England, England. Land of zombies, land of murderous village beautiful crackpots and home, at least in one small town, to alien robots. So it goes in dear old Blighty through the installments of Edgard Wright's so-called Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy. The name is, obviously enough, a play on Kieslowski's slightly more serious film trilogy. During the publicity for Hot Fuzz, someone apparently pointed out to Wright that Cornetto ice cream had made an appearance in both that film and the prior Sean of the Dead. The ice cream has a cameo in World's End as well. And if you're into this sort of thing, there's a color coding (if retroactively applied to the earlier films) to the Cornetto in each film to match the theme, or at least the mayhem.
But we're not here to talk about ice cream. The end of the world is the case, both the the apocalyptic event and a pub of the same evocative name. Both, as it happens in the film directed by Mr. Wright and written by him and star Simon Pegg, take place in the fictional English village of Newton Haven. Pegg, digging deep into his baritone voice as Gary King, "the once and future King," a title he was granted during school days and carries into middle age with the same sad persistence with which he dons an ageless Sisters of Mercy t-shirt, describes a life-changing evening that occurred in his hometown at the end of those halcyon days. He and his mates attempted the "Golden Mile," a 12-pub meander through Newton Haven which they failed to complete.
|All the young dudes: the younger selves of the pub-crawling characters in World's End.|
The tale is told, the flashback of all those pale youths carousing about Newton Haven is shown, as Gary sits about some sort of group therapy circle. Is he an alcholic? A drug addict? Hooked on his own nostalgia? Probably all of the above. But with the handy device of the group session and its back story provision out of the way, Gary is also done with that dreary business. He decides not to go forward, but back. Not less drinking, but more. He needs to assemble his mates and once more assay the Golden Mile. What could possibly go wrong?
Pegg speaks smoothly, rather too smoothly, from the lower depths of that baritone, letting flow the sort of ready river of verbiage that stands at the ready for practiced bullshitters. He certainly looks the part of man who has steadfastly refused to give up his arrested adolescent, body-abusing ways. Dark crescent valleys beneath the eyes, the pallor of skin rendered all the more so by the contrast to the dyed black hair and the equally dark habiliments of his youth. Just one of the difficulties of trying to age goth.
We are caught up on Gary and his Newton Haven mates with a kind of tracking shot through their adult lives. Most have grown up, gotten respectable: real estate, building, law, selling Audis. But then the shot arrives at what looks like the cluttered single room of a student. While we don't see the face, the donning of Doc Martins, the black trench coat and the eternal Sisters of Mercy t-shirt tells us all we need to know - it's the once and future Gary King.
As one might guess, Gary's old friends are no more excited to return to Newton Haven with him than they are to squeeze themselves into "The Beast," Gary's Ford Granda, which conducts them from the rail station into the heart of the village in which they grew up. Like Gary's clothes, the car hasn't changed in twenty years, much as he has had to replace virtually every part. If the lads in the car had any doubt as to just how frozen in time is Gary's existence, the soundtrack for their drive into Newton Haven settles the matter. As the Soup Dragons "I'm Free" pulses from The Beast's cassette player, Steven (Paddy Considine) exclaims, "I put this on a tape for you." Of course, explains Gary, as if noting the very obvious. It's the same mix tape, circa 1990. How sweet and how very sad.
The World's End soundtrack is full, not surprisingly, of 90's nuggets (e.g., Primal Scream, Suede, Pulp, Blur, those mad Ryder boys, etc.). It's also as nimble and versatile and Edgar Wright's direction, if a little too indicating at certain moments. As the boys, well into their cups (or pints), proceed with a rather dire knowledge of what's taking place in their hometown from one pub to the next, we get some decidedly non-90's music, with The Doors "Alabama Song" (Whiskey Bar) practically narrating the action. And as a lovesick Steven watches Oliver's (Martin Freeman) sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) walk away, Teenage Fanclub's "What You Do To Me" swells.
Sam's appearance injects a welcome female presence to the boys and in the film. While the elegant Ms. Pike has appeared in action films previously (Wrath of the Titans, Jack Reacher), there's still a charming incongruity at the sight of her amongst all the human vs. alien robot throw downs. This despite the fact that she generally bears a unchanging, stunned expression through most such scenes, as if she's standing in front of a blue screen and no one on the set has bothered to tell her exactly what bad thing is happening behind her.
The biggest challenge in reassembling the gang, the strongest note of incredulity expressed by each man whom Gary harangues with his plan, is the unlikelihood getting Andy (Nick Frost) to join the epic pub crawl. This Gary's former best mate, who gave up substance abuse and the once and future King after a car accident some ten years previous. As a slight departure from the first two installments of the Cornetto Trilogy, where he was the big trailing puppy to Pegg's more alpha dog, Frost's Andy is a respectable banker with an impressive glass office (which lacks a lintel, Gary is happy to point out, utilizing a term he just learned while bothering Steven on his building site). Andy does indeed join in, though he insists upon matching the others' beers with glasses of water. This Wright humorously captures with some of some typically brisk editing and point of view camera work. The whoosh of beer into pint glass after pint glass, followed by the prim stream of water into Andy's glass. Of course, something will have to give. The odds of Frost staying sober and sensible through the course of a film seem about equal to those of Adam Sandler uttering dialog in iambic pentameter.
|Yeah Boy! Nick Frost getting in touch with his inner hard drinking, robot-ass-kicking self in World's End.|
World's End commits a good bit of time establishing the mood of the pub crawl, Gary's desperation and the impatience of his friends with both. There are moments when the film seems likely to approach one of the accomplishments of its predecessors, providing intervals (if rather fleeting) of genuine emotion amid all the distracting plot absurdity. The same can be said of World's End passes at satire. The first two pubs on the crawl, The First Post and The Old Familiar are nearly identical in decoration and equal in their sterility. The pubs and England (by implication) have been "Starbucked," grouses Steven. Newton Haven a microcosm of cultural homogeneity and a lifeless populace. People as robots, their bodies coursing not with blood but some blue synthetic liquid, is obviously reminiscent of the zombies of Sean of the Dead, a hilarious England of such listlessness that the film's protagonist doesn't realize for some time that he's actually walking around in the midst of the flesh-eating undead. Both of the previous "Cornetto" films seemed to have something wry and trenchant to say about England distinct from all comic bloodletting. With World's End, the feints at emotion, at the pathos of fast-approaching middle age, as with the social commentary, seem like something to fill time and then be done with once the real fun begins.
It is in pub number four, The Cross Hands (Wright and Pegg named the pubs with plot significance in mind), that the chaos does at last begin. Just as the old gang has had enough of Gary's attempt to relive the past, a brawl in the loo changes everything. Those aren't just a group of young Newton Haven upstarts with whom Gary and Co. mix it up, they are, in fact, those replacement robots, whose removed heads and limbs reveal the blue stuff within.
|Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, just a little short of ideas.|
As he has amply proven to this point in his career, Edgar Wright can deliver absurd action and comic violence with pleasing fluidity and clarity. He's very good at this sort of thing. The same can be said of the script penned with Simon Pegg. It's not quite so sharp and fully-fleshed as the stories for Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And like summer's other bookending apocalypse film from Hollywood, This is the End, the brain trust doesn't produce a particularly satisfying version of the world once all the dust has settled. It's sort of amusing to see Gary as a kind of post-apocalpytic Man With No Name, roaming England, but disappointing to see a man once so admirably intent on completing a pub crawl reduced to a pint glass of water himself. But qualms aside, Wright and Pegg still deliver more sharp entertainment than most.
|Drink 'em if you've got 'em. Pub-crawling with a vengeance in World's End.|