I Reckon that Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto” or “Blood & Ice cream” trilogy of films that started with Shaun of the Dead, then Hot Fuzz, and appropriately ends this year with The World’s End is as perfect a set of three comedies as I will ever see. I’ve been a fan of his work (and that of his regular co-writers & leading actors Simon Pegg & Nick Frost) since their amazing TV series Spaced, and they’ve never failed to entertain and delight since then.
If you’ve not already seen The World’s End, I heartily recommend it.
Please be warned that my response to the film here contains many, many spoilers.
As I wrote recently, seeing the World’s End reminded me of all sorts of things from my time as a student. At Exeter University, I partook of more than one pub crawl. The one-that-got-away was the fabled Topsham 10. On the other hand, the University Orchestra tackled an annual jaunt around 10 pubs in Exeter City centre, culminating at The Waterfront, which I completed 3 times, not to mention an ill-judged three-legged pub crawl during Rag Week. As Gary King admits during the film,
I’m not proud of that. I am a bit.
Not just funny, but with a real heart
I think what I love most about the Cornetto Trilogy is that for all the genre-twisting cleverness, for all the laugh-out-loud lines and hilarity, they really manage to convey a complexity and a truth in everything they depict that’s all-too-rare in comedies.
Lifelong friends are able to harbour secret resentments that often transform from petty character details into major plot points. Even more, characters are allowed to be unlikable or infuriating (none more so than Gary King), but never without redeeming qualities. The World’s End addresses the stifling, haunting aspects of growing up in a small town, but at the same time celebrates the friendships, the places and the familiarity that never quite disappears, despite everything. This bittersweet nostalgia called me back to that scene from Mad Men where Don Draper yearns to return to a place where we know that we are loved…
This recognition and indeed firm grasping of the double-edged sword enables Wright to weave a whole series of deeply moving, emotional moments into his films, often shooting them through with dark comedy, but never at the expense of characters, never with cheap jokes. He earns these moments and they all pay off, from Shaun’s moments with his step-dad, mum and best friend in Shaun of the Dead, to any number in The World’s End.
- Almost from nowhere, Eddie Marsan as Peter Page, the hanger-on of the teenage gang, delivers a monologue reliving years of bullying, that stops us dead in our tracks. Of course, Gary King blunders on regardless, which makes the revelations all the more significant to the viewers
- Having been shown Gary King’s attitude to his AA class in the first scene of the film, the final sequence throws a whole new light onto what we’ve seen before. His bandaged wrists tell us everything we need to know about the nature of his addictions and what they have done to him, and how his performance down The Golden Mile in Newton Haven is so important to his entire being.
- As Nick Frost approaches the final pub, he encounters another seductress alien. As she purrs “I want you inside me” into his ear, he steps back and plunges his fist into her stomach, plucking out his wedding-ring that she had stolen earlier in the evening. Knowing what we do about the parlous state of his marriage, this is a true character statement of intent. He’s not giving up that easily, not on this night, not on Gary King, not on his marriage.
Not just funny, but clever too
Edgar Wright’s films demand multiple viewings. The pacing, dialogue, camerawork and visuals move fast from the opening frames, and are literally packed with references. The opening of The World’s End has Gary King narrating his version of the infamous night of Friday 22nd June 1990. Even as I was trying to keep up with all the details in every frame, I knew these would all come back later, brilliantly and seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story.
The attention to detail is astonishing, from Peter Page’s British Home Stores anorak and jeans to Paddy Considine’s secret feelings for Sam. Indeed, the pubs of The Golden Mile are not simply archetypal names, they describe the plot developments that take place within that pub, as this terrific blog explains…
And like the very best genre films, this has plenty to say about the homogenisation of our towns and consumer culture, from identikit High Streets and pubs to a collective dependence on technology. You don’t get that in The Hangover…
Not just funny, but really, really funny
I think I laughed out loud more times in the cinema during the 110 minutes of The World’s End than I can remember. The dialogue is consistently whip-crackingly swift and smart and the visual gags come thick and fast. A few lines and two moments were the standouts for me…
What the f*ck does WTF mean?
I still think nothing that has been suggested in the last 10 minutes beats ‘smashy smashy egg men’.
We’ll always have the disableds.
Get back in your rocket, and fuck off back to LEGOLAND, you c*nts!
That last line nearly had me sliding off my chair in fits of laughter, and I probably missed at least a couple of jokes while I recovered. Then there’s the fight scene in the toilets of The Cross Hands, which starts from absolutely nothing, escalates within seconds to something out of the opening scene Casino Royale, then becomes a major set-piece that lasts for several minutes. While I have a slight quibble about how quickly everyone seems to get really quite good at fighting, there’s still proper character truths in the way they respond to the danger.
Perhaps best of all was Nick Frost / Andy Knightley’s transformation from the teetotal, buttoned-up lawyer into The Pink Hulk. I don’t often cheer in the cinema, but I could have stood and hollered as he wielded bar stools like gigantic Popeye-forearms.
I’ve read some reviews that have taken against the final scenes beneath The World’s End pub as being just a bit too silly; but I beg to disagree. At the time I was wondering where it was going, and how they were going to end this, but Bill Nighy’s voice of The Network was perhaps the best evocation of the late, great Douglas Adams that I’ve seen. Humans are primitive, stupid and stubborn; it’s a miracle we’ve lasted this long without destroying ourselves. The Higher Beings are world-weary, surreal, mundane, fabulous.
The Network: It’s pointless arguing with you. You will be left to your own devices.
The Network: Yeah. Fuck it.
Oh, and when the Cornetto reference finally came, I burst into spontaneous applause.
I’m not at all sure if I can rank the three films of The Cornetto Trilogy, but I know I love every one of them.