Three Treats to the Wind, by David Bax
So a Cornetto is a frozen ice cream treat, sold in the United Kingdom, that would appear to be rather similar to our Drumstick-brand frozen desserts here in the United States. Cornettos come in a variety of different flavors, each of which bears a different color on its packaging. Examples include the original (blue), strawberry (red) and mint (green) flavors.
If you’re wondering why I’m beginning my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End with a description of British processed food products, you clearly haven’t been strolling in the same fanboy-infested corners of the internet that I have. Well, for the most part, good for you. However, though you’ve avoided numerous unnecessary flame wars and are likely blissfully unaware of what Godwin’s Law is, you may not be aware that Edgar Wright’s previous collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with this new one, form a loose thematic triptych which is often referred to as the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.”
2004’s Shaun of the Dead was a comedic riff on the zombie genre. 2007’s more blatantly parodic Hot Fuzz took on overblown action tropes. The World’s End finds its inspiration in science fiction. Each references a different Cornetto color. Strawberry red is for blood, original blue is for the uniforms worn by police and mint green is for aliens.
The World’s End begins with Gary (Pegg) speaking in some unidentified sort of support group, telling the story of his happiest memory. Twenty years previous, he and four of his mates had set out to complete The Golden Mile, a twelve-stop pub crawl through the center of their quiet hometown. They never completed it but the experience was something close to magical for him. Inspired by his own recollections, Gary sets out to recruit the gang and try to complete the pub crawl again. With some coaxing Gary, Andrew (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) return to the town in which they grew up to find it both eerily similar and subtly but undeniably changed.
In the first act of Shaun of the Dead, Wright dropped clever clues, nods toward zombie movie conventions that hinted at what we were about to see. Hot Fuzz announces itself as an action flick pretty much immediately. The World’s End, however, is so grounded in its characterizations and does such a great, subtle job of illustrating more than two decades of history shared among its core players that you could be forgiven if, like me, you managed to forget there was going to be a science fiction element at all. On the surface, the shift into genre is world-altering when it arrives. Astoundingly, though, Wright doesn’t lose sight of the relationships that are the film’s center. In fact, the heightened stakes catalyze the conflicts toward resolution.
That method of introduction is not the only standout demarcation between The World’s End and the previous two Cornetto films. Though plenty of people are killed in both of those entries, Wright maintained a humanistic optimism. It would be wrong to say this new work is pessimistic but it definitely contains a heavy sadness that is new to Wright. His humanism remains intact but it takes a different form. Perhaps Wright, like Gary, is learning that no matter how much fun he’s had up to now, he is still getting older and outgrowing his youthful dalliances.
Don’t get the impression that The World’s End is a downer, though. If this is Wright’s last hurrah before entering a more leveled, mature middle period, he’s not going out quietly. Clearly taking lesson learned from his (career best to date) previous film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright pulls no punches – figuratively or literally – in designing innovative and exciting fight choreographies that are as thrilling as they are hilarious. One centerpiece sequence in which Gary fights off robots while just trying to get one sip from his pint is worthy of obvious inspiration Jackie Chan. Meanwhile, the characters are just as dexterous verbally as they are physically. Gary in particular is like a garden hose of swollen verbiage that betrays the battling egoism and insecurity of his psyche.
The World’s End is the completion of a trilogy of films that riff on long-established genres and feature Cornetto packaging prominently. But it’s also the completion of a three-part tale about late-blooming adulthood. Shaun of the Dead features a man learning to take responsibility in life. Hot Fuzz features a man learning to settle down. And The World’s End features a man learning that, by waiting so long to become an adult, he’s growing old before he had a chance to be a grown-up. Sad as that may be, the film lends some hope that maturity might just be the beginning of a new chapter. There are possibilities for growth not just for Gary but for Edgar Wright as well. The World’s End is a fantastic film. I can’t wait for him to top it.