If there is a theme running through The Cornetto Trilogy, composed of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, besides ice cream, it’s the fear of conformity, of losing identity to the masses, to the illusion of an idyllic life, to the trappings of consumerism and old age. Writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright seem paralyzed with fright at these concepts when they should be anything but in light of their successful career in film and fidelity to their unique brand of comedy. But the message is there and addressed at the end of each story that finds their main characters embracing their own ideas of happiness and fulfillment while accepting the end of the world as they once knew it. This is always a satisfying combination of accepting maturity while still allowing the inner child to keep partying, keep playing video games or playing super cop, or roaming the world in search of the next big adventure, however much that world may have changed when we weren’t looking.
The World’s End is pretty straightforward as a comedy. If you enjoyed the previous films you will enjoy this one, Wright and Pegg have absolutely no problem recycling what works in their stories. If a man trying to gallantly jump over a fence and failing was funny the first and second time, it’s still funny the third. This kind of self awareness is a joy, at this point it’s like hearing an old friend tell stories; you know when the punchline is coming, you have a good idea where the story is going, and you like them so much you feel at home with the familiar. And as slapdash and absurd as these films are at points these two storytellers always take the time to inject a healthy amount of heart, a good swath of melodrama in these surreal situations. Shaun had to come to terms with his father issues and his juvenile friendship with Ed, Sergeant Angel had to learn how to have a normal relationship without obsessing over his work, and Gary King, well, his journey stopped in one specific point in his youth. His inability to move on from that time in everyone’s adolescence when what was once an infinite amount of potential turns into a finite amount of options has left him an emotionally crippled adult. He’s a man-child desperately clinging to that time before responsibility and adulthood forced him to start paying his own way.
The World’s End is not short on symbolism and foreshadowing, half of the fun is decoding the language and Easter Eggs that describe the story as it is happening. This is what makes these films such a good time, it’s not just a bunch of guys who clearly love each other, love what they do and are having a great time doing it. They have a respect for their audience to dig a little deeper; to find a laugh in the broad physical comedy and in the subtle details that make for great rewatching.
Sometimes it’s hard to write about something I really like because I’m too quick to praise what I’ve seen, too tempted to fawn over the good things and it’s too easy to project what I love about film in an attempt to inspire rather than inform. Sometimes I try too hard to impress some kind of greater meaning in a film that might not necessarily ask for it. That’s my fault. But it’s just not sexy to say, ‘Hey, it’s a funny, entertaining, heartfelt flick that is worth your time and money. The end’.
Ironically I can’t figure out how to end a review of The World’s End except to go pseudo-intellectual on you. The word ‘apocalypse’ was thrown around a lot last year regarding asteroids and the Mayan calendar and so forth. The meaning of the concept is scary and overwhelming and may have something to do with our own fascination with mortality. But the actual translation has more to do with change, the ‘disclosure of knowledge’ according to Wikipedia; a revelation. While ‘Growing Up’, with all the loss and mistakes and failure that come with the process, a lot of moments feel like the end of the world when they are really the beginning of something else, a discovery of a new perspective. Sometimes this new perspective sucks horribly and its extremely difficult to let go of what seemed like a more ideal place and time. And in that end all there is left is to hold on against the zombies and fanatics and alien robots that are beating down the door, to hold out alongside the good friends and loved ones we have with us, to pour a beer and wait for dawn.
On the other hand, if you can find a cricket bat, maybe a pool cue, who wouldn’t want to fight their way out? Just because it’s the apocalypse doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun.