I’m not one of those Anglophiles who think the Brits do everything better than we do. (Hello, can you say. . .dental care? And beer is supposed to be cold, people!) But I will say this, they know their way around comedy. Very specifically, Brits know how to do low-brow humor that is secretly smart—very smart.
To illustrate this point, you don’t have to look any farther than the films of Edgar Wright, who gave us Shaun of the Dead (a smart send up of zombie tropes), Hot Fuzz (a smart send up of cop movie tropes) and now the ingenuous The World’s End (a smart send up of. . .well, several genres at once).
At first blush, The World’s End seems a bit like a slightly more thoughtful version of The Hangover.
Gary (Wright’s longtime writing partner and leading man Simon Pegg) was the cool guy in the London suburbs where he grew up. He and his four best mates (this is a British film, I’m authorized to use the word mate) ruled the campus and once even attempted the famed Golden Mile—12 pubs all situated along a one-mile route, ideal for high-endurance bar-hopping. (The name of the final pub on the route? You guessed it: The World’s End. ) They didn’t accomplish their goal that night and now—some 20 years later—it haunts Gary, both as an unfulfilled accomplishment and as a sign of his own unfulfilled promise. While his friends have gone on to get real jobs and families, Gary is stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence—and he’s a drunk to boot.
Somehow, through guile, charm, and one whopper of a lie, he manages to get the “old band back together.” The actors who play his friends will be familiar to fans of British film and TV—in particular Nick Frost, who has teamed up with Pegg and Wright for each installment of the trilogy (here he plays Gary’s sensible—and therefore skeptical—former best friend). There’s also Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan—all great.
The World’s End would work simply, and brilliantly, as a character study of a man who peaked in high school and is trying, desperately, to recapture his glory years. But the film has much more up its sleeve.
As the boys make their way from pub to pub—boisterously chugging pints (the film’s love of beer is downright Homer Simpson-esque)—they start to notice that a certain corporate sameness has begun to creep it: The bars have been “Starbucked,” as they say. This serves as both a statement on the evils of gentrification and as a nifty segue into the genre twist of our story.
Well, that’s all I can say for now: The press packet has sworn me to secrecy, even if most reviews (and even one of the film’s trailers!) has revealed the twist.
Suffice it to say, the specifics of Wright’s plot twists are almost secondary. Whenever he and Pegg team up, you know that you’ll laugh your bum off, barely noticing that the film is as smart as it is hilarious.