Film Review: The World’s End

The World's End: the 'gang' lined up at the bar downing lager.

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.

9 thoughts on “Film Review: The World’s End”

  1. iron­i­cal­ly enough rewatched it (think it was a fiv­er from Tesco) on Sat­ur­day night with my son and his mate (both 15) — I think it’s good fun espe­cial­ly when Bill Nighy’s supreme being realis­es he can’t change humans. I have known one or two Garys — won­der if they’re still alive…

    1. The first two pubs they vis­it real­ly are the most accu­rate por­tray­al of the aver­age con­tem­po­rary Eng­lish booz­er we’ve seen on screen.

  2. I have to watch it again. It made me think of the vic­to­ry lap crawl I would take in my high school town but then won­dered who would care that much? I left my school of 2000 and town of 13000 along with most pals because it was a bit of a dull fac­to­ry town – under­wear mak­ing if you must know – so am not sure I asso­ciate with the emo­tion­al invest­ment that dri­ves the non Sci-Fi nar­ra­tive. And do pubs real­ly look that ster­ile?

    1. In my opin­ion, the aver­age town-cen­tre pub looks pret­ty much like those in the film. When a pub is grot­ty and/or char­ac­ter­ful (fine line between the two…) it’s notice­able these days.

    2. In the film, nobody but Gary actu­al­ly wants to do the crawl. A lot of the com­e­dy of the first half of the film is about mid­dle-aged men reliv­ing their lost youth.

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