The world ends not with not a bang but a whimper, and so too does director Edgar Wright's conclusion to his "Cornetto trilogy," his otherwise inspired comedy collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, which include Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
The World's End is a bit of a mash-up of the first two films. Like the faux-cop movie Hot Fuzz, it takes place in an idyllic English village that hides a sinister conspiracy. Like Shaun of the Dead, it employs a genre premise to satirize a comfortably numb citizenry.
Shaun compared wage slaves to zombies. The World's End offers up well-behaved robots.
Fighting the good fight against encroaching stolid middle age/robotification -- at least in his own drug-addled mind -- is Gary King (Pegg, who also co-scripted with Wright). In the flashback prelude, we see how Gary was the hellraising head of a clique of lads cheated early out of his life's ambition to complete the "Golden Mile," an epic 12-stop pub crawl through the quaint little hometown of Newton Haven.
Now on the wrong side of 40 (but still dressing like a teen), Gary is compelled apparently by mid-life crisis to get the boys together again for another attempt. It seems like a bad idea, but Gary's hectoring still carries some weight.
It's clearly not going to be the same. Andy (Frost) is on the wagon. Oliver (Martin Freeman), a genteel real estate man, is no hellraiser. Steven (Paddy Considine) discovers he still carries a torch for Oliver's sister (Rosamund Pike). And Peter (Eddie Marsan) is traumatized by the sight of the bully who used to terrorize him as a youth.
Worse trauma awaits. The charming old pubs of their youth have become soulless and so, too, has much of the populace of Newton Haven. Under unsettling scrutiny, Gary and the boys learn there's a low tolerance for hellraising in their old hometown, and the reasons go beyond mere social propriety.
There is much fun to be had here. The repartee among these five actors is crisply funny and suggestive of real history. (Listen to Pegg explain why "Let's boo-boo" makes sense as a suggestion to leave a given premises.)
If this third entry in the unrelated trilogy feels a little disappointing in comparison to the other two, it may be due to a feeling of redundancy. Wright, Pegg and Frost already ridiculed the zombie movie. Is a body-snatcher burlesque all that different?
As well, there is an unmistakably earnest tone that encroaches on The World's End, a feeling that the topic of aging is just too serious to take lightly.
In Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the Wright/Pegg/Frost team exuberantly took the mickey out of modern movies and modern life.
But in The World's End, it seems the theme of middle age has taken the mickey out of them.