It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel blitzed...
Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a man who never grew up, even when life kicks him in the teeth. In wanting to recapture the glory days of his youth, he recruits his old school mates (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan) to return to their hometown of Newton Haven. While there, Gary wants to run The Golden Mile, a 12-bar pub crawl that he and his friends attempted as teenagers. Though the others are reluctant, Gary is determined to see it through to the bitter end and he isn't going to let a little thing like strange bio-mechanical humanoids (called 'Blanks') stand in his way.
"The World's End" starts out with a funny character comedy about a man who absolutely refuses to take responsibility for himself and turns into a dark, violent, humorous tale of friendship, humanity, and the consequences of rash, hasty and irresponsible decisions. While the main story, at first, does seem out of place among the character arcs, it actually makes sense when you think about it from the perspective of a man searching for meaning in a life that has, up to that point, been meaningless. The ending, while bittersweet in the grand scheme of things, is a satisfying conclusion to the arcs of all the main characters, especially Gary himself.
Simon Pegg pulls off a wonderful turn as the black duster-wearing manchild Gary King. At first glance, King's loud, obnoxious, rude and self centered behavior seems to be nothing more than a simple departure from Pegg's normal act of being the quiet, unassuming everyman. But once the movie moves further in, you get hints of something resembling a real live human being and not just that wacky guy everyone knew in high school. Pegg hits every moment out of the park. When he's called on to be funny, he's hilarious. When he needs to show the true and utter desperation Gary tries to hide, he can be heartbreaking, especially in a penultimate scene.
Nick Frost gives a terrific performance as Andy, Gary's best mate and everyman foil. The key to Andy's character is a desire to distance himself from influences that nearly killed him, Gary included. When he finds Gary told a particularly despicable lie to get him to return to Newton Haven, Andy is absolutely livid to the point that not even blue-blooded machines laying dead at his feet registers as anything other than an annoyance. He's not just mad that Gary lied, he's angry at himself for being suckered by his own sentimentality. More importantly, he's mad because there's a part of him that missed and cares for Gary even after everything he's done.
While this is mainly Gary's story, the supporting characters are given their own arcs which are woven seamlessly throughout the film. Notable to mention are Steven's (Paddy Considine) crush on Sam (Rosamund Pike), and Peter's (Eddie Marsan) trauma with school yard bullying. While Oliver (Martin Freeman) doesn't seem to have a character arc per se, he's far from pointless as he serves to give off laughs as a stuffy comic relief, he ties into the menace of the main plot line. Also, Pike's turn as Sam may seem a bit Damsel-ish, she is nowhere near helpless as she manages to hold her own in fights with the Blanks.
As far as the antagonists, The Network comes off as truly menacing, despite their seemingly benevolent intentions. Their eerily fluid movements, their soft spoken manner, the way they light up when they attack, even their overall goal has touches of creepy brilliance to it. However, in the climax of the movie, I find that the Network is a lot more human than they think, especially when encountered by a being as confounding as Gary King.
The writing in this movie is par for the course with a Pegg/Wright collaboration: Rapier wit mixed with humor both crude and subtle. While this does feel like a much darker movie than Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz, the writing doesn't beat you over the head with oppressive bleakness, especially when there are points where they could've. There's a lot of subtext in this movie for those with an eye for detail and themes. There is literally no wasted moment in this film at all.
"The World's End" is the third and final film in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's "Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy" and I have to say, it's probably one of the best swan songs for a trilogy I've seen in recent memory. Each movie is terrific in its own right and as commentaries on how to be yourself without being too much of a screw-up.