The World’s End review: the very bitter (and lager) end

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

The World's End green light Nick Frost Simon Pegg

Its humor is a little more uncomfortable than that of the other Cornetto flicks, and it’s more far satirical, in a far more cynical way, than I ever would have anticipated.
I’m “biast” (pro): in every way possible

I’m “biast” (con): in no way at all

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I can’t tell you — literally; I’ve lost count — how many times I’ve seen Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And this in a personal era for me when I lament that I am no longer able to memorize movies like I did when I was a teenager; there are simply too many movies, and too little time to watch them over and over again. And yet I keep coming back to these two flicks. For so many reasons. Because they harken back to the movies of the era when I fell in love with movies and was able to memorize them. Because they’re about the experience of living with pop culture as your guiding light and your religion, both within the context of their stories and in the larger meta sense. Because they’re about bringing some of the joy and the fun of the stuff of your childhood over into adulthood. Because the fact that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are just about the same age as me — and an approximately same level of geekiness, I imagine — means we just click, as storytellers and audience.

And now, the trilogy that didn’t start out to be a trilogy and ends up all the more powerful because it happened organically is over. With The World’s End. It’s seems odd and sad that there will be no more. (Well, I suspect there will be more from Wright and Pegg, but it’ll be very different.) And it is an epic end. I mean that literally, too. End is epic both within the context of its tale and in the larger meta sense. It’s darker in tone than you might be expecting from the previous films, even given all the too-close-to-home z-words Shaun didn’t want to have to kill and the shockingly high death rate in the charming village of Sandford. Its humor is a little more more uncomfortable from moment to moment, and as you ponder more where those moments take it. It’s more far satirical, in a far more bitter, cynical way, than I ever would have anticipated. It is cheerfully brash and arrogant… and then it smacks itself for being so, and smacks us for cheering that on.

The World’s End is a film whose geeky complexity I am still unpeeling to get at the heart of.

It takes longer than you might expect for End to get to the genre Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Pegg are simultaneously tweaking and celebrating this time out. (Once again, they cowrote the script together, and Wright directs.) A gang of old friends is coerced by the lone-wolf, never-grew-up, still-wearing-the-same-black-trenchcoat Gary (Pegg: Star Trek Into Darkness, Ice Age: Continental Drift) into finishing the heroic 12-pub pub crawl they started as teens but never finished. Because even teenage boys have trouble drinking a dozen pints of beer in one night. The other guys — Steven (Paddy Considine: Now Is Good, The Bourne Ultimatum), Oliver (Martin Freeman: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!), Peter (Eddie Marsan: Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman), and Andrew (Nick Frost: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Attack the Block), all fine upstanding grownup citizens with mortgages and relationships — are reluctant, but here they are anyway, returned to Newton Haven, somewhere to the north of London, which they all appear to have happily left behind 20 years earlier with no plans to return.

Now, my memory on the timeline is a bit hazy: it’s possible that the scream of “I fuckin’ hate this town!” does not come until after the discovery that the villagers appear to have been taken over by alien pod-people, or replaced by Stepford robots, or something similarly nefarious, when the movie blossoms in all its Wright-Pegg glory as a rip on Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Children of the Damned or an episode of Doctor Who (plus beer and minus the Doctor). The people of Newton Haven have a certain blank sameness about them, which the guys barely even notice at first: it’s part of that everything’s-the-same-but-different feeling that’s inevitable when you return to a place you once knew well but have grown out of. Even Gary, who hasn’t moved on, is bemused by it. But hell, it’s not like a blank sameness hasn’t descended over much of Britain: the funky independent pubs they once loved have been transformed into franchises of artificial quaint pubby Englishness. (The takeover of Main Street — or “the high street” in the U.K. — by chain stores and chain restaurants is about 20 years behind the U.S., but it seems pretty much complete now, and every British high street today is the same parade of the same logos you find on every other high street.)

There is a cautionary tale here in a way that the other Cornetto movies didn’t attempt to offer, via Gary’s refusal to grow up. (One of the meta-amusing bits here is the literal role reversal Pegg and Frost engage in; here Pegg plays the fuckup and Frost arguably the most responsible of all the guys.) “Don’t linger in adolescence” is a message not typically seen in popular cinema, which far more often embraces extended adolescence, especially for male characters, and which is in turn embraced by audiences. (See: the success of Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups 2.) “No, seriously, you maybe really don’t want to linger in adolescence, complete with stubborn idiocy” is powerfully suggested here… though the suggestion is a double-edged sword in which either choice — grow up or be a fuckup — ultimately is problematic.

If Shaun was, perhaps, a strawberry Cornetto and Fuzz was a dark chocolate, End is some sort of crazy acerbic blend of salted caramel and lemon, maybe.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Fri, Jul 19, 2013 6:38pm


When one considers how many failed comedies lately have taken the route of “nominally grown-up men go back to their old home town” (in the worst case, Hot Tub Time Machine, literally), I’m glad to see that a competent team can still get some life out of the concept. (And the writing team of Pegg and Wright seems much more effective, at least to my taste, than Pegg or Wright solo.)

One to look forward to.

Fri, Jul 19, 2013 9:55pm

And Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made the luscious Paul, one of the best SF comedies ever. Am really looking forward to this one.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaurieMann
Fri, Jul 19, 2013 11:25pm

The only way *Paul* could have been better is if Edgar Wright had directed it.

Mon, Jul 22, 2013 6:54pm

Gary King (Pegg) lingers in adolescence because that was the moment of his greatness, when his friends looked up to him. They grew up and found him lacking when they fulfilled their own lives. The blank blank blank blank conclusion (dance around the spoiler) is that it is OK to stay an adolescent too. Pegg becomes the hero, “free to do what he wants.’ Oh no, it’s Peter Pan as well?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  wearyrabbit
Mon, Jul 22, 2013 9:21pm

Oh, I don’t think that’s the conclusion *at all.* It’s exactly the opposite, I’d say.

Perhaps this is the movie to start doing separate spoiler posts for…

Emil Hyde
Emil Hyde
Sun, Aug 25, 2013 2:11pm

I’m going to start using “the z-word” instead of the z-word. Thanks.

Tue, Aug 27, 2013 10:22pm

My wife and I saw this over the weekend. It was fun, but nowhere near as good as I was hoping. Maybe on par with Hot Fuzz, but not as good as Shaun.

I think they made Peggs character almost TOO unbearable. I know his obnoxiousness was the whole point, but I just wanted to punch him. Yes, even when it was all over. I’ll concede that he rocked the role, and was certainly funny at times, but that’s it.

I was a bit baffled by the excessively long fight scenes. They could have cut them in half, and not lost a thing. I don’t go see Wright/Pegg/Frost movies for elaborately choreographed fight scenes.
The writing was fantastic, but the story itself felt like something I had seen a million times before. I understand they were riffing on a genre staple, but I was almost bored whenever they were not interacting with each other.

And did they ever explain what happened to Frosts character? I imagine they did, but it must have skipped my mind.

Plus, the whole beer thing didn’t help. I drink an ale or cider on occasion, but only one. The idea of 12 over the course of a night just baffles the hell out of me.


In the end I came to the same conclusion as wearyrabbit. Peggs character never really “evolved” over the course of the movie. That’s evident by his end scene. Or was that supposed to be him finding his place in the world? Felt odd.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Wed, Sep 18, 2013 9:15pm

One of the best films I have seen this year. Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to appreciate it more.

At least I liked it better than Paul — and not just because Paul seemed too much like Nora Ephron’s Michael for my taste…