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MOVIE REVIEW
The World's End (2013)

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Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

“The World’s End” is the third part in a loose trilogy of films directed by Edgar Wright, which started with “Shaun of the Dead” and continued with “Hot Fuzz.” This new film is a sort-of sequel to “Shaun of the Dead,” both for the characters, who are taking refuge in a pub from hordes of zombie-like people, and for the filmmakers, representing a homecoming for the director after “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and for stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost after “Paul.” The characters in “The World’s End” are older and more world-weary, though, with the disappointments and missed opportunities of their lives pressing on their minds as they approach middle age.

Gary King (Mr. Pegg) was the coolest kid in school in the early 1990s, a young man at the prime of his life who was certain that the future would hold great things for him. Twenty years later, the fast-approaching-40 Gary hasn’t changed. He is desperately trying to keep memories of his past glories alive, and to do this he reunites his old school friends — including Andy (Mr. Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) — to return to their hometown and go on an epic pub crawl with him. The aim is to finish their drinking challenge, an event that was unfinished in their teenage years: ending their boozy trip at The World’s End pub.

All of these characters are at some kind of midlife crossroads and are confronted with unresolved matters from their past. One of these issues is Sam (Rosamund Pike), Oliver’s sister and a significant figure who stirs up lusty memories in Gary and feelings of a missed relationship opportunity in Steven. However, as the old friends try to reconcile their problems and come to terms with their lives, they discover that something is not right in the town, with things looking the same but feeling different. Soon, their homecoming celebration becomes a fight for survival against hordes of aliens, with the alcohol-fueled odyssey turning into a battle for survival.

A number of genre films in recent years — including “Man of Steel” — have opted to take a gloomy tone with very little humor. These films can feel like they’re subjecting the audience to a form of grim penance instead of sweeping them up in a breezy adventure, but thankfully “The World’s End” is very much the latter. It’s refreshing to see an escapist fantasy that’s both engaged with real-world issues in relation to British culture in general and British men in particular while still being funny and outrageous. “The World’s End,” like the previous collaborations between Messrs. Frost, Pegg and Wright, also indulges in the filmmakers’ love of their favorite Hollywood genre movies.

Mr. Wright keeps events moving along briskly, taking his characters from pub to pub without the narrative feeling episodic and allowing each character to have his or her moment, all while keeping the film light on its feet with the gags flying thick and fast even when events turn dark. Although there is a serious undercurrent to the proceedings, the film is always leavened with humor: The jokes aren’t used to cancel out the bleakness of the story, but to make the darkness bearable. “The World’s End,” like its main cinematic influence “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (both the 1956 and 1978 versions), is a film that stands up for the rights of the individual, however flawed, and casts a doubtful, nervous eye over the cult of conformity and the blandness that can result.

Once again, Messrs. Pegg and Frost are great fun, both as characters and actors, looking relaxed and in sync with each other on screen. At the same time, they’re also stretching themselves in their partnership: They play different types of characters across the films they’ve co-starred in. In this film, Mr. Pegg makes the fallen idol of Gary into a funny, annoying, pitiable and honorable person, often all in a single scene. Meanwhile, Mr. Frost conveys the pain of someone who wants to help Gary, but is also frustrated by his friend’s flippant attitude and willfully arrested development. The friendship between Mr. Pegg’s and Mr. Frost’s characters in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” was a key component that allowed audiences to warm to them and invest in their double act, and that element is present here.

The rest of the cast fit together very well. Mr. Freeman’s uptight property man is a fresh spin on his persona from the British version of “The Office,” while Messrs. Considine and Marsan look to be having a whale of a time, the fun and games allowing them to be more at ease on screen and giving audiences an opportunity to see a more comedic side to their often serious screen personas. The one main player that may be shortchanged is Ms. Pike, though, who is off screen for much of the second half of the film, with the lads’ alcoholic alien odyssey taking up the focus. This is a pity, as Sam is a cool, levelheaded character that can see through the men’s rose-tinted — and alcohol-brimming — glasses.

“The World’s End” is a quirky, uniquely British spin on the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” scenario of a unique individual taking a stand against a conformist group, and also tips its hat to other diverse cinematic influences, including “The Blues Brothers” and the Britain-set drama “Last Orders,” which similarly had a group of talented British actors playing friends reminiscing about their past with the pub as a significant element. “The World’s End” is chiefly a science fiction, though. While “Paul” was a more upbeat comedic tribute to the Hollywood science-fiction films that Messrs. Pegg and Frost loved as kids, their reunion with Mr. Wright for “The World’s End” is — as implied by the title — a darker tale: a grimly funny apocalyptic adventure that brings the Wright-Pegg-Frost film cycle full circle.

THE WORLD’S END

Opens on July 19 in Britain and on Aug. 23 in the United States.

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Simon Pegg and Mr. Wright; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Paul Machliss; music by Steven Price; production design by Marcus Rowland; costumes by Guy Speranza; produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Universal Pictures International (Britain) and Focus Features (United States). Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page) and Rosamund Pike (Sam Chamberlain).

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