Many many years ago, my children, lo, way back in the 1990s, even before the millennium, there was a group of friends. That group was lead by the coolest guy in town, the other guys were less cool, but they felt cooler when they hung out with him. One night, they attempted a pub crawl in their home town, twelve pubs, twelve pints, not to mention whatever else came down the pike. Some fell out along the way, the last few got distracted and didn’t finish, but that night was the greatest night of their lives.
At least, it was the greatest night of the coolest kid’s life, who, twenty years later, has turned into Simon Pegg. Specifically “has turned into” him, not “has grown up to be,” because Gary, the coolest kid in town, has only gotten older while desperately clinging with both hands and teeth and probably toes as well to the trappings of that time, the time he was cool and happy. The other guys, not being burdened by being the coolest kid in town, have grown up to have lives and careers and families, and possibly even experiences that are better than the night of the epic pub crawl that failed. Oliver (Martin Freeman) is a real estate agent, Steven (Paddy Considine) is dating a 26 year old fitness instructor, Peter (Eddie Marsan) is a car salesman, and Andy (Nick Frost) is a successful, respected man who doesn’t want anything to do with Gary when he comes back into their lives to try to recreate that night, and reclaim their youth, and get all the way to the last pub, The World’s End.
It turns out not to be as easy as all that, what with their hometown having been taken over by robots intent on killing them and taking over the world, but hey, nothing worth having is easy.
This is the newest Pegg/Frost/Edgar Wright (director) joint, following a slew of not only critical successes but cult classics, the TV series Spaced and the films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, projects that are worshiped and snuggled and humped by fanboys the world around. Will this join the canon or will it make the Internet rend its garments with weeping that it’s just not good enough? No chance of that; this, the third in the Cornetto Trilogy, is a worthy successor to the previous films, spoofs on zombie flicks and action buddy comedies, this is what happens to an apocalyptic adventure when the apocalypse happens to some ordinary British dudes and not Tom Cruise or Will Smith.
I heard the cast recently described as a murder’s row of British actors in their 40s, plus the excellent Rosamund Pike as Oliver’s sister, who was part of the original pub crawl by way of shagging Gary in the disabled toilet, and it’s true, the cast is stellar. I spent half of the film trying to figure out where I had seen Peter before, not realizing that he was Eddie Marsan, as the Eddie Marsan in my head is the extremely angry version from Happy-Go-Lucky, and here he is the sweet, bullied guy who hides in the stall when the fight breaks out in the bathroom. Martin Freeman is very funny as the guy who was called “O-man” all through his teen years because of a birthmark shaped like a 6, Paddy Considine is winning as Steven, who has loved Rosamund Pike’s Sam ever since high school and isn’t going to let Gary take her away from him again, since he liked her first, and Nick Frost’s tense, angry, teetotalling Andy is terrific.
Simon Pegg is the star, even in this ensemble comedy, and he carries the film proudly on his skinny shoulders. Gary isn’t a likeable guy, he’s kind of a jerk, he’s a liar when it suits him, he never thinks of any consequences that his actions might bring upon other people, as long as they work in the immediate moment, and you seriously want to punch him in the skull almost every minute. But, without making the character maudlin, Pegg lets you see the Gary’s humanity, and by the end, you are rooting for him and the film marvelously makes his faults his strengths at the end.
When we are in our 40s, hopefully we will have grown up, but if we haven’t, at least we can save the world.