Simon Pegg as Gary King
Martin Freeman as Oliver
Nick Frost as Andrew Knightley
Eddie Marsan as Peter
Paddy Considine as Steven
Rosamund Pike as Sam
David Bradley as Basil
Angie Wallis as Peter's Wife
Thomas Law as Young Gary
Zachary Bailess as Young Andy
James Tarpey as Young Peter
Jasper Levine as Young Steven
Luke Bromley as Teenage Oliver
Directed by Edgar Wright
While best friends in high school, Gary, Andy, Oliver, Peter and Steven spent one night doing a pub crawl of 12 local pubs on the "Miracle Mile" of their small town of Newton Haven—they never finished it. 20 years later, Gary King (Simon Pegg) wants them to reunite to complete the crawl they gave up on as kids. Unfortunately, all his friends are now mature adults with wives and families and jobs and they want nothing to with Gary's quest, but he convinces them to reunite with a lie with his former best friend Andrew (Nick Frost) still angry about an incident that happened which drove a wedge in their friendship.
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright have created quite a cottage market of British comedy for themselves with the show "Spaced" and two wildly-acclaimed movies in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." The question going into "The World's End"--an idea they've had since the "Hot Fuzz" days--is whether after six years, the trio are able to recreate the magic of their earlier movies, especially having moved onto other things in between their collaborations. Fortunately, they have a great premise that fits in with the themes of the other two movies, essentially everyday people dealing with other-worldly occurrences and they've surrounded the proven pairing of Pegg and Frost with another solid British cast.
While "Shaun" played with the archetypes of George Romero zombie movies and "Hot Fuzz" did the same for Michael Bay buddy cop movies, "The World's End" is really its own thing, though it does feel more like an ensemble piece than those movies with Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine being as big a part of the story as Pegg and Frost. Essentially, the film opens with Gary in an AA meeting telling the story of the pub crawl and being convinced that finishing it might offer the closure he needs, so he revisits all his old friends, all of whom are happy and successful in their lives. Somehow he manages to convince them to begrudgingly return to Newton Haven where all but Andy--now sober for 16 years--try to humor Gary. Things only really start moving about thirty minutes in when the friends realize there's something wrong with the townspeople - something we won't go into too much detail about though it does offer some fun creatures that wouldn't have been out of place in '70s era "Doctor Who."
Gary King is the only one of the friends who hasn't really grown up or changed since the friends were last together, still living in the past with the same car he drove back then. He's actually a great character for Pegg to play, not too far removed from Shaun or other characters but just different enough from some of the other things he's done, both with Wright and without, to make him just the right fit. Frost plays it so straight-laced for most of the movie, bringing a lot of the drama to the story as he is still smarting from an incident decades earlier where a drugged-out Gary rolled a car putting him in the hospital for months. Frost's fans will probably be more thrilled when he gets into the action and later when he spouts a few one-liners more in-line with his characters from "Shaun" and "Hot Fuzz," since that's what most of the fans will be waiting for.
Even so, neither of them is quite as funny as a drunken giggling Eddie Marsan while the other two--Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine--both play it straighter even though they have some funny lines and get in just as much on the action. Rosamund Pike shows up as a mutual love interest of Steve and Gary's although she quickly disappears and feels like another wasted female character in a summer full of them.
The action sequences are so much fun you'll probably quickly set aside the question "How are all these businessmen so adept at martial arts moves?" and just go along with it, although it is quite a jarring change in tone and direction for those enjoying the buddy comedy aspect of the movie. Things start getting somewhat surreal when they arrive at a pub where they seem to be holding some sort of school disco and three of the friends are seduced by three of the girls from high school who haven't gotten older due to the alien tampering.
Whlie Wright uses many of his distinctive directing trademarks, this isn't the fast cut joke a minute movie that was "Hot Fuzz," instead feeling more like other standard comedies just with a stronger plot and characters yet not feeling the need to fill every frame with a gag. In some ways, it feels like the script just isn't nearly as well developed as some of those other movies maybe because they were all doing other things.
The other thing that didn't quite work this time was the soundtrack with Wright mostly using British hits from the early '90s by Primal Scream, Happy Mondays and others. They're great tunes for sure, but the music in Wright's previous movies always added another clever level to the humor in some way and that's sorely missing.
Where things start to go really wrong is when the movie cuts to an odd flash forward epilogue that's such a strange departure from the tone of the rest of the movie that it takes you out of what you've just seen and not everyone will be on board with it.
The Bottom Line:
"The World's End" is a very different movie from its predecessors, feeling almost like two movies in one, and as much as the genre elements offer some fun action and jokes, it's hard not to feel that the movie would have worked just as well with the six actors doing a straight pub crawl without all that. It's still funnier than 90% of the comedies you're likely to see this summer but maybe fashioning it as a trilogy with "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" wasn't a great idea since it leads to comparisons it can't possibly live up to being such a different movie.