I remember being quite annoyed during my exile about the way that movies would somehow drift past me because I wasn’t in the Hidden City for the rare weeks the fleapit took a break from cartoons, but missing World’s End was a complete puzzle. It was something that ought to have been there for ages, but somehow I was never in a city where it was showing, and so I never got to see the end of the Cornetto Trilogy.
Until now, and I think it might have been better for me if I’d just gone on thinking that I’d missed something great. Shaun of the Dead was a legitimately great idea with solid execution and Hot Fuzz was a little marvel, so I was pretty much expecting the last one to be something special.
Mostly, it’s a Dr Who episode with a genuinely brave brave Simon Pegg performance wedged into it like the leg of a rusty bar stool. Simon Pegg’s Gary King is an irredeemable tool, and Pegg doesn’t pull any punches or give in to the impulse to make him anything but a complete arse. It’s as though someone had merged “Withnail" and “I" into one awful chimera with all of the drawbacks of both and none of the baroque charm of either.
Shaun of the Dead was dedicated to giving a British take on zombie movies, and Hot Fuzz gave us a British parody of all the cliches of American buddy cop movies. Worlds End is trying to give us a British take on apocalypse/monster invasion movies, and the first place it trips over itself is that Britain’s been doing the end of the world in its own way since I was in my crib. At certain times of the year, the world ends on British TV every Saturday evening at 7. But even without that, British SF writers have been turning Triffids and god knows what else loose on the British countryside since before I was born. So weird mysterious aliens taking over a small English village in secret for sinister purposes; that tale’s been told in every way it could be told. No surprises are left. Well, who knows? Maybe this was all a big revelation for Americans.
Mind you, the SF is not where the audience’s belief is being stretched to breaking point; the big challenge is getting us to buy into the idea that after 20 years of drunken knobbery, Gary can fetch up on his old friends’ doorsteps and flannel them into going on a pub crawl with him. In real life, Gary would have shown up at the rendezvous - late - to find the place full of tumbleweeds before he rolled off to get pissed - again - all on his own. Weirdly, if Simon Pegg had chickened out and made Gary a loveable scamp who kept bringing mischief and fun into his friends’ lives at unpredictable intervals, the whole movie would have made perfect sense. But instead Pegg doggedly shows us someone who thinks that he’s a loveable crazy scamp, but is actually just a complete arse. It’s a great performance, and it completely breaks the movie.