The third film in the Simon Pegg-acted, Edgar Wright-directed trilogy heretofore composed of 2004’s cult classic Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s similarly received Hot Fuzz, The World’s End faced the daunting challenge of living up to its predecessors. Unsurprising to fans of the duo’s collaborative works, Wright and Pegg have in fact managed to one-up themselves — and with a summer release, no less — perfecting their winning recipe of offbeat, distinctly British, simultaneously clever and lowbrow humor and tossing in some just-shy-of-over-the-top cultural commentary for good measure, in what many critics are calling the most mature installment of the series. No need to fret, however, if physical (re: brainless) humor is your thing, as purposefully plastic special effects and a number of slapstick-y moments — fueled by the protagonists’ steadily increasing levels of drunkenness — prevent the tone from becoming too sober, even in the more genuinely creepy moments (which are in themselves cheeky send ups of classic horror tropes).
The film purports to focus on the hijinks of a group of boyhood friends who reunite twenty years down the road to complete a bar crawl they attempted on the last night of their high school careers. More than a low-brow bro comedy with sci-fi/horror movie elements, however, The World’s End is a highly entertaining meditation on adulthood, the status quo, and what happens when you refuse to leave your boyhood behind (this last embodied by former “Five Musketeers” ringleader and perpetual child Gary King, whose preoccupation with the decades-past bar crawl as the best night of his life belies his stunted maturation and failure to evolve past the reckless, fun-obsessed version of himself that hasn’t worked in his favor since his teenaged years). It is Gary who rallies his old mates — all of whom, unlike “The King,” have all gone on to lead apparently well-adjusted adult lives — in order to relive the night against which he has nostalgically measured all good experiences in the years since, launching the Five Musketeers on an offbeat pilgrimage that turns into a death-defying race to the final pub on the Golden Mile (aptly named The World’s End). A smattering of clever one-liners, often understated and always well-timed comedic acting, and surprisingly well choreographed (and blue goop-spattered) fight scenes make it a tight and entertaining escapade, and Pegg and Wright present a unique treatment of the value of not only free will, but also of human stupidity.
The one weakness of The World’s End is — ironically — its ending, as the film concludes in a way that feels much like an afterthought, attempting to tidily wrap up the protagonists’ stories with a weak voiceover-fueled sequence that undercuts the impact of the apocalyptic finale. However, this does little to detract from the overall thought-provoking and half-serious, half-gleeful nature of this alcoholic romp. If you’re going to see one apocalypse-themed movie this year, make it this one.