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The World's End

(2013) *** 1/2 R
109 min. Focus Features. Director: Edgar Wright. Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, David Bradley.

/content/films/4573/1.jpgYou can go home again. But it's going to involve a lot of drinking. That's the starting point of The World's End, the latest film from the most exciting team in film comedy today. The World's End completes a loose collection of films (dubbed "the Cornetto Trilogy") begun with 2004's Shaun of the Dead and continued in 2007's Hot Fuzz. Edgar Wright directed all three pictures, and co-wrote them with star Simon Pegg, while actor Nick Frost serves as a consistent featured co-star. Shaun of the Dead was a romantic zombie comedy, and "cult" comedy Hot Fuzz riffed on The Wicker Man. What exactly The World's End is you'll have to find out for yourself, but the story does engage with familiar "genre" elements.

Pegg plays Gary King, a ferociously upbeat fellow who's obviously overcompensating for self-doubt and the gravity of middle age. Clad in his same old overcoat and Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, Gary makes the rounds of his old friends to convince them to make the rounds together, in a pub crawl of home town Newton Haven's "Golden Mile." "Five guys, twelve pubs, fifty pints," he enthuses, displaying more energy than math skills. What could go wrong?

Reluctantly, the gang gets back together, ruefully exchanging concerns about Gary's unreliability and insistence on reliving what he sees as high-school glory days. Andy (Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) have moved on to what Gary dismissively calls "your houses and your cars and your wives and your job security." Gary hasn't shown commitment to women or work, but he will finish this pub crawl or die trying—a distinct possibility once the nostalgia-themed comedy breaks out into science-fiction action.

That all five men have a vague, perhaps even unconscious dissatisfaction with their lives sets the tone for this most thematically sophisticated entry in the still obstinately guy-centric "Cornetto Trilogy." Wright has a knack for pressing points through lightning-quick quips and action, here engaging in the thorniness of nostalgia met with middle-aged disillusionment.

As Oliver's seldom-seen sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) puts it, "Everything's the same, but sort of different," an apt description both of the town and the film's heroes, who have slowly allowed themselves to be drained of their youthful personality. One of the film's most poignant visuals, in its weird way, comes with its first elaborately choreographed fight scene, when middle-age must literally and figuratively brawl with youth.

When Gary insists, "It's not us that's changed! It's the town!" he's at least half right. Gary rails against conformity and the misguided quest for unattainable perfection, which would, of course, be downright inhuman. Though he comes off as selfish (a perception aided by his hilariously annoying verbal tics), Gary wants the best for his friends. He wants them to live, love, laugh and be happy. In the funny, thrilling, and thoughtful The World's End, apocalypse may be inevitable, but better to meet it as your best self, and amongst friends.

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