With the release of The World’s End, a science-fiction comedy about five chums who reunite to tackle their hometown’s marathon pub crawl only to find out that the village has been taken over by robots, director Edgar Wright puts a cap on his so-called Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, which also features the genre-busting cult classics Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The name comes from the British dessert company Cornetto, whose prepackaged ice cream cones are referenced in all three films, but there are more similarities than that. Most obviously, each film takes the form of a popular genre and simultaneously celebrates and deconstructs its various tenets: Shaun of the Dead, of course, is a zombie horror that works just as well as a romantic comedy; Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop-comedy in the vein of Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys; and The World’s End is a sci-fi thriller cum comedy-drama that somewhat resembles a mix of The Big Chill and Philip Kaufman’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Though perfectly satisfying as genre exercises, each film presents a cogent yet subversively articulated worldview. Themes of provincial malaise (the small towns in Hot Fuzz and The World’s End), group behavior (the makeshift teams in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End), media consumption (the TV news broadcasts in Shaun of the Dead, the surveillance footage in Hot Fuzz), and societal conformity (the zombies in Shaun of the Dead, the robots in The World’s End) abound. Presenting these serious-minded ideas amid such inane settings would seemingly undercut their resonance, but the opposite is true. Wright’s themes gel magnificently with his cartoonish milieus, so much that each seemingly incongruous element is contextualized in a new light. To be fair, Wright isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here—the zombie films of George Romero are as much social satire as they are gory thrillers—but the energy and formal creativity on display renders even the most familiar material new again.
The danger of nostalgia—a latent theme in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and also Wright’s non-Cornetto film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World—takes center stage in The World’s End. Simon Pegg, who wrote the film (as well as Shaun and Fuzz) with Wright, stars as a booze-addicted burnout pushing 40 who drags his old high school mates—among then Nick Frost, who’s appeared in each Cornetto film as Pegg’s platonic love interest—back to their hometown. Pegg’s character yearns for his glory days as king of his high school, while his friends, who’ve made proper adult lives for themselves, are suspicious of reliving their youth, even for just an evening. Their reservations are justified when they learn evil robots intent on taking control of the human race have replaced everyone in town. Regardless, Pegg remains determined to finish the crawl.
The World’s End is in line with paranoid sci-fi thrillers like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and The Stepford Wives (1975), cultivating a sense of unease over the loss of identity and fear of an “other” that looks just like you. But the film is equally concerned with the postadolescent coming-of-age comedy nestled among the roving robots, mining genuine pathos from situations that, were it not for Wright’s sure handling of tone and atmosphere, would otherwise seem completely out of place. Ultimately, the greatest danger in the film isn’t change but the reluctance to embrace change. As it turns out, the world’s end isn’t exactly the worst thing.