oliver, whose catchphrase — “Double-you tee eff, Gary!?”— gets increasingly hilarious with each repeated exclamation.
If The World’s End has a weak-ness, it’s that it tries to cram so much material into its modest running time of 109 minutes that the viewer can sometimes feel left in the dust. Wright and Pegg seek to bring the audience up to speed by kicking off the film with a delightfully kitschy prologue telling the whole story of the legendary 1990 pub crawl through King’s eyes. But because the sequence moves so rapidly and we get so little time with each character, it’s frustrating to figure out which friend is which in the present- day scenes that follow.
Luckily, we have Wright’s dynamic directing style to keep us engrossed from start to finish. That being said, Wright offers nothing new here stylistically; almost all of the ingenious techniques he uses are recognizable from his previous work. Also reused are a number of sight gags: characters find creative ways to finish off their inhuman foes just as they did in Shaun of the Dead, and turn their heads only to be met with the creepy, synchronized stares of the townspeople just as they did in Hot Fuzz. Nevertheless, the visual gags have been used just sparingly enough that they still feel fresh and entertaining here. Moreover, some of them— like when King tries to jump over a fence and instead knocks it over (a trilogy trademark) —are clearly intended to be winking tributes rather than lazy repeats.
The World’s End doesn’t try to hide the fact that it owes a great deal to its predecessor and to classic Sci-Fi staples like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Doctor Who. In the end, it doesn’t need to, since Wright and Pegg have the imaginative potency to make even the most recognizable movie clichés feel new again.
The World’s End was released on Aug. 23 and is currently playing at the Scotiabank Theatre on 977 rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest.