The Cornetto Trilogy… Three Flavours Cornetto… Call it what you will, but this particular series epitomised by the names Pegg, Frost and Wright is over, and that kind of sucks. At least they finished in real style with The World’s End.
Ten years ago, Pegg and Wright were respectively the co-creator / co-star and director of a cult Brit com, with Frost playing a minor, but scene stealing recurring character on the same show. Then came Shaun of the Dead, the self appointed zom-rom-com to launch them out of England and into the film world. It was backed up four years later when Hot Fuzz proved they could handle the pressures that came with a bigger budget and bigger profile. Since then, Wright directed the tragically underrated and under seen Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, while Pegg and Frost teamed up to co-write and co-star in the kind of disposable Paul.
Although it’s technically an ensemble, Pegg is still in the role the main character, with Frost playing his former best friend and second lead. Their group is rounded out by Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, each filling out a place in the character archetype rainbow. Almost a quarter of century ago, they unsuccessfully set out on an epic pub crawl in their small home town as teenagers, now, Pegg’s Gary King is determined to make sure they complete as adults what alluded them all those years ago.
The first act is all about showing us Gary King’s arrested development, contrasted with his friends’ natural aging into family men with careers and responsibilities. While they’ve been growing up, Gary has been wallowing in his memories as the king of their adolescence, who’s life peaked back then. But because this screenplay has Pegg and Wright’s names on it, there’s no way the story can stay that small. As they leave more and more empty pint glasses in their wake, the quintet become more and more suspicious of their once boring home town. And before you know it, they’re fighting off a robot invasion. Only they’re not robots. But are they? Well no. But yes. But who knows, really?
Edgar Wright has one of the most distinct styles of any director working today. He manages an effortless cool that never seems like he’s trying too hard. The smash cuts, whip pans and frenetic pace that have become his signatures always seem to have just the right amount of affection and straight face, while also winking at the audience and enhancing the comedy at the same time. And while the zombie attacks of Shaun of the Dead looked menacing enough, and the action movie cliché tribute finale of Hot Fuzz packed a punch, The World’s End shows Wright has only become better and better with directing action. The fight scenes, and there are a lot, are genuinely impressive. Nick Frost going full on Wolverine berserker rage attack with bar stools attached to each hand instead of adamantium claws is more impressive than anything is Pacific Rim. And I really dug Pacific Rim.
Pegg’s Gary King is not the kind of hero you’ve seen before. His titular character in Shaun of the Dead was a slacker, but loveable. Nicholas Angel of Hot Fuzz was an uptight perfectionist who learned how to lighten up and enjoy the simple things in life (like a Cornetto). Gary King is a selfish, manipulative, immature, arrogant asshole. And at the same time, the perfect hero to lead a revolution against Earth’s invasion.
But the best thing about The World’s End, the really impressive bit, is that through all the cranked up action scenes, through the heavy themes of lost youth and lost friendships, through life and death peril at every turn, even with a man who should be the least likeable hero in movie history… Through all that, The World’s End is really, really funny. All five of the core group get moments to shine and none drop the ball. Even Frost, who initially seemed miscast as the conservative one, totally owns the character early in his first scene and almost becomes the heart of the group of friends, and the movie itself.
I see Shaun of the Dead as a movie about growing up and accepting that you’re an adult and the responsibilities that come with it. Hot Fuzz said there’s no point in controlling every aspect of your life if maintaining that control means you can never actually stop and enjoy it. The World’s End puts a bow on the trilogy, telling us how important it is to accept who you are now, not who you were or who you thought you were supposed to become. That and dinking. So much drinking.