It sounds like a bold statement to claim The World’s End (now available to stream on Netflix UK) is the very best of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, the popular and acclaimed series from creative geniuses Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Could it really be better than Shaun Of The Dead, the groundbreaking horror comedy that inspired countless copycats and sparked a new interested in British comedy? Could it really be better than the action spoof Hot Fuzz, hilariously set against the backdrop of a quaint British village? But The World’s End is a huge artistic step up for Wright and co. with their zany humour, great characters and film literacy (the film is, again, populated with references) reaching its apex, but infused with something that hadn’t been apparent in their first two outings: a genuine, painful sadness.
The World’s End, ignoring the electrifying robot combat and eccentric set pieces, is really about that basic human instinct to be drawn back to one’s childhood, the time and place where experiences are first lived and memories are first formed. For Simon Pegg’s character Gary King, this is epitomised by one legendary night: the time he and his four high school friends attempted (and failed) their town’s pub challenge to drink a pint in every one of its twelve establishments.
King, now a single and unemployed alcoholic living in a state of arrested development, lost touch with his aforementioned friends after that night. They chose to grow up and leave their dead end town, but he was unable to move on. For King, that pub crawl was the last time he was able to be young and carefree. That night, and the young man he was on that night, is something he yearns to return to. Thus, King endeavours to reunite the boys (played by Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan) for another crack at the challenge, to relive the Newton Haven Golden Mile. Reluctantly, they agree to leave their city jobs and loving families for the weekend and join him.
However, the tragedy is that King has romanticised both the town and that night. When he and his friends arrive, King is disappointed to find that Newton Haven is simultaneously the same dead end town from when they were young and something entirely alien to him altogether. He realises he had not only sentimentalised their hometown, but everything he loved has disappeared.
King, as his surname suggests, also liked to believe he had left a legacy in Newton Haven. He mistakenly thinks he will be welcomed back with open arms like some mythological hero upon their return. But he isn’t. The only legacy he has left, in fact, is a ban from a pub with a Polaroid picture from 20 years ago. Newton Haven meant more to him, it seems, than he ever meant to it.
Of course, this being Edgar Wright, the story of our inborn desire to return to the place of our youth and the pain it causes when we realise it is not the same/still exactly the same isn’t told literally. In The World’s End, the reason why the town is both suspended in time and totally unfamiliar is because it has been taken over by robots that the protagonists must fight in spectacular, ink-spewing set pieces. It’s also drenched in the sci-fi nods, blaring pop music and witty, self-aware gags that define an Edgar Wright joint.
Nevertheless, there is a tangible pain to The World’s End that makes it stand out in the trilogy. For anyone who is making or has made the difficult transition of letting go of one’s childhood, it will hit you in a way that neither of the previous entries did. Amid the usual excitement and hilarity, this makes The World’s End the most ambitious and poignant film the team have made.