By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Five blokes walk into a pub and more trouble than they can imagine in The World's End, another expertly twisted take on a well-worn genre from director Edgar Wright.
Capping a summer movie season when humanity was practically extinct every other weekend, Wright gives Armageddon a funnier name than even This Is the End did. What Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz did for zombie and cop flicks The World's End does for sci-fi fatalism, respecting its doomsday tropes while presenting them with cheeky wit and a refreshing strategy of sensory underload.
The fun begins with a pre-credits nostalgia trip to 1990, when five friends strutted through the quaint streets of Newton Haven with teenage invincibility. Their passage to manhood was intended to be completing the Golden Mile pub crawl, downing one pint of beer at each of a dozen bars, capped by a round at the World's End. Everyone passed out or dropped out before the quest's completion.
Fast-forward to present day, and failure to complete the Golden Mile still eats at Gary (Simon Pegg), whose name must be short for garrulous. Gary hasn't enjoyed the success and stability of his friends, whom he feels compelled to drag from respectability to another attempt at the Golden Mile. Nostalgia and dreams unrealized are a constant theme in The World's End, embellishing the humor with melancholy contrast.
But Newton Haven isn't what it used to be. Something's amiss, in a Stepford sort of way. People from childhood don't recognize them, and the pubs' burnished characters are now identical designs, like soulless franchises. It's representative of what has happened to the village, with bodies snatched by alien invaders and replaced by artificial beings with detachable appendages, India ink "blood" and halogen eyes.
The less revealed about why this is happening (and, of course, who it happens to) the better to enjoy Wright and Pegg's delightfully constructed screenplay, especially in its final pages. The World's End doesn't exist merely to shock or warn as science fiction typically does, but to make Pythonesque declarations of mankind's indomitable nature through irresponsible means: that the essence of life and survival may actually be found in a Soup Dragons ditty or a marmalade sandwich that, like the rest of The World's End, isn't what you think it is. Which makes it funnier.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.