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Review: Edgar Wright's 'The World's End' Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman & More

by Todd Gilchrist
July 20, 2013 5:00 PM
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As the completion of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s thus-far endlessly watchable Cornetto Trilogy, “The World’s End” is probably the funniest movie I’ve ever felt really disappointed by. Like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” before it, their collaboration once again produces some of the most genuine, earned, character-driven laughs in any modern comedy. And in many ways it evidences the trio’s individual and collective growth as performers and creators, employing what has become to their fans familiar techniques to communicate increasingly sophisticated ideas. But as a film whose central theme emphasizes the dangers of living in the past, Wright, Pegg and Frost become fatally distracted by nostalgia, eventually paying too much homage to previous classics—especially their own—to create another film that deserves to stand alongside them.

Pegg plays Gary King, the last holdout in a group of friends who thoroughly enjoyed the irresponsible glory of their high school years but in the 20 years since then, settled into more mature, mundane routines. With virtually nothing else to hold onto in his life but a mythical pub crawl that they failed to complete when they were 18, Gary rounds up Andrew (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) and convinces them to try again. But as they begin to walk “The Golden Mile,” Gary quickly discovers that it’s impossible to relive the past—first when he sees how much the pubs and his friends have changed, and then when the group slowly realizes that their sleepy hometown has apparently been taken over by a bizarrely polite alien menace.

Typically, there are more interlocking pieces in Edgar Wright’s scripts than a 1,000-piece puzzle—and they usually fit together with similar beauty: asides announce future plot points, pop culture references reveal character details and comic set pieces augment profound emotional truths. And there is much of that layering in “The World’s End,” starting with Gary’s account of their first attempt at the pub crawl, which more or less presages all that happens to him and his pals throughout the course of their second attempt. But the fulfillment of that narrative foreshadowing is messier and more convoluted than in any of their previous efforts, perhaps by design but seldom to greater effect. The idea alone of visiting twelve pubs makes it foundationally more complicated, for example, but rather than generating a sense of inescapable momentum or building tension, as they move from one to the next, the choice only exposes the characters and story to more unevenness.

Truthfully, the film’s big problem is the characterization of Gary, a guy whose halcyon self-glorification isn’t merely delusional, but relentless. His entire adulthood is defined, or maybe more accurately, constrained by the memories of his reckless youth. But despite his friends’ efforts to cajole or even confront him about letting go of the past, growing up and embracing a new phase of life, Gary persists in trying to recapture old glories, which eventually becomes as exasperating for the audience as it does his buddies. Oddly, the movie literally never portrays his perception of himself as flattering, but never fully (or appropriately) excoriates him for this obnoxious behavior, instead choosing to mostly let him off the hook—if not actually sort of validate his pathetic self-destructiveness.

If the alchemy of Pegg and Frost’s personalities generated so much of the emotional substance of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” their relationship is less central—and less impactful—to “The World’s End” than it maybe intends to be, primarily because the there aren’t two, but five characters who figure into the main thrust of the narrative. Considerable lip service is paid to the deep-rooted friendship between Gary and Andrew, but their current-day estrangement frequently takes a back seat to Gary’s issues with the other three characters, especially Steven, whose resurrected, imaginary rivalry for Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) much more painfully evidences the craterlike destructiveness of his behavior on all of their lives.

That the catalyst for Gary and Andrew’s rift is only mentioned where these other conflicts are shown on screen further undermines its importance. But the fatal blow to their eventual reconciliation is the fact that Gary never satisfactorily makes amends for his earlier negligence, even though Andrew forgives and forgets anyway.

Moreover, the film spends a significant chunk of time explaining a whole lot about the characters, their world, and the circumstances in which they find themselves by the end, without pairing it with enough action. In terms of fights and physical confrontations, mind you, there are several big, mostly-well-staged set pieces. But once the film takes a step back to examine the machinery of the friends’ relationships and the mythology of their alien opponents, its dramatic momentum grinds to a halt. Wright primarily introduces and resolves emotional conflicts through petulant conversations between Gary and, well, everyone, but even the film’s acknowledgement of the immaturity of those exchanges is writ large in a way that glorifies rather than critiques his myopic, self-destructive devotion to the past.

All of which is honestly why in a way I hope that I missed things in the film on a first viewing that, like the dense and layered structures of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” reveal themselves in subsequent ones. Especially since its climax seems more interested in paying homage to alien-invasion and apocalypse movies than in reinforcing or reconciling the dynamics between the characters, and an inexplicable coda seemingly undermines almost every single idea presented by one of the characters in the previous scene. But then again, maybe “The World’s End” is itself a self-fulfilling treatise on the dangers of trying to recapture the same experience over and over again: possibly feeling like they have evolved beyond the tomfoolery, brilliant though it is, of their earlier work, this enormously talented trio would perhaps rather look forward than back.

In delivering something that powerfully condemns that sort of celebratory self-reflection, it encourages its audience to do so as well, which given Wright’s brilliantly post-modern body of work, feels delightfully subversive. But if that’s the case, then viscerally, “The World’s End” is also a real bummer, because even though Wright, Pegg and Frost wrap up their trilogy with tons of incredibly funny material, they seem like the only ones who ultimately get the last laugh. [C+]

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  • Xaviersx | January 18, 2014 2:40 AMReply

    I found myself looking at my watch several times as the movie was a rollercoaster of frantic energy and lulls. Some references may have been lost on me, but mainly I just didn't find the pacing helpful and after a while, found the movie a bit repetitive and boring in spots. If I had to rate the 'trilogy', it remains in the order of release with Shaun at #1.

  • dregj | October 30, 2013 12:52 PMReply

    cant we all just get along?
    failing that can we all agree the film sucks the sweat off a rotting babys arse

  • Movie Buff | September 16, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    Not their best work but still a good watch . Don't listen to other guys who couldn't write a bazooka Joe comic , or act there way out of a paper bag . I have to admit though these guys could be legends of the comedy genre if they would just trying to be so serious , I want to see more from them but come on break out the laughs be proud of what you kickass at .

  • DMT | August 24, 2013 1:21 PMReply

    Gilchrist. Was an idiot at IGN, is still an idiot now. Can't believe anyone publishes this guy.

  • you're an idiot truth | August 23, 2013 5:54 PMReply


  • jim the movie buff | August 23, 2013 5:52 PMReply

    No "You're an Idiot Truth", it is YOU who are the "Stupid Pathetic Idiotic Troll" ! ! !. "The Sayer of the Truth" is a genius who is all-knowing and all-seeing, everything he says is ALWAYS completely right and true. Indeed no-one else should reply 'TO YOU' you bloody silly bastard, where-as "The Sayer of the Truth" should ALWAYS be worshipped like the God that he obviously is ! ! !.

  • You're an idiot truth | August 23, 2013 3:14 AMReply

    Wow just first class trolling man... Oh and try to spread your comments out so it isn't obvious it's from the same guy at the same time... Stupid pathetic idiotic troll... No one else should reply...

  • jim the movie buff | August 21, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    "The Sayer of the Truth" is right, "The Worlds End" is no different from the kind of unwatchable garbage that the (so-called) British film industry was producing 50 or even 80 years ago ! ! !, i know Americans are renowned for biting the hand that feeds them but giving this movie a place in the multi-plexes really does take the cake for all-encompassing stupidity on the part of the distributors.

  • the sayer of the truth | August 21, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    Its absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable that this pile of laughably pathetic and excruciatingly unwatchable British made celluloid dog-shit has been given a cinema release in North America (it should have instead been flushed straight down the toilet where ALL British made films belong), any Americans who are stupid enough to pay $8 to see this horse-shit should be literally shot for being such idiotic morons, its also denying ANY infinitely superior American made movie a place in the multi-plexes, the distributors should be bloody-well ashamed of themselves for encouraging the talentless British wankers who made this bull-shit and for being turn-coats to the American film industry. LONG LIVE HOLLYWOOD, DEATH TO THE BRITISH FILM INDUSTRY.

  • jimmie t. murakami | August 21, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    Eradicate the British film industry NOW, with a 50 megaton device ! ! !.

  • jervaise brooke hamster | August 21, 2013 5:11 PMReply

    The British film industry is an abomination and it must be destroyed with malice-a-fore-thought and extreme prejudice.

  • jim the movie buff | August 19, 2013 3:06 PMReply

    Todd. I think It's time to look for a new job. Reviews just aren't your cup of tea. Sincerely, Everyone.

  • RAMBO 1st BL00D | August 2, 2013 7:00 PMReply

    To be honest, the only opinion that matters to me is my own. To that end...I loved it. I laughed from start to finish, dunno what you stoneyfaced folks were watching.

  • Steve | July 27, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    It was pretty clear this film wasn't a comedy. It was a black comedy. The idiots citing the lack of laughs in the audience obviously had no idea how to take the film.

    This film paid more homage to Spaced than anything else. I mean, frick me, I absolutely loved Spaced. But I don't really recall laughing all that much. Comedy doesn't particularly have to make you laugh out loud, just look at satire.

    I fear the majority of naysayers got too accustomed to the slight Americanisms in SOTD and HF, and failed to appreciate what a bleak, thoroughly British comedy is.

  • dan | July 24, 2013 10:03 PMReply

    You know what the problem with this review is? The film is a COMEDY meaning stop analysing it so much, if its hilarious hasn't it done a good job? Man, in a world where we have Adam Sandler and a mountain of shitty comedies, you give a C+ to this!? A genuinely funny film! ARGHHHH!!!!!!!

  • scott | July 23, 2013 8:37 PMReply

    Spinal tap meets the likely lads grange hill and dr who, love peg frost wright and park but maybe its a corneto to far,sometimes its better to end on a high ,they should have stoped at hot fuzz if that was to be the case.

  • matt | July 23, 2013 5:24 PMReply

    a good review that pretty much summed up a lot of the reasons why i didn't enjoy this movie. A shame, since I thought it was a very enjoyable premise, and I usually love these guys' work.

  • Jamie | July 21, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    I really didn't enjoy the film and I don't see the Americans standing more of a chance with a few of the jokes and references and the overall tone feeling very English. I felt the fight scenes were dull, too many of the jokes feel flat and Pegg's character was annoying and not in a good David Brent way.

  • James | July 21, 2013 10:24 AMReply

    The World's End was about the horrors of globalisation, not nostalgia. Duh.

  • James | July 29, 2013 8:46 PM

    There's a tug of war in the film between what Edgar describes as "nostalgia", and faceless corporate forces, starbucking, pubcos, chains, homogenisation of towns etc - but "nostalgia" wins, even if it means rebuilding from scratch. They even end up happily growing their own veg. Is Edgar showing the dangers of growing your own veg?
    The fact is even if he admits to probably preferring Starbucks, he's clearly aware of the genuinely negative (devastating even) impact these corporations have and the predatory way in which they operate. He agrees they might be run more efficiently, but shows it comes at a price.

  • Hopefully You're Joking & Are Not A Complete Idiot | July 21, 2013 12:12 PM

    I hope this is a joke. It's most certainly about nostalgia and its dangers and Wright has said that in many, many UK interviews thus far.

  • E | July 21, 2013 10:20 AMReply

    This has to have been the most pretentious way to say absolutely nothing. Your desperatly clinging to the past and don't want them to grow and change and more over from a group of guys making films to entertain you were clearly looking for some benevolent god to come and speak to you through the film rather than just being entertained.
    Maybe you should just stick to super pretentious filmmakers as well, don't worry Nymphomaniac looks terrible, but I bet you'll love your boy von Trier!

  • Alan B | July 21, 2013 1:55 AMReply

    This is the best review I've read on this site for a while. It unpackages your problems with the film with thoughtful detail and common sense. Well done.

  • O-Z | July 21, 2013 1:08 AMReply

    World's End was a disappointment for me. The main problem was they tried to fix what wasn't broken. In Shaun and Hot Fuzz, Nick Frost was the goof and Simon Pegg the straight man, trying to switch that around for TWE just didn't work. Pegg was kinda annoying in the role and their dynamic was disjointed and stale.

    Other things that were great about the SoD and HF was the clever use of editing for comic effect. All those little quick cuts which were actually gags showing events were missing here save for two times (pints being pulled and seatbelts being put on), so nothing in terms of funny edits comparable to SoD's 'go round Mum's/ whack Phillip/ have a cup of tea etc

    The film was stale. The introduction was too long, the story inaccessible or unrelatable for most people and the pay off disappointing. The editing was poor and the screenplay was just not well written or funny enough for the name of the film to be spoken in the same sentence as Shaun or Hot Fuzz.

    Sorry A-MAN but you must have been watching a different film to me and the theatre I was in. My auditorium was packed and I could count the laughs we all had on one hand for the whole movie. The cinema was packed but silent for most of the film. Most conversations I heard on the way out were people saying they thought it was shit. That I would not have believed had I not been there and seen it for myself.

  • Yarp | August 7, 2013 7:20 AM

    I did really like this movie, however I think I would have preferred Nick Frost as the lovable douche. To me, this is the weakest film in a fantastic trilogy.

    And A-MAN you are an A-HOLE.

  • A-Man | July 22, 2013 7:16 AM

    Yeah, sorry you have no idea how discourse works O-Z.
    You obviously have never been called up on a point before for further examination.

    It must be wonderful and not-exhausting at all to only have such a slim opinion on things and never having to worry about having anything more to defend those with.

    Sorry that you are one of many who can't actually discuss a film without making it personal.
    (I don't give a shit about you. That's how personal it is.)

  • Jamie | July 21, 2013 11:53 AM

    I'd add that the fight scenes were boring but I agree with everything you say and the cinema I was in was the same as you described.

  • O-Z | July 21, 2013 11:29 AM

    Wow A-MAN, your post was incredibly condescending. But then this is 'the internet' isn't it.

    You obviously take yourself and your opinions way too seriously for a friendly discourse so I won't even attempt to engage you any further. Save to say, you Sir have the eggy whiff of superiority about you and in addition I fear I may not be able to compete with your near omnipotence in the sense that you seem to already know everything about me, where I live, what I expected going in to the film, what I like and don't like, the disposition and general intelligence level of everyone who attended the cinema that day, the sum of my very existence to this point (in that), you know enough about my past to know that there was some event that "I'm unable to move on" from. Do you take regular holiday's from the Q Continuum to get out to the cinema? It must be a tad dull knowing everything about everything and being right all the time.


  • A-Man | July 21, 2013 9:04 AM

    their dynamic was "disjointed and stale" even though they had attempted to "fix what wasn't broken"?
    so they changed the formula that they had used for HF and SOTD and it was stale?... take a second to realise how these two things are in opposition.

    and the "clever use of editing" was exhaustingly overdone in Hot Fuzz - and neither does it serve a purpose for the narrative it was attempting to tell. they put in those flash-cuts as a nod and a wink, they're not going to carry on nodding and winking throughout the film.

    the problem is that you wanted what you've had before - you wanted it to be as care-free and popcorn-y fun as the previous two films, instead of looking into The World's End for its own individual merits.

    finally, if you and the audience surrounding you were so stone-faced throughout, I can only imagine that you were watching it in some homogenised, gutted-out, soulless franchised cinemaplex in a town much like Newton Haven - where the people only want what has come before and nothing new. it's not the greatest film ever made, it's not the greatest comedy ever made - but it's a lot more than the elongated tributes to Spaced which Shaun and Hot Fuzz were, and a damn sight more dramatic than either of those two films.

    and, no, the story is far from inaccessible or unrelatable - it's a LOT more relatable than either of the previous two films by virtue of having CHARACTER and DEVELOPMENT. i'm sorry that your eyes and ears were shut throughout for fear of being taken to a place where nostalgia is both good and evil - the film laughs at people like you because you just can't move on and grow up...

  • a-man | July 20, 2013 9:54 PMReply

    anyone that says this film is worse than SOTD and HF is stuck in the past and ignorant of the fact that, although both previous films are funny (especially Shaun), they suffer from a real lack of thoughtful and cogent dramatism and any satisfyingly developed narrative...

    that is to say Shaun of the Dead is great as a funny zombie movie, but it's a pretty godawful rom-com.
    and Hot Fuzz is a funny(enough) action movie, but a truly godawful English Country Horror film.

    but The World's End was everything I wanted and more - it was riotously funny, as is expected from such a talented cast (especially Nick Frost!) but also had a relatively mature and gripping story that (admittedly) has to get a bit heavy-handed with exposition for the invasion at the end, but only in an effort to give more time to serve both the comedic and dramatic elements of the central narrative beforehand - it's not a story about aliens, it's a story about the beauty, danger and ultimate horror of nostalgia...

    it's a truly satisfying and thankfully more cohesive end to the Blood & Ice-Cream Trilogy... and with a great epilogue that owes a lot to Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness!

  • Adam Sandler's Retarded Buddy | July 20, 2013 9:04 PMReply

    Yeah Todd, you've got a lot of fucking nerve.

  • Ken | July 20, 2013 8:39 PMReply

    It's been the law of diminishing returns for me. I don't think any Edgar Wright has been as good as the critics and devotees hype them up to be. Shaun of the Dead remains the best film any of them have been involved in, and Pegg, particularly, has been absolutely awful in everything outside of the Wright/Zucker Bros. amped up cartoony style. Don't tell me he was good in Star Trek! He mugged his way through it sticking out like a sore thumb. No matter they'll always get a free pass, but I just don't see it.

  • a | July 22, 2013 3:54 PM

    I honestly don't know many people in real life who are as enthusiastic about Wright as the criticsphere/vocal commenters seem to be. His films are congenial, for sure. SotD in particular was a fantastic riff on everything they cultivated in Spaced. But they're far from "you-gotta-see-this" cinema.

    Scott Pilgrim is a whole other matter you don't want me to get started on. *shudders*

  • Bogart | July 20, 2013 10:17 PM

    I've always felt the same (and a lone dissenter for some reason)... For me, Edgar Wright is in the same over-hyped, fan-boy friendly club as del Toro.

  • John | July 20, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    Todd, you are a pinãta of terrible film opinions.

  • bobsleigh | July 20, 2013 5:10 PMReply

    who the fuck are you todd?

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