Anticipation and expectation can be terrible things. How many times has the latest novel or film in a series, or the latest album from a favourite artist, failed to blow our minds upon first read, watch or listen? Even if they might go on to become firm favourites, the painful wait for greatness means that we often don’t see it first time round, and this might just be the case with The World’s End. For this final instalment in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy feels just a tad flat, but really it probably shouldn’t.
The film sees five old school friends (played by usual leads Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan) returning to their hometown to reattempt a pub crawl which they failed to complete twenty years previously. The key character is Pegg’s Guy King, the once-leader-turned-fuck-up who manages to persuade the others to join him on his quest to recapture something of his faded glory. Unfortunately for the gang, their old town has gone all Stepford, and before they know it they face the terrible choice of conformity or death.
The film feels a little been-there-done-that, taking the outright genre elements of Shaun of the Dead and mapping them onto the imperfection-is-good moral message of Hot Fuzz. This isn’t to say that there isn’t fun to be had – British science fiction fans will have great fun recognising the tropes lifted from a variety of sources. With its pubs and robot-esque replacements with dangerous hands and faces that come off with alarming ease, it feels a lot like Doctor Who’s The Android Invasion.
Where I had real problems was with the dark tone. Whereas Shaun dealt with a continuing best-friendship between Pegg and Frost’s characters, and Fuzz saw the start of one, the fact that End sees one that has been almost irreparably damaged means that things seem far more grim than usual. Pegg and Frost are still great and insanely watchable, easily matched by the great ensemble and some tremendous supporting artists, but overall you wish that this final bite of Cornetto could have been that bit sweeter. Perhaps as a result the ending, while suitably madcap and unexpected, also lacks the emotional zing of the previous two.
Many of these complaints feel churlish, don’t they? What we shouldn’t forget is that this sort of filmmaking should be applauded. I think we can be certain that there won’t be a film like this anytime soon, if ever, and it is rollickingly pleasurable while it lasts. It’s just hard not to think that Wright, Pegg and Frost have failed to bring us a third outing which matches the previous two for their sheer verve, heart and originality.
Silly, inventive and so very, very British, The World’s End will surely grow in stature in years to come. At the moment, though, it feels like a slightly disappointing finale, equivalent to a last bite of cone with not quite enough ice cream left within.