Acting duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have worked together on and off the screen ever since the British late 1990s cult sitcom Spaced. With the zombie spoof Shaun Of The Dead, comedians the two and their director friend from the same show, Edgar Wright, entered the film landscape with a bang in 2004. Three years later, the threesome came back with the utterly brilliant police comedy Hot Fuzz. Now, about a decade after their first movie success, the trio returns for more with The World’s End. One big question remains: Will it be more of the same, in a good sense, or have their tricks suddenly become old in the meantime?
Once, Gary King (Simon Pegg) used to rule the small English town of Newton Haven. Now, he is nothing but a down-and-out drug addict approaching the tender age of forty. After leaving rehab, Gary decides to get his old gang of Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Oliver ‘O-Man’ Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) get back together in order to revisit a challenge they badly failed to meet as youngsters almost two decades earlier. He desperately wants to complete the so-called ‘Golden Mile,’ a pub crawl of twelve legendary beer taverns in their hometown.
Even though none of his estranged friends is too happy to see Gary again, they all allow themselves to be talked into the trip – and both Steven and the former gang leader are happy when Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) briefly joins them for a drink. Back in the day, each of the two men had the hots for her. In the facilities of the fourth pub on their tour, an irate Gary gets into a fight with a teenager and eventually knocks his head off – only to find out that the surprisingly strong youngster is a robot. A bathroom brawl with more androids later, the old gang decides to continue their drinking mission to avoid any suspicion.
After a hiatus of more than half a decade, The World’s End finally completes the so-called ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ (or ‘Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy’) by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. In each of the three movies, the wrapping of the ice-cream cone comes in a different color to symbolize the main genre it parodies: red for the bloody nature of the horror and the zombies in Shaun Of The Dead, blue so as to match the police uniforms in Hot Fuzz, and green because of the alien overlords in The World’s End. Incidentally, all three films also retain the same main cast, with Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, and The Hobbit star Martin Freeman (among others) all returning to the fold for a third time as well.
The sci-fi comedy doesn’t stop there, however. Edgar Wright and his team pay a meticulous but lovely attention to detail. There are numerous other connections to the two former entries into their unofficial trilogy as well as to several other films. In The World’s End, for instance, Simon Pegg’s Gary stumbles over a fence much the same way as his characters did in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, while the fruit machine at The King’s Head plays the same tune as the ones in the two earlier movies. Similarly, the gang leader jokes to Oliver at the beginning that he will maybe make it to the end this time. Although appearing in the first two parts of the trilogy, actor Martin Freeman is never shown at the conclusion of these works.
The World’s End also sees Gary pose like Aragorn from the final The Lord Of The Rings movie when he proclaims himself king, a reference to one of the most successful pictures at the Oscar ever. Given the topic of Edgar Wright’s latest directorial work, it shouldn’t come as such a surprise, either, that it pays homage to some classic sci-fi B-movies. There are some obvious similarities between The World’s End and They Live by John Carpenter, whereas the poster to the Simon Pegg-led film is a tribute of sorts to a very different kind of work. It refers to John Hayes’s End Of The World, a rather poorly received sci-fi trash starring the iconic horror actor Christopher Lee – who has also worked with Martin Freeman on The Hobbit.
Speaking of traditions, The World’s End continues the cameos of former James Bonds in movies by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, dating back to Timothy Dalton’s appearance as the sinister supermarket owner Simon Skinner in Hot Fuzz. Here, we’re treated to his direct successor in the role of the legendary secret agent, Pierce Brosnan. He plays the gang’s ex-teacher Guy Shepherd. The World’s End, however, even gives us a 007 double-dip. In terms of eye candy, we also get to see a former Bond girl again: Rosamund Pike, who – quite incidentally – fought Pierce Brosnan tooth and nail in Die Another Day.
The cameos of former James Bonds are, in a way, a nod to a British institution that has been with us successfully for more than half a century now, while Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright may well be on their way to become similar cult heroes. With The World’s End, they’re definitely inching closer to becoming just that. You could even say that it’s a big step into the right direction. Even though the Pegg- and Frost-penned Paul by director Greg Mottola and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World were very nice movies in their own right, the three of them seem to be much stronger when they work together.
While their latest collaboration, The World’s End, is probably not quite as good as Hot Fuzz – arguably the masterpiece of the unofficial trilogy – or even Shaun Of The Dead, it comes close. It also sends out a wacky message in our modern age of constant surveillance by secret services and multinational corporations, namely that we’re free to do what we want, “any old time.” In its own special (and very quirky) way, the movie also demonstrates us how to get away from all the Orwellian dystopias and manipulations. Gary’s and Andy’s not-so-civil disobedience to the aliens eventually sends mankind back into Stone Age, just as at the end of another John Carpenter movie, Escape From L.A., but order is restored.
Gary King and his royal friends (because they all possess such surnames) become de-facto rulers on the new, archaic earth devoid of electricity and other modern comforts, and they reign together with the robots they initially wanted to dispatch. So, does The World’s End have the subtext of a 21st-century utopia, then? That’s one way to read it. The more pleasant approach, however, is to just enjoy the show and watch the new masters of British comedy at work. If they can maintain their lofty standards, maybe Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright will be mentioned together with the legendary Monty Python, Stephen Fry, or Hugh Laurie one day. The World’s End is just proof to the pudding that they’re already on their way to get there.