Getting back together with a bunch of mates to relive a notoriously brilliant event from your past can be a tricky thing.
This predicament weighs heavily on the central characters of 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’ve also 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 (director, writer), Simon Pegg (writer, star) and Nick Frost (co-star, scene-stealer).
Following universally adored romzomcom Shaun Of The Dead and bombastic cop actioner Hot Fuzz 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 compilation. Sure, a couple of sight gags and a few familiar faces will remind fans that this is part of a bigger body of work, but the palpable sense of nostalgia comes from within the story itself.
Pegg and Frost reap rewards from the challenge of playing characters unlike any they’ve tackled before: kudos to Pegg for keeping obnoxious manchild Gary ‘the once and future’ King likeable. Unlike perma-teen Gary, the remainder of ‘The Five Musketeers’, including Frost’s grudge-bearing teetotaler, Andy, have grown up (and apart).
The pair are brilliantly backed by best-of-British trio Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman, and the first half of the movie is loaded with laughs. From the cracking opening sequence, in which we’re introduced to Gary and chums twice over (as school mates, and in the present day), the gag rate rarely lets up, propelled along by Wright’s trademark visual effervescence.
In fact, with such good company on the pub crawl, the mid-point reminder that this is a genre piece (sci-fi this time) comes as a genuine shock. From there, Wright unleashes his Scott Pilgrim-honed prowess on a succession of breathless bar-room brawls, building on the tension of an emerging conspiracy.
Pinning the plot to the 12-stop pub crawl means you might find your energy flagging by the ninth pint (Wright’s energetic style offering scant relief to lightweights), and there’s a chance you might find yourself wanting to sit out for a breather with Rosamund Pike’s inevitably sidelined Sam (this is, after all, a very male story).
But TWE is spiked with enough genuine surprises to more than maintain your interest until the last leg, and there’s a bounty of sci-fi references for genre fans. As with its predecessors (and meta-sitcom Spaced), its love of movies is very much in evidence, with nods to The Thing, The Stepford Wives and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers just the start of the fun.
Like that nugget of pure chocolate you get at the bottom of the cornet, this is a fittingly satisifying end to the Cornetto trilogy.
The armageddon-through-beer-goggles approach brings the chuckles, but The World’s End stands up as a great example of the genre it ribs. Nostalgic, bittersweet and very, very funny: we’ll drink to that.