“The World’s End” is a real pub in London’s Camden Town. Talking to director-writer Edgar Wright, writer-actor Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost about their genre-mashup-postcard-from-now follow-up to “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” Wright says, “Well, that’s what it’s based on. That is somewhere that we all—I still live in North London—but we all had a connection to that bar at one point. I used to meet Simon there before we went to the cinema, Simon and Nick used to drink in there, Simon had his first date with his wife in The World’s End.” Frost adds dryly, “I fell off the wagon in there.”
“And the name of it always stayed with me,” Wright continues, “So when we came up with the idea of this film, it was always, it’s gotta be ‘The World’s End,’ that’s gotta be the name of it.” Pegg says, “It has the smelliest toilets anywhere.” “The toilets are pretty bad,” Wright says. “It’s a direct sort of sense memory,” Pegg says. “If you want to conjure The World’s End.” The movie’s comedy is serious and sad, but also filled with wild surprises (several of which are tipped in the trailers and television ads), but its beating heart is a lifelong reprobate, Gary King (Pegg) whose life has been a mess and his present goal is to induce his mates (Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman) to complete a twelve-pub crawl in their home village of Newton Haven they got halfway through in their youth. “It is our basic human right to be a fuckup” is an assertion late in the movie, but it’s a motto all the way from the time-tripping prologue, to be sure.
As with the earlier hand of Wright-Pegg scripts, starring Pegg and Frost, many wheels are turning but bright dialogue is also burning a hole through the film’s many pockets. Like other movies that gain traction as the years move along, a Wright-Pegg script never lacks for quotable lines. They’re often fantastic in context, especially in delivery, but the words still pale when friends launch them at one another. “Get in your rocket and fuck-off back to Legoland” is a sturdy equal to “Aw, fuck off, ya big lamp.”
The script is savvy throughout about the grim mist of nostalgia and how Gary King is stuck in place because of it, looking for the moment to weep over “all that promise and fucking optimism.” The low and high merge bumptiously at any given moment, and the swearing, while comic and calibrated, is near ubiquitous. Gary’s greeting to his mates, arriving late at the train station, is quintessential: “Look at these cunts!” I didn’t have the gall to walk into the interview greeting the trio of longtime mates that way. “Maybe it’s because, as a word,” Pegg says, “It still retains a certain mystique here, more than it does at home. It sounds odd in an American accent. It sounds worse in an American accent than in a British one.” It’s a hard “K.” “A mean K,” Pegg amends.
Gary King, Wright says, “We’d like to think of him as Withnail, Randle McMurphy and the Tasmanian Devil.” “And the Fonz,” Pegg says. “The dark Fonz!” Wright adds. You could have a great welter of pity for him, but he is a force. His delusions and his energy, you admire at some point, and the movie does several incredible transformations on his behalf. “He’s a meticulously constructed personality,” Pegg says. “By himself! To the point where his psychosis is so well developed that he actually believes the lies he’s telling, y’know. And it’s because he’s got this carapace of self-confidence. He’s so armored against his own sort of illness.” The great gift of “The World’s End” is not only does King (and the film) rise above the pointed description and critique of middle-age malaise and grown-ups’ denial, it rockets past them toward another kind of movie that’s still inventive and hilarious. Which means I’ve described only about forty minutes of the movie: surprise is a sweet treat all the way to “The World’s End.” (Ray Pride)
“The World’s End” opens Friday, August 23.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.