‘THE WORLD’S END’ ★★★1⁄2
Gary King Simon Pegg
Andy Knightley Nick Frost
Steven Prince Paddy Considine
Oliver Chamberlain Martin Freeman
Peter Page Eddie Marsan
Sam Chamberlain Rosamund Pike
Focus Features presents a film directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Simon Pegg. Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (for pervasive language including sexual references). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: September 24, 2013 6:09AM
The World’s End is a tavern. It is the last stop on the golden mile — a legendary, unfinished pub crawl that still haunts one Gary King 20 years after the night he and his best mates tried but failed to down one pint apiece in each of the 12 joints along the way.
As we see in the perfectly conceived, hipster-nostalgic opening sequence in “The World’s End,” Gary WAS a young king of sorts of 1990, a charismatic, devil-may-care teenager leading “The Five Musketeers” on a pub crawl through the idyllic city of Newton Haven, a pub crawl that was punctuated by beer, brawls, fistfights and more beer.
Gary even struck romantic gold with a comely lass in the restroom of one of those pubs — a tryst he remembers fondly and often, but one she probably hasn’t thought about since the Soup Dragons and the Happy Mondays were ruling the jukebox.
Cut to present day. Four of the musketeers have grown up. Jobs, marriage, children, suits, ties — all the trappings.
Not Gary. He’s still dressing, drinking and acting like he did two decades ago. Desperate to re-create the greatest night of his life, Gary talks his mates into a return to Newton Haven, where they’ll finish that pub crawl.
Following the zombie apocalypse comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and the buddy-cop sendup “Hot Fuzz,” this is the third genre spoof from writer-director Edgar Wright, writer-actor Simon Pegg and the invaluable actor Nick Frost, and it’s the best of the terrific bunch. (The three films are referred to as the “Cornetto Trilogy,” a reference to the ice cream company, because — well, you already know all this if you’re one of the legions of hardcore fans, and you don’t need to know any of it to enjoy the hell out of these films.)
Pegg plays Gary, the self-centered misfit who either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care how pathetic he looks to the mainstream world. His reluctant buddies include Paddy Considine’s Steven; Eddie Marsan’s Peter; Martin Freeman’s Oliver — and Nick Frost’s Andy, Gary’s former best friend who’s still nursing a grudge (and rightfully so) over something Gary did way back in the day.
On the first part of the journey, “The World’s End” succeeds as a reunion movie about fortysomething guys at various crossroads in their lives. It’s like the Adam Sandler “Grown-Ups” films, only a million times better and with British accents.
Gary and his mates are chagrined to see many of their favorite pubs have fallen victim to “Starbucking,” with nearly identical interior designs, from the placement of the dart board to the chalkboard menus to the overly buffed floors.
Gary is horrified when Andy orders water (“You’re drinking RAIN!”) and he doesn’t understand why the pub keepers don’t remember him and why the gorgeous Sam (Rosamund Pike) doesn’t want to pick up where they left off some 20 years ago, i.e., the restroom for another “go.”
It’s all quite well-rendered. If “The World’s End” continued on as a British “Big Chill,” we’d all have quite the fine movie-going experience.
But then something startling happens, and though the trailers (and much of the online discussion about the film) reveal the massive plot twist, I’ll still issue the obligatory SPOILER ALERT.
Suffice to say there’s a reason why some of the familiar faces in Newton Haven haven’t aged in 20 years, and there are elements of “The Stepford Wives,” “The Martian Chronicles” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” at play here. When Gary gets into a fight with a robotic young upstart, his opponent bleeds blue “blood” and is able to heal from injuries that would kill a human.
Once Gary and the guys realize the town has been invaded, with a sizable percentage of the population now half-alien robot and half-human, their solution? Continue the pub crawl! Maybe if they keep moving and they keep drinking, they won’t fall victim.
It’s a brilliantly stupid plan.
“The World’s End” contains some of the funniest stunts and battle sequences in recent memory, with Frost executing some particularly nimble moves. You gotta love an alien whose legs wind up where her arms used to be — and it doesn’t slow her down one bit as she just keeps on swinging.
Even after some tragic setbacks, Gary keeps on barging into pubs, pouring a pint himself if the places have been destroyed and abandoned. He’s on a quest that’s only symbolically about those beers, and he’ll be damned if an alien invasion is going to stop him. Even as “The World’s End” segues into a spot-on sci-fi satire (and say that three times fast), it stays true to the reunion-movie roots as well, with Gary and Andy working out their differences in the midst of all the insanity.
With the Cornetto trilogy and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” among other works, director Wright is one of the more innovative filmmakers we have. The cast is amazing, from the great duo of Frost and Pegg to the supporting players, many of whom are better known for taking on heavy dramatic fare. The editing, special effects and set design — a joy to experience.
It’s the end of the world, and they don’t blow it.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @richardroeper