By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s not the world that has ended in The World’s End. It’s the past.
A smart, bouncy, upbeat science fiction comedy about a group of pals who discover an alien invasion during an extended pub crawl, The World’s End is the third entry in the loose black-comedy trilogy that includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, a third genre sendup that’s also a social satire.
The first film took on romantic zombie flicks, the second buddy-cop actioners. This third outing spoofs apocalyptic alien thrillers.
Simon Pegg stars as pleasure-seeking 40-year-old alky Gary King, who looks up his four best but estranged mates – played by Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman — to help him replicate a pub crawl dubbed The Golden Mile, which encompasses a dozen pubs in their small hometown of Newton Haven in England. It climaxes at the final pub, the one that lends the film its title.
The five drinking buddies tried this over 20 years ago as teenagers – one downed pint per mate per pub was the rule — but they failed to finish the journey.
But this time, as the determined Gary, in all his arrested development, and his reluctant friends, putting all their grownup responsibilities on hold, proceed, it becomes clear that a lot has changed in Newton Haven in the intervening years. Everything seems different now: the pubs, the streets, even the people themselves, who seem particularly robotic. And no one seems to remember our heroes.
Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), working from a frequently surprising screenplay that he co-wrote with Pegg, which had the original title of Crawl, uses the film’s central conceit to examine not only the tug of nostalgia but the danger and impossibility of living in the past and reclaiming one’s youth.
He utilizes judicious, energetic editing and just enough in the way of special effects to tell his story, but he doesn’t let any technical wrinkles get in the way of his start-to-finish laugh machine: even the action sequences, most of them hand-to-hand combat, are choreographed like dance numbers in a musical and played for giggles.
Pegg gives a fascinatingly brave performance. His character, not one to move on from a youth and a past that continue to define him, isn’t likable or admirable or sympathetic. And yet we find ourselves, if not rooting for him, then at least forgiving him his trespasses. He’s a marvelously resourceful comic actor.
And he’s ably supported by the terrific Nick Frost, who has been there throughout the trilogy, and an excellent ensemble. As for the crucial comic timing and chemistry among the “five musketeers,” it’s top-drawer in an absurdist body-snatching spoof with character-driven laughs galore.
So we’ll crawl toward 3 stars out of 4 for a clever and consistently funny sci-fi romp. The World’s End is an apocalypse howl.