Shaun of the Dead was one of the best comedies ever. It combined humor and pathos in a way that never seemed hackneyed. It weaved through a surprisingly violent and zombified plot that was engaging, yet still easy-to-follow under a cross-fade at 3 a.m. And it arguably has only been topped by a handful of other films—The Big Lebowski, Office Space, clearly; Waiting, maybe—in accurately portraying the slacker who does genuinely wants to get his shit together, but sometimes getting your shit together is really fucking hard, especially when your girlfriend is a nag and job prospects are grim and there’s always the Winchester sounding its whiskey-soaked bell. An image from the film will occasionally pop in my brain, which is probably a byproduct of over a dozen viewings: Shaun has just woken with a blistering hangover, and he strolls out of the house on his daily trip to the convenience store. The camera follows him in one long shot. Shaun’s headache and his sheer force of routine prohibit him from seeing no less than a surrounding apocalypse, and he even fails to see that his store owner friend has been murdered, and it’s only when he returns home and turns on the TV that he realizes things aren’t quite right.
That scene is so brilliant. It's always seemed to encapsulate what Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are able to do better than anyone in Hollywood: Be technically ambitiousand heartfelt; satiric of modern society, and utterly hilarious.
And I’m happy to report The World’s End hits every one of those metrics. Easily. It might be the most entertaining movie of the year.
The film begins with Gary King’s voiceover. He’s played by Pegg, and he’s the typical guy who some less charitable people would call a “townie”—a legend in high school, a degenerate till his crusty 40s, someone who would normally be a pathetic alcoholic, except Pegg gives him a laddish and kind-of awesome cool which makes up for the realization that he’s spent the better part of the last two decades fucking over his friends. Those friends—Andy (Nick Frost), Peter (Eddie Marsan), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Oliver (Martin Freeman)—are all begrudgingly convinced by Pegg to return once more to their hometown of Newton Haven, and to attempt once more the Golden Mile, a 12-pub tour of the downtown’s watering holes. (The pubs, by the way, have great names, like “The First Post,” “The Cross Hands,” and “The Famous Cock.”) The gang tried, and failed, to hit the Mile after graduation from high school. They have unfinished business.
Once the movie moves to Newton Haven, it’s clear things are a bit off. The story had first seemed like your typical tale of suspended adolescence. But Pegg and his gang of bros soon realize that they’re up against something more difficult than just bitter IPAs and hangovers: An otherworldly being has taken over this sleepy British town, and the resulting blue-blood-soaked robots battles are better than just about any bloated-budget action movie you’ll see this summer. (I even loved the way Wright films beer being poured from the pubs' taps. It’s lovingly filmed not unlike… well, a movie you can’t see in theaters. You will need a good beer after seeing The World's End.)
The movie does stumble a bit during these later scenes, as Pegg and Frost dip a little too deep in the melodrama that surrounds their friendship. But just when you think things are getting too schmaltzy, there’s another brutal robot killing, or rapid-fire pop culture reference, or antic plot twist. And by the time we get to the final showdown between Earth’s apocalyptic doom-dayers and the Golden Milers, Wright pauses to deliver what must be his own ethos on the human race. It’s, unsurprisingly, profound.