The film was met with largely rapturous reviews and enthusiastic moviegoer response, once again demonstrating the extreme subjectivity inherent in comedy. Its first act is also its strongest, with the alcoholic, mentally-troubled Gary King (Pegg) rounding up his high school buddies in a desperate attempt to reclaim former glories. Gary isn’t going gently into middle-age, preferring to rebel against the societal standards adopted by his estranged, 40ish friends, Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Peter (Eddie Marsan). While his troubles have landed him in some kind of psyche ward or rehab center, Gary convinces his reluctant friends to undertake the “Golden Mile,” in which each will drink one pint in 12 separate Newton Haven pubs (they tried, but failed, to complete said task in their youth).
Once underway, the group notices some odd behavior amongst their hometown’s inhabitants. At this point the film takes a drastic, out of left field turn—which also veers into spoiler territory for anyone who hasn’t seen it (though nothing that was particularly concealed in the film’s marketing campaign). In one of the commentary tracks, director Wright mentions being influenced by Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which seems almost an understatement. It’s revealed that the people of Newton Haven have been replaced by robotic doppelgängers.
The whole genre mash-up doesn’t really work. Just as the introspective discussions and debates between the five friends were getting interesting, we’re sucker-punched by the intrusion of exceedingly fragile, blue-“blooded” conformist robots. Instead of further developing Gary’s ill-advised, though perversely admirable, free-spiritedness along with the button-down, work-a-day mentalities of his friends and contrasting it against the banality of the robots’ lifestyle, The World’s End bogs down in action/sci-fi plot mechanics.
There’s a more powerful force behind the human-replacing robots, which converges upon Gary and his friends in order to “turn” them. Revealing the admittedly creative plot twists that keep the second half consistently interesting would serve no purpose. What is worth pointing out is that all the ersatz hysteria offers a distraction from the fact that Wright and Pegg’s themes of arrested development (and how to overcome it), aversion to responsibility, and unhealthy attachments to the past are all but abandoned. We can get special effects and breakneck action elsewhere, if that’s all we’re interested in. The title refers not only to the final pub along the “Golden Mile,” but also a literal disintegration of the world as we know it. I admire Wright and Pegg’s chutzpah; transitioning from mid-life crisis dramedy to full-fledged alien-invasion, apocalyptic action is no easy feat. Unfortunately, The World’s End itself ends in noble failure.
Bill Pope’s excellent 35 and 16mm (for the flashbacks of Gary and company as youths) cinematography looks terrific in Universal’s high definition transfer. Grain structure is intact (especially aesthetically pleasing during the 16mm sequences, if you like that retro look as much as I do). Look no further than Pegg’s wearied face for evidence of sharp detail. Deliberately bland, drab, and somewhat washed out, the colors are reproduced accurately and as vividly as necessary given the filmmaker’s artistic vision here. The impressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix cranks out the early-‘90s rock soundtrack with appropriate aggression, then continues to amp things up as the effects take over. Those viewers for whom English accents present a decipherability challenge will likely have no issue with dialogue, as it rings out clearly even during the mayhem.
Extras overload will have “Cornetto” trilogy fans in hog heaven. Three audio commentaries are presented, beginning with an informative chat by Wright and Pegg. For the tech commentary, Wright is joined by DP Bill Pope. The go-to track for many fans will likely be the uproarious cast commentary, with Pegg joined by Nick Frost and Paddy Considine. Lots of goofing off and comedic tangents make this track arguably funnier than the movie itself. There’s also a trivia track (perfect for displaying while listening to commentary) and a U-Control picture-in-picture feature that allows for viewing storyboards.
A whole slew of featurettes and other material is collected here as well, many of which are exclusive to Blu-ray. The 48-minute “Completing the Golden Mile” is a comprehensive making-of piece that only increased my appreciation of the efforts invested in The World’s End. “Filling in the Blanks” is a fairly substantial look at the film’s special effects and stunts. While there’s only one actual deleted scene, there are a couple compilations of alternate takes and a gag reel. “TV Safe Version” is an amusing compilation of dubbed profanity substitutions. There’s a lot more to explore, including rehearsal footage—it’s no surprise it isn’t all itemized on the back of the Blu-ray case.
Those who enjoyed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will almost certainly find something to like in The World’s End. However, its lack of focus and stunted ideas prevent it from becoming something great. For laugh-out-loud giddiness set against a backdrop of end-times doom, go with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End. That other sky-is-falling comedy from the summer of 2013 may lack the pretensions of The World’s End, but at least it successfully delivers what it promises.