The World’s End

An apocalyptic pub crawl with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Also opening this week:

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• Machete Kills ★★

The World’s End

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Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Pierce Brosnan, David Bradley, Bill Nighy, Mark Heap, Rafe Spall, Michael Smiley, Alice Lowe, Darren Boyd, Julian Seager, Gabriel Constantin. Written by Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright.

A fitting finale to director Edgar Wright’s Blood and Ice Cream (or, Three Colours Cornetto) trilogy, The World’s End (one of two similarly-themed comedies to open this month – the Hollywood-set This is the End hits Czech screens next week) is an inventively-told and frequently uproarious pub crawl that hits all the right notes from beginning to end. 

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Where earlier films Shaun of the Dead parodied the zombie genre and Hot Fuzz took on the police drama/cult thriller, The World’s End tackles alien invasion/doomsday/body snatcher science fiction. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a bit of The Stepford Wives and a little dash of The Day the Earth Stood Still.  

But the sci-fi scenario takes a back seat to the characters: The World’s End once again teams Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the film with the director) and Nick Frost, though this time around they aren’t on the best of terms; Gary King (Pegg) and Andy Knightley (Frost) were best friends in high school, but twenty years later they’re barely on speaking terms. 

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King is a middle-aged alcoholic whose life didn’t exactly turn out as he had planned. He’s still living off of memories of high school glory, especially one epic pub crawl termed the Golden Mile: one night, five friends, twelve pubs, and a pint in each pub. Through a night filled with sex, drugs, violence, and lots of alcoholic stupor, one by one they fell by the wayside. Gary and his friends didn’t make it, but ah, the memories.

Flash-forward two decades, and Gary’s goal in life still seems to be getting through those twelve pubs. Employing some emotional manipulation, he re-assembles his estranged friends – each of whom, in contrast to Gary, has grown past their teenage years – and they return to their hometown for one last night of debauchery. Of course, things soon take a strange turn of events…

Pegg and Frost are joined by Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), Paddy Considine (In America), and Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes) as the pub night revelers, and the quintet share a perfect rapport: The World’s End is at its best when basking in the rat-a-tat banter between them. Rosamund Pike plays the sister of Freeman’s character, just another one of the guys. Pierce Brosnan and David Bradley show up in key supporting roles, while Bill Nighy lends his voice to the film in a memorable cameo.

One thing I love about these films is the consistency of the writing and directing: Wright is in complete control from the opening right through the final frames. Most genre movies of this type lose track of character and tone as they progress, as humor takes a back seat to conventional plot development: getting through the story tends to become a joyless burden.

The World’s End, on the other hand, remains true to its characters right through the final epilogue, and never loses sight of the fact that this is first and foremost a comedy. I love how the climax eschews the expected sci-fi action climax in favor of a drunken rant that feels like a perfect fit coming from these characters; this is a case of the characters driving the plot of the movie rather than the other way around. 

There’s also an unexpected poignancy to the film that helps to give it some weight. The five leads – but especially Pegg’s character – share a kind of nostalgic sadness resulting from living in the past, and reflecting on how their lives haven’t turned out exactly as expected. It’s a melancholic theme that most audience members will be able to relate to. 

While Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz set the bar high, The World’s End is up to the task: one of the best comedies of the year, this outing is a real blast, and handily equals the previous Wright-Pegg-Frost collaborations. The end of the world has rarely been this much fun.

Also opening: 

  • Battle of the Year: The Dream Team (showtimes | IMDb), the latest Step Up-inspired dance film. In English.
  • Příběh kmotra (showtimes | IMDb), a crime drama from director Petr Nikolaev (Lidice). Screening in Czech.
  • An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (showtimes | IMDb), a Bosnian drama from director Denis Tanovic (No Man’s Land). Screening in Bosnian with Czech subtitles. 

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