All good things must come to an end, and that even goes for tangentially related films concocted by a trio of mad Brits. The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy – which began with 2004’s zombedy, Shaun of the Dead, and “continued” in 2007’s action/horror/comedy hybrid, Hot Fuzz – sadly comes to a close with 2013’s The World’s End; a farcical mash-up of The Big Chill and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The brainchildren of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, each of the three films correspond to a different flavor of the popular frozen treat, with Shaun of the Dead being the “strawberry” (signifying the film’s gore), Hot Fuzz being the brand’s original blue ice flavor (blue for police, get it?), and The World’s End being…green mint chocolate chip? Okay, that one makes no sense at all, but, supposedly, it has something to do with the sci-fi elements of the film. Besides the playful ice cream naming scheme, the three films have only one thing in common, and that’s that they are directed by Wright, and star Pegg and Frost, and, to me, that’s all that matters, as any time these three blokes get together, the result is more than worthy of our attention, with The World’s End being no exception.
The World’s End opens with a flashback to the early 1990s, with a group of five teenagers celebrating their impending adulthood by tackling their hometown of Newton Haven’s legendary “Golden Mile”; a crawl through 12 local pubs in which each man must imbibe a pint of beer. The group fails, but, as the gang’s ringleader Gary King (Pegg) cheerily intimates in his voiceover, the world was their oyster, and their adventures had only just begun. However, when we flash forward to present day, we see that life hasn’t exactly turned out quite how Gary expected. Now a broke alcoholic still clinging to his glory days, Gary decides that, to make things right, he must get the “band back together” and retackle the Golden Mile. Gary seeks out his old mates, including Peter (Eddie Marsan), who is now a partner in his father’s luxury car dealership; Steve (Paddy Considine), a successful general contractor, and Oliver (Martin Freeman), always something of a salesman, whose grown up to be a sharp-dressed, Bluetooth-obsessed business man. The final cog in Gary’s plan is Andy (Frost), Gary’s former best mate who is now a partner in a law firm who’s sworn off drinking entirely after an accident involving booze, Gary, and Gary’s general selfishness. While Andy wants nothing to do with Gary, he’s eventually won over by a concocted sob story about Gary’s recently deceased mom, and agrees to attend the reunion.
The group convene at a London train station where Gary, dressed in his 90s garb, picks them up in the exact same car he’s driven for over twenty years, and the quintet make their way to Newton Haven. Once in town, they begin the crawl, encountering Oliver’s sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), en route. Gary’s excited that she’s here as, on that fateful night 20-plus years ago, he and Sam shared an intimate moment in the disabled restroom, but this new Sam wants nothing to do with him (much to the chagrin of Steve, who’s always harbored feelings for her). Sam storms off, leaving the men to recapture their lost youth, but it isn’t long before in-fighting and bad memories threaten to derail Gary’s dream of finishing the Golden Mile. Gary storms off into the men’s room where he encounters a local youth who he thinks is giving him attitude. When a shoving match ensues, the young man proves to be much stronger than he appears, beating Gary handily until Gary manages to get in a few blows, resulting in the teen’s head being knocked off his body in a spray of blue goo.
The rest of Gary’s mates look for him in the restroom (Andy is furious as Gary’s earlier lie about his mum has been exposed), and discover an exhausted Gary and the remnants of what they can only assume is some sort of alien robot. No sooner do they deduce this than the rest of the teen’s friends enter the bathroom to square off against Gary and the boys. After a long and vicious battle, the latter ultimately win, and, covered in blue robot goo, the group nonchalantly exits the bathroom to plot their next move.
Unsure of how far this robotic conspiracy goes, Steven and Oliver want to return to Gary’s car and head back to London, but Gary insists that they stay the course and finish the pub crawl as to not draw attention to them. The others argue the logic of this, but Gary gets support from an unlikely source as Andy, now pounding shots and beers like a seasoned drunk, agrees with him, and the group moves on to the next pub. Things get decidedly more complicated, however, and it soon becomes apparent to the new inhabitants of Newton Haven that their secret is out!
Much like the previous films in Wright’s trilogy, The World’s End is both a spoof and homage to genre cinema, this time taking a whack at the alien invasion film, but also throwing in a bit of slapstick style martial arts (hilariously, everyone, including the alien menace, seems to be a master of hand-to-hand combat), and even a few nods to the works of Douglas Adams. At its center, however, The World’s End, like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before it, is a film about friendship, loyalty, and sticking together no matter the odds. Pegg’s Gary King is at once a selfish, despicably manipulative lout, and a tragically damaged shell of a man whose life began and ended the moment he stepped out of university. The tension and animosity between he and Frost’s Andy is palpable, and the two actors turn in some of their finest work, here, lending a sense of gravitas to an otherwise light and consistently funny film. In terms of where I feel it stands amongst the trilogy, I’d say squarely in the middle, as, for me, Hot Fuzz is still the most satisfying chapter (Shaun of the Dead, no doubt a classic, is hamstrung by a bit of excess treacle now and again). The World’s End strikes a perfect balance between the two other “flavours”, and makes for a most fitting finale.
Universal’s Blu-ray presentation is, as one would expect, a reference quality collection of sights and sounds, but, more importantly, it’s also an exhaustive and comprehensive collection of materials that add hours of enjoyment for fans. I really love the treatment Universal has given the three films in the series as none have been huge box-office hits (although, their comparably low budgets have made them extremely profitable) yet they all have received superlative home video releases, packed with extra features usually reserved for blockbusters. The World’s End is no exception!
In addition to three feature length commentary tracks, we are given several featurettes, including;
Completing the Golden Mile - The Making of The World's End: This lengthy, comprehensive behind-the-scenes documentary features interviews with all the cast and crew, and serves as a perfect complement to the commentary tracks
Filling in the Blanks: The Stunts and FX of The World's End: A stunt-centric piece focusing on the intricate bouts of martial arts film inspired fisticuffs.
Stunt Tapes: Another stunt piece, this time focusing on the lengthy bathroom brawl between Gary’s gang and the robot teens.
VFX Breakdown: A comparison of raw footage and post-effects footage with VFX supervisor, Frazer Churchill
Hair and Make-Up Tests
A pop-up trivia track that’s packed with even more nuggets of information!
We also get a collection of shorter bits, mostly played for laughs, including a musical montage entitled There’s Only One Gary King, another Pegg-centric feature called The Man Who Would Be (Gary) King, Signs and Omens (a collection of clues and homage bits scattered throughout the film), deleted/alternate scenes, a gut-busting gag reel, and tons more.
Also included are both a DVD copy of the film, as well as a Digital HD Ultraviolet version!