The characters in The World’s End call it “Starbucking”—the way all the quirky individuality of modern small-town life is getting replaced, one coffee shop at a time, by creeping corporate uniformity. They first use the term to describe the way the pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven are starting to look alike: the same menus written in the same faux-handwritten chalk, advertising the same beers served amid the same decor. Later, they realize it’s not just the businesses that have been Starbucked—it’s the people, too. The World’s End is a welcome rebuke to Starbucking, not only in bars and restaurants, but in movie theaters as well. Even as it draws on obvious inspirations like The Big Chill and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, it’s a fresh, personal statement from director/co-writer Edgar Wright and star/co-writer Simon Pegg.
Pegg plays Gary King, a drunken reprobate obsessed with the memory of the one magical night in 1990 when he and four of his teenage mates attempted the “Golden Mile”: 12 pints at 12 pubs in a single night. Twenty-three years later, the rest of Gary’s buddies have moved on with their lives, settling down in London with stable jobs and loving families. But Gary can’t let that pub crawl go. He still wears the same clothes, drives the same car, and listens to the same mixtape he loved when he was 17. Back then, Gary told himself life would never feel as good as that night they botched the Golden Mile. Sadly, it seems he was right.
Desperate to relive his glory days, Gary rounds up the old gang—Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Andy (Nick Frost)—for a trip back to their old hometown and another shot at the Golden Mile. But in their absence, Newton Haven has changed. No one in town remembers them. Everyone is too polite, and weirdly sedate. And when a fight breaks out and the true nature of the changes becomes clear, things get much stranger.
The World’s End is the final chapter of Pegg and Wright’s so-called “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” a loosely connected triptych of films including 2004’s Shaun Of The Dead and 2007’s Hot Fuzz. Each movie tackles a different genre—horror, action, and science-fiction, respectively—but they all riff on the same raw thematic materials: the beauty of male friendships and the importance of individuality in a world of conformity. Like its predecessors, The World’s End is dense with symbolism and foreshadowing; each of the 12 pubs’ names hint at the events that take place inside, and Newton Haven’s one claim to fame, the United Kingdom’s first traffic roundabout, serves as a fitting metaphor to Gary’s perpetual returns to his past. (Later, his growth is on full display when he drives over the circle, instead of around it.)
As in all of Wright’s films, the surface is just as satisfying as the subtext: hilarious comedy, compelling character drama, eye-popping visuals, and a juicy science-fiction story. The Golden Mile is fraught with deeper meaning, but it’s also a great conceit for a comic thriller, because the actors continually have to act drunker and drunker, even as the stakes of their struggle get higher and higher. Frost, Pegg’s dependable sidekick in all three Cornetto films, does some particularly spectacular slurring and stumbling.
Coming at the end of a summer at the movies that’s been apocalyptic in both theme and quality, The World’s End feels timely and refreshing. Wright and Pegg’s edge over their competition is the way they put spectacle in service of character, instead of the other way around. Nothing in their films happens just because it looks cool (although hot damn, it often does look cool, too). Everything is motivated by the story they’re telling and the ideas they’re expressing—in this case, a cautionary tale about how nostalgia can be more dangerous than body-snatchers.
That’s a surprising choice from the guys who made Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, two films that wouldn’t exist without their creators’ love of the horror and buddy-cop movies of their youths. But like the characters in The World’s End, Wright and Pegg are getting older. Maybe the film’s themes about growing up, moving on, and embracing the future instead of wallowing in the past are signs that they intend to do the same. In their fictional universe of buddies and beers, this is the way the world ends: not with a whimper or a bang, but with an acknowledgement that getting older isn’t the end of the world.