Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The World’s End (2013)

The World’s End (2013)
Directed by Edgar Wright; Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike

Rating: 4/5

The third flavour in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy is The World’s End, is a pub crawl set against the backdrop of the apocalypse, in a sci-fi farce that would make Douglas Adams proud. The setting recalls Shaun of the Dead (2004), which culminated in a mad dash to the pub amid a different world-end scenario, riffing hilariously on the classic zombie uprising. This plot sees five friends return to their home town of Newton Haven to complete The Golden Mile, a grand tour around the town’s twelve historic ale houses.

They’ve all come a long way since their school days. All that is, except one. Gary King (Simon Pegg) the instigator of this nostalgia trip has not moved on a day. The perpetual sunglasses and leather duster that made him the coolest dude in school twenty years ago are now the bedraggled clobber of a washed-up borderline alcoholic.

Where previously Pegg played the more driven character, with Nick Frost his stalwart, yet bumbling companion, in The World’s End, the roles are switched. Here, Pegg is still the lead, but the idle Gary King is much closer to his character in Edgar Wright’s sitcom Spaced. His old chum Andy (Nick Frost) is the complete antithesis, a successful lawyer, teetotal and married. The two have had a “frosty” relationship since school, if you’ll pardon the dreadful pun. Andy later comes to the forefront once conflicts begin, Dutch courage enabling him to become champion of bar-fu.

The laughter flows as quickly as the pints, with sharp and hilarious dialogue. The action is well choreographed by Brad Allen, a member of Jackie Chan’s famous stunt team who worked with Wright on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). Fans of Wright and his team will recognise the return of some frequent collaborators, well cast to enrich the experience.

The film is a masterpiece of conception, with strength is in its attention to detail (resist reading further if you want to avoid spoilers). Of note are the character names, which subtly reveal their group dynamic. Self-appointed leader Gary King, ambitious rival Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), dedicated combatant Andy Knightley, managerial city slicker Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) and the submissive Peter Page (Eddie Marsan). The larger group takes a while to develop, drawing the focus away from the familiar Pegg and Frost dynamic. They characters chew the fat over the first few drinks, but each gets their moment in the sun.

The perfectly generic Newton Haven was filmed amongst Hertfordshire’s garden cities (The UK’s first roundabout is indeed a real place in Letchworth). Thus the fictional town manages to represent the epitome of Britishness, but with an atypical vibe of city planning. For The World’s End is a comment on the homogeneity of modern British towns. A similar uniformity afflicted the cities of the world in Huxley’s Brave New World, and this is the ultimatum delivered by the mysterious intelligence behind the alien invasion, whose brutal utilitarianism seeks to bring humanity in line with the rest of the galaxy by any means necessary. After all, we are almost there already: what high street can be walked down in this country without encountering the same banks, the same coffee shops, the same clothes outlets, the same chains of restaurants and pubs.

The film also dissects nostalgia by drawing attention to our own selective memories. The soundtrack is full of the early 90s Britpop and alternative rock of Wright and Pegg’s youth, that defines Gary King’s philosophy. The gang’s first attempt at the mile, all those years ago, was an unfinished ramble of illness and conflict, participants dropping like flies as the evening progressed. Yet it is remembered as the perfect night, the culmination of a wonderful youth. The characters are later offered the chance of a return to this youth, the recollection of twenty years’ pedestrian adulthood polished to perfection by cutting out all the bad bits.

The name and design of each pub has been elegantly constructed to reflect the events that take place there; some are more subtle than others, but the stops on The Golden Mile are certainly open to rich interpretation. Again, stop now if you want to work it out for yourself; but read on if you think you've sussed it. While the journey concludes at a pub named The World’s End, which would be a fantastic end to an epic pub crawl under any circumstances, the first pints are consumed at The First Post, a victim of systematic pub rebranding. The Old Familiar is all too familiar, its interior a carbon copy of The First Post. It also lives up to its name with the introduction of Sam (Rosamund Pike), Oliver’s sister, and an old flame of both Gary and Steven. Next, after a lack of recognition in the first two pubs, Gary King puffs himself up at The Famous Cock, and indeed the landlord does remember him – he’s barred.

In The Cross Hands, the motley musketeers discover the town’s awful secret, and cross hands with their foe for the first fight. After a shaky rekindling of their friendship, they finally reach the next stop, The Good Companion, as good companions. At the sign of The Trusty Servant, King and court encounter their old drug dealer, known as The Reverend Green. He’s still human, but has been reduced to a nervous Stepford smiler by his oppressors. By this time, our heroes’ adversaries are hot on their trail. Next, they fight the assimilated versions of Sam’s old school friends (the twins) at The Two Headed Dog, and the enemy tries a different tactic at The Mermaid – a siren’s call of seduction.

Upon reaching The Beehive, the chaps run into their old teacher, the aptly named Mr. Shepherd, marking the second time a former James Bond has appeared in an Edgar Wright film. Shepherd elaborates on the nature of the threat, encouraging submission to the alien hive mind. After a frantic scramble through town, numbers dwindling at The King’s Head, the King decides to go it alone, his desperation to finish The Golden Mile winning out over the severity of the situation. And (almost) finally, anyone who’s seen the film will know why the brief, penultimate pit stop is called The Hole in the Wall.

It’s a tall order to replicate the success of the Cornetto classics without retreading old ground, but The World’s End manages to keep moving in unexpected directions. This is a team that know what they are doing, and they have certainly approached it with a new ambition, striking gold once more. At heart, The World’s End is a bittersweet endorsement of humanity, celebrating not only our faults, but the individuality and freedoms that come with them. It also inspired me to indulge in a pub crawl of my own. So I, for one, will be raising a pint glass to The World’s End, as it heads towards its cataclysmic finale. I suggest you do, too.

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