Saturday, 21 September 2013

"Haven't you heard? We're gettin' the band back together!"

Getting back together with a group of mates to relive a notoriously brilliant event from your past can be a tricky thing.

A predicament that weighs heavily on the central characters of Edgar Wright's The World's End, a bunch of former school friends corralled into returning to their much maligned home town to complete a pub crawl that bettered them in their teenage years.

The analogy could also be applied to the film itself, which comes loaded with expectation as the long awaited closer of the unofficial Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy from Spaced cohorts Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Following the universally adored rom-zom-com Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and bombastic cop actioner Hot Fuzz (2007) is no small task, but The World's End lives up to its predecessors by refusing to simply paraphrase their best bits into a greatest hits montage. Whilst a couple of sight gags and a few familiar faces will remind fans that this is part of a bigger body of work, the palpable sense of nostalgia comes from within the story itself.

Most recently seen supporting Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) and battling Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness, Pegg (Gary King) starts this, his next film, in the austere setting of a counselling session. And if you think that's brave, just wait until you get to the end of The World's End. Here is a movie that may be big budget, but has clearly avoided being plotted by committee, test-carded to within an inch of its life, or had the helpful input of anyone from accounts.

How we get from start to that finish is rather more familiar, albeit far too peppered with twists to be properly discussed here. Safe to say, there are bar room brawls, smart musical interludes and movie references galore. The Thing (1982), The Stepford Wives (1975) and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978) to name but a few. In between the bravura bookends (each narrated separately by Pegg and Frost, in a neat individualisation of their friendship), the filmmakers stick very close to the formula that worked so well for them in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. This time their thematic skewered vision is aimed at the science fiction genre instead of horror or action, but the result is the same delicious mix of the delirious ramshackle and wonderfully whimsical. And who didn't want a Ford Granada when they were a kid?

It certainly feels like a final finale for the gang, building in scale from its predecessors, if losing some of their emotional beats in the process. The World's End absolutely delivers on its premise and nearly does on its promise. It is very much the movie you were expecting, if not quite the one you could have hoped for.

In this summer in particular, it is undoubtedly refreshing to watch an entire movie and not see someone or something being smashed into a skyscraper. Still, it's impossible to ignore the fact that some of the films USP has been slyly pinched from under it by the unexpected arrival of the similarly titled and sometimes similarly plotted This Is The End. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg may favour outlandish masturbation monologues over subtle interplay, but often the two separate stories intersect, at once highlighting the English/American divide in comedic sensibility and emphasising their shared influences.

The World's End's problem is more that it starts slowly. The elongated preamble may well all make sense come the final reel, but when you're sat watching the first, it feels a little flat. The plot needs our heroes to come to life to really kick into gear, which they thankfully do wonderfully, Gary freed from his institutional digs, Frost (Andy Knightley) dragged out of his dreary office, and Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince) and Eddie Marsan (Peter Page) conned along for the journey. Once we join them in the back seat of that aforementioned Granada, tape player belting out The Soup Dragons, the ride can properly be enjoyed.

Frost has never looked better. Mainly because in this movie he looks like Rosamund Pike (Sam Chamberlain). In striving for a different riff on the familiar easy dynamic between Pegg and Frost, those lovely intimate moments between the two have been sacrificed for something more interesting. And so it is that the real relationship gold to be found in The World's End lies between Pegg and Pike's old flame. With a shared history of romps in the disabled toilets as teens, theirs is a reunion that starts off awkward but softens into genuine feeling. Bombarded with drunken declarations from our heroes, she is a beleaguered joy.

Other highlights include a genius pub fight in which Pegg's Gary tries, Buster Keaton-style, to at once do battle and not spill his pint, a hilarious recurring gag about Marsan's wife Vanessa, and the trio's typically spot-on observations on the idiocy of the male ego. Not to mention the continued digs at the 'Starbucking' of society reaching a crescendo with a terrific sight gag about the dreary trend towards chain pubs polluting the planet.

Reminiscent of The Army Of Darkness (1992), Wright, Pegg and Frost's swan song is pumped full of the same DNA but has a divergent tone that may best shine with repeated viewings. Like the nugget of pure chocolate you get at the bottom of the cornet, this is a fittingly satisfying end to the Cornetto trilogy. We'll drink to that.

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