The following review contains spoilers.
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s third film together, amidst the giant robots and explosions, has something to say about pubs and their place in British culture.
In 1990, five young men celebrate finishing school by attempt and fail the legendary ‘Golden Mile’ twelve-pub crawl in their home town of Newton Haven, somewhere in the English Home Counties. As the years pass, their ‘leader’, Gary King (Pegg), becomes a drug addict, while the others go on to forge respectable professional careers. Then, more than 20 years later, King (who they all now hate) rounds them up with the intention of finishing the job. During its course, they realise the town has been taken over by bodysnatching aliens and do the only sensible thing: carry on drinking until the final pub, which is fittingly named The World’s End.
As a science-fiction comedy action movie, The World’s End is solid – better than Hot Fuzz, but not quite up there with Shaun of the Dead, or the TV series Spaced which threw Pegg and Wright together fifteen years ago. As a commentary on pubs and drinking, however, it is fascinating.
When the reunited gang arrive at the first pub on their crawl, they are disappointed to find that it has become rather bland and corporate. An accurate observation, but the punchline comes when they enter the second pub: it is exactly the same, down to the last faux-rustic chalkboard and cod-Victorian gewgaw.
Architect Stephen (Paddy Considine) calls this process ‘Starbucking’. Thereafter throughout the film, a parallel is drawn between the body-snatching aliens’ robot clones and high street chains, both of which take over and improve the shell at the expense of the ‘soul’.
This isn’t small-is-good, shop local, individualist propaganda, though: under the control of the aliens, people are nicer and less violent, and the town is fundamentally more functional. Similarly, the idealised robot landlord (Mark Heap) the sinister invaders create for one pub on the crawl is too good to be true: chatty, smiling, glass-polishing, beervangelising perfection.
“…nutty, foamy, with a surprisingly fruity note which lingers on the tongue.”
This is one of the few films we have seen where the protagonists are improved by drunkenness. They become more open and honest with each other and only when legless are they able to resolve the decades’ worth of tensions between them and become real friends again. Beer gives them back their lost youth. It also makes them stronger, and Nick Frost’s character in particular is a kind of Incredible Hulk figure whose super-powers are only unleashed when he finally downs a pint of lager. Lots of people think they are skilled martial artists when drunk, but these ordinary men really do become butt-kicking action heroes under the influence of booze.
The film’s final message is that we, as a culture, have the choice between authentically human (unreliable, chaotic, dirty, stumbling drunk) or efficiently corporate (bland, dead-eyed, ‘perfect’, and sober). Whether you think the film has a happy ending or not will depend on your preference.
The World’s End was released on DVD in November last year.