- The World’s Endby Edgar Wright
The World’s End, like the previous collaborations between Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a film about the vices – and indeed the virtues – of perpetual adolescence. Where Shaun of the Dead(Wright UK/France/US 2004) expertly spoofed the zombie genre by transplanting it to north London, and Hot Fuzz(Wright UK/France/US 2007) offered a loving, rural English spin on the American buddy cop film, The World’s Endis a paean to British pub culture inside the (literally) hollowed out body of an alien invasion story. However, to classify it merely as a send-up is to do the film an injustice. The World’s Endis at once the most emotionally deft of Wright, Pegg and Frost’s loose Cornetto Trilogy (so-called because different flavours of the iconic dessert cone appear in each of the films) as well as being the instalment which most plays against the grain of audience expectations. Its comedy is frequently of the tragic rather than the laugh-out-loud variety. Its central character is, on the surface at least, puerile and unfunny. Its loaned-out US allegory for the dangers of conformity is problematised, at times even overwhelmed, by the native trappings of medieval romances and the palpable synergy of individuals working in concert. Yet, out of its multitude of contradictions, The World’s Endoffers a series of powerful statements about the dangers of nostalgia, the homogenising influence of our networked world and the essential role of irrationality in defining the human spirit.
Central to all this is the troubled and damaged figure of Gary King, played [End Page 294]by Pegg in his most layered and convincing performance to date. It is he who initially assembles the group of old school friends for the pub crawl in their hometown, which forms the through-line of the film’s story. It is he who discovers that aliens are replacing humans with automata, hollow-headed duplicates who carry the memories of the originals, and it is he who, in the end, leads the stand against them. Nevertheless, it is also Gary who poses the biggest obstacle for those viewers presuming The World’s Endto be the kind of straight-up comedy it is marketed as. He is a sad and pathetic character given to the kind of humour more suitable to an eighteen year old than a fortysomething man. Gary clings to his teenage persona in a more overt fashion than any of the characters of the previous films; he wears the same clothes which he did as a schoolboy, he drives the same car (a veritable Ship of Theseus in keeping with the film’s interrogation of functional replacement) and he insists that the group’s teenage effort to complete the pub crawl was the highlight of his life. Allowing his greatest comedic asset to be frequently unfunny in this fashion is Wright’s biggest gamble and, arguably, his biggest success here. It transforms Gary’s character from a mere dispenser of one-liners into a genuinely dramatic creation. The revelation that he has tried to kill himself just prior to the action of the film is quietly devastating, while Pegg’s work throughout the picture is multifaceted and game, ranging from smug bravado to sorrowful regret and back again.
Joining him on his journey ‘to get annihilated’ (in, at least initially, the alcoholic sense) are Andy Knightly (Frost), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), Oliver Chamberlin (Martin Freeman) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan). The character names alone are enough to clue the viewer into the fact that, beyond the obvious homages to Invasion of the Body Snatchers(Siegel US 1956; Kaufman US 1978; Ferrera US 1993; Hirschbiegel US/Australia 2007) and The Stepford Wives(Forbes US 1975; Oz US 2004), The World’s Endis a film with one foot firmly rooted in a very British national myth: A (Gary) King leads his (Andrew) Knight(ley), his (Stephen) Prince, his (Oliver) Chamberlin, and his (Peter) Page...