As befits the final film in the "Cornetto" trilogy, The World's End is a genre mash-up with a thematic focus on friendship and extended adolescence. Just like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, its distinctively English comic approach to genre works brilliantly throughout. But it adds a little something - it is darker, deeper, more resonant and moving.
Written by leads Simon Pegg and Nick Frost alongside director Edgar Wright, the story follows five late thirtysomething friends from the Southern English town of Newton Haven as they return home for another go at the "Golden Mile", the legendary pub crawl they last attempted as teenagers. The whole thing is the idea of Gary King (Pegg, better than he has ever been), who still dresses, talks and thinks as he did back then. He rounds up the old gang, all of them having moved on with their lives - Oliver (Martin Freeman) a slick estate agent, Peter (Eddie Marsan) a car salesman, Stephen (Paddy Considine) a building contractor and Andy (Frost) a solicitor. They are reluctant, but out of a mixture of sentimental nostalgia and pity for Gary, they agree to return. Old tensions rise to the surface during their awkward crawl, however, before everything gets a lot weirder - Newton Haven seems to have undergone some sort of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers type of episode, and soon the five are fighting and running for their lives.
With an entire cast populated with excellent British comic actors, The World's End is strongly characterised throughout; this is crucial when the comedy subsides somewhat in the last act and the science fiction comes to the forefront. The five principals create a nice and believable group dynamic, each tension sensitively traced and nuanced, their shared memories perfectly judged in their mix of self-mythologising and rueful embarrassment.
But this is never a drama - it is always funny. There is a level of satire here, in the portrayal of a globalised world (cleverly referenced in the climax), loads of running gags and some brilliantly witty dialogue. The climax comes down to a very Douglas Adams argument between drunken men and a logical alien, and Wright knows how to put together an impressive action sequence on a relatively modest budget. Perhaps the only real disappointment here is that his direction feels somewhat muted after the tour-de-force of Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, but his storytelling is as seamless and powerfully simple as ever.
And any minor complaints should be balanced against how much more emotional and painful this film feels than the other "Cornetto" instalments. Gary King is a great comic creation, but there is a genuine melancholy to him too, and the other four "Musketeers" bring this out with delicacy and even some universality. The ending is dark too, but it feels earned and right somehow, without ever sacrificing laughs.