To all good things, an end. And so too it must be with the Cornetto Three Flavours Trilogy, a threesome of fantastic comedies by the nearly magical combine of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, director Edgar Wright and producer Nina Park. First we got Shaun of the Dead, a romantic comedy with zombies. Next came Hot Fuzz, a decidedly English bent on the high-octane buddy cop movie. I’m not sure if they saved the best for last, but The World’s End is as fitting a conclusion for this series as possible, at once both a hilarious story about a pub crawl in the middle of an alien invasion, and a bittersweet story about how we can never really go back home again. By the time it’s all over—and this one definitely takes a left turn in its final act—we realize that even though we’d all be happy with another three or four movies in this set, it’s best to know when enough is enough and to move on. And The World’s End does just that.
Alas, our hero is not so self-aware. The year is 1990, and Gary King—one of those self-absorbed dickheads who peaks in high school—engineers an epic pub crawl with his best friends in their hometown of Newton Haven. They set out to hit the Golden Mile—the collective name for the town’s dozen pubs—but flame out near the end, and that is that. They graduate from school shortly afterwards, and as childhood friends so often do, they disperse to live their lives. Only Gary never does. He flames out in a big way, becoming scruffy and besotted, a guy stuck in time. He is all false bravado and threadbare charm as he manages to drag his old friends back out to Newton Haven some 20+ years later for another try at the Golden Mile. As the pub crawl progresses, a lot of unresolved conflict among the old friends emerges, and everybody remembers why they all parted company in the first place. For at least one of the crew the reunion isn’t about reliving old times, or recapturing their youth. It’s to force a reckoning for the sins of their childhood. But all that will have to wait, because in the middle of the Golden Mile, we discover that most of the town has, in fact, been replaced by alien androids that bleed blue gunk and break into pieces when you sock them hard enough. Fearful that if they abandon the pub crawl the aliens will find them out, our heroes continue from pub to pub, trying to manage how much they can’t stand Gary, how freaked out they all are, and keeping their growing Dutch courage in check. As things get progressively more haywire, we realize why this pub crawl is so important to poor Gary, friends come together for a last stand, and we see a final reckoning between an advanced alien civilization and a couple of fellas who are way too hammered to see straight, let alone save the world.
The World’s End isn’t quite as manic as Shaun of the Dead, or the pitch-perfect genre love letter that is Hot Fuzz. But it is a terrific story about the sense of alienation we feel when we grow up, return to our hometown and find that the place we once knew so well is now unrecognizable. For Pegg and Wright, a big part of this movie is about how homogeneous corporate everything is swiftly sucking the life and character out of every small town in England. There’s something similar afoot in America, too, but we seem to be more at peace with losing our small towns, perhaps because they haven’t been around for centuries. But for all of the havoc about aliens taking over, and all the drama about Gary’s own arrested development, our heroes seem more bothered by how their old pubs have all basically become the same damned place. And by the end, you get where they’re coming from. Yeah, it’s kind of creepy for everybody to be replaced by soulless androids, but come on, most people are drones already. And yeah, Gary’s an alcoholic train wreck, but there’s real heart behind his quest to finish the Golden Mile, and we can get behind that. But nobody really thinks that forcing a single pub template on all of England is a good thing, and if stopping that mean sending humanity back into the Dark Ages, well then, so be it.
That’s the movie’s moment of truth, when our heroes have finally gotten to the final stop on the Golden Mile—The World’s End—and confront the heart of an alien invasion that hasn’t just taken over a small English pub town; it’s pretty much taken over the entire planet. Once it’s sure everybody will play along, it’ll drop the subterfuge. Fun fact: when you’ve drunk a dozen beers and had a running fistfight with half a town’s worth of surprisingly fragile androids, you’re going to tell that alien mastermind exactly where it can shove its master plan. And our heroes do just that in a moment of petulance so sublime it actually throws the entire movie out into left field. You get the sense that the movie was supposed to end another way, and a couple of drunk idiots actually throw a wrench in the works as you’re watching it.
That the movie ends as it does is not just a great climax to a great movie. It’s a great stopping point in a series that knows that life isn’t so much about big endings. It’s more about lots of beginnings on top of each other, and the things that matter less kind of fade into the background. The trick is not letting ourselves be one of those fading things. It’s not that hard. Just don’t be a jerk, look out for your friends, and know when you’ve had enough.