I liked The World’s End. I really did. Let’s be clear on that. I was pre-disposed to like it. I’ve been a fan of Simon Pegg‘s as a deft comic performer since his Spaced/Big Train/Brasseye days, love his chemistry with Nick Frost in their previous on-screen pairings and even adored Edgar Wrights last movie, the sorely under-rated 2010 comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.
So, why didn’t it win me over? It has the same playful, affectionate, mischievous genre bending style of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with alien invasion movies replacing the zombie and Brit Occult Horror tropes as the immovable objects driving our shaggy protagonists and it has likeable, flawed, relatable characters.
It’s also shot and performed with tremendous skill and energy by a talented team bunch of people all across the board but….it felt somewhat under thought or maybe underdeveloped. It pays affectionate, gleeful homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Village of the Damned among its myriad references but it all feels tacked onto the central premise which is fundamentally about the disappointment of adult life, the futility of living in the past and the creeping inevitability of conformity.
Using the extraterrestrial assimilation of a small English town as a metaphor for both modern provincial uniformity and the compromises of becoming a responsible grown up is a clever idea but Wright seem less concerned with that aspect of the film and more focused on the relationship dynamics between five former school friends who re-unite in their early 40’s for a legendary drinking session in their old home town.
Here, the science fiction element feels like an afterthought. In both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the tone and style is established from the get go. But in The World’s End, what starts out as a perceptive comedy about friendship and living in the past then whiplashes and becomes an alien invasion wotsit thingy.
It is somewhat jarring and for the rest of the film, this fantastical element really just functions as a way for Simon Pegg’s oblivious was Gary King and his friends to work out their issues with the Alien threat never feeling threatening or convincing.
Maybe this was intended by Wright, Pegg & Frost as a way to examine the fears of being a middle aged man. Certainly the film is a fairly melancholy affair in comparison to their other works. It doesn’t stint on the visual and verbal gags but there is a feeling throughout as the characters face up to their own possible demise, that this vibrant comedy team, fourteen years may have reached their own creative end.