The Tramp looks at the apocalyptic conclusion of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’.
In the USA everything is bigger. The landscape, the buildings, the food portions… I think the sheer size of everything in the USA creeps into the conception of Hollywood films. (Well, that and the deep pockets of the studios.) When zombies invade, they invade a shopping mall the size of a small town, or a lone house surrounded by cornfields so vast that they reach to both ends of the horizon. The police are always pitted against villains with more hardware than the army, while not being short of a rocket launcher or two themselves. When aliens land, they choose to dramatically level large national landmarks carved into mountain ranges or hide below ground in those vast cornfields I mentioned earlier, insidiously taking over townsfolk and rolling out their secret invasion via trucks large enough to make a Routemaster look tiny.
This sense of vastness somehow manages to cover up the inherent silliness of an awful lot of Hollywood movies. Or if not cover up precisely, at least provide some form of legitimacy to them. In scrunched-up old Blighty, however, big themes are more difficult to pull off – hence the risky tendency to come at these themes (and Hollywood plots in general) by means of send-up and leg-pull. But it’s in precisely this risky area that Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright have succeeded. It started in 2004 with Shaun of the Dead, in which a zombie apocalypse is experienced from Crouch End’s best pub. It was followed in 2007 by Hot Fuzz, in which a Big City cop blows shit up in a small sleepy village. Now, to complete the trilogy, comes The World’s End, in which aliens infiltrate the cultural wasteland of an English New Town.
If there is a common theme through this trilogy then it’s friendship. No matter what life throws at you – zombies, aliens, a fascist local parish council – no matter the women in your life, it’s your best mate who really loves you. He’s the one who’ll give up his life for you no matter how selfish, loser-like or uninterested he first appears. In Shaun, the best mate sacrifices himself so that Shaun can save the world and get the girl. In Fuzz, what’s holding the hero back is precisely his lack of a best mate. In The Worlds End, it’s the memory of happiness that a night out with your four male buds can give you, and the fact that no matter what water has passed under the bridge your best mates are still there for you.
Less exaltedly, the other common theme is pubs. In Shaun, the local pub was the sanctuary sought in light of a zombie apocalypse. In Hot Fuzz, the pub was the epicentre of police intelligence. The World’s End differs in having twelve pubs, with an epic pub crawl forming the spine of a plot in which the future of all of humanity is at stake.
As the trailer above proves, The World’s End is daft. Four mates attempt to finish a legendary pub crawl they first undertook when they were eighteen and end up confronting an alien infiltration. If Stephen King had written it, the aliens would have been child-stealing clowns who are actually spiders, but Pegg and Wright wrote it, so instead there are oodles of film and TV ‘homages’, lots of nostalgically great music (if you are, as they say, of a certain age). And it’s funny. Yes, funny.
What The World’s End most resembles is a lengthy episode of Spaced. Now, Spaced is one of my favourite TV comedies, which might tell you a lot about me, but it should also tell you that if you didn’t like Spaced you probably won’t like this. Equally, if you are one of those inexplicable Pegg haterz – if you resent or dislike the fanboy made good – then you really shouldn’t bother with this. He’s in his familiar manchild role here (albeit more of an obvious fuck-up, and with a most unflattering dyed-black bonce), so you can’t say you haven’t been warned. But personally I do like him. And I find it heartening that he, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright have managed to create two commercially and trans-Atlantically successful comedies, and look like following it up with a third. The World’s End works because it makes you laugh, which is after all what a comedy is supposed to do.
Of the trilogy I still find Shaun the most successful. Mostly, I think, because it was so beautifully self-contained. All of the action took place in small places and they eked out the comedic potential of a zombie apocalypse hitting Greater London really rather well. Grabbers and Attack the Block both recently tried and failed to do what Shaun did so effortlessly. The World’s End is far from flawless, but apart from Sacha Baron-Cohen as Borat, you’ll struggle to find TV comedy people translating their visions so soundly to the big screen.
Do the three films really make a trilogy? Is The World’s End a fitting farewell to what Shaun started? I think so. It takes themes from both its predecessors – the man child of Shaun, the community gone rotten of Fuzz – and brings them together. It has the Frost/Pegg friendship at its heart and it takes another big Hollywood blockbuster staple and successfully makes it very, very British. So if, like me, you liked Shaun and Fuzz, or if you just fancy a comedy that isn’t about Americans for a change, The World’s End is for you.