Update: Sorry this one is late. Stuff happened.
So, most of you who read regularly may have noticed that I have a full-on heavy-duty man-crush on Edgar Wright. He’s my go-to guy for proving that most people don’t want quality films, by pointing out that, until Baby Driver, he didn’t have a movie crack $100 million, despite them being some of the most clever and thought-out movies I’ve ever watched. Because of the amount of detail put into the films and the layers of storytelling, imagery, and dialogue, Edgar Wright makes the most consistently re-watchable films I’ve ever seen. I’ve probably seen Hot Fuzz as many times as I’ve watched epics like The Godfather, classics like Ghostbusters, and cinematic marvels like Jurassic Park, because I always find something new to love about the film. He’s like Kubrick, except I don’t think he would murder me if we met in real life, until I refused to ever stop hugging him.
The World’s End was the last entry in the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” beginning with Shaun of the Dead and continuing through Hot Fuzz. The movies all star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (actually, a lot of the cast is the same), they’re character dramas hidden within the framework of a classic genre film (in this case, alien invasion), and they’re all about perpetual adolescence, though I think this one hits that theme hardest.
I’m inevitably going to do the other two movies, probably next week because I now have it stuck in my head, but this was the one that got requested, so I’ll do it first.
The film starts with Gary King (Simon Pegg, Thomas Law as teen), recounting his high-school years. He was part of a five-man group, consisting of himself, Peter Page (Eddie Marsden, James Tarpey as teen), Oliver “O-man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman, Luke Bromley as teen), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine, Jasper Levine as teen), and his best friend Andy Knightley (Nick Frost, Zachary Bailess as teen). In their senior year, the group attempted to conquer “The Golden Mile” by having one pint of beer in each of the 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven.
As Gary recounts it, the group slowly lost focus and never did succeed, quitting after the ninth pub, with Gary watching the sunrise, seeing a shooting star, and thinking that life would never quite be as good as it was that night. It then shifts to the adult Gary talking to a support group of some kind, who confirms that, indeed, his entire life has never again been as fulfilling as it was that night in Newton Haven. Another member of the group asks if Gary is disappointed that he didn’t finish the “Golden Mile,” to which Gary says that he isn’t. However, the look on his face clearly says otherwise, before becoming contemplative and then, finally, happy at having figured out what he’s going to do.
During the opening sequence, it’s shown that while Gary’s friends are all now successful, Gary himself is living in a tiny, trashy apartment and dressing like he did in high school. Gary visits each of them in turn, trying to convince all of them to join him again in completing the “Golden Mile.” He ends up succeeding through a hastily-crafted series of lies, including telling each member that the others had already agreed and that his mother has just died. It’s notable that Gary tends to use information from the previous person to manipulate the next one, clearly approaching them in order of perceived resistance. Andy, who used to be Gary’s closest friend, is the most resistant, due to some undisclosed incident in the past, but he finally gives in.
As the five make their way to Newton Haven, it becomes more apparent that Gary is basically trying to live the same life he has since High School. He wants to have a good time and doesn’t particularly care for anything more responsible. He still drives the “same” car, the Beast, though, through his monologue, he reveals that literally everything in the vehicle has been replaced at some point. He even has kept the title in his friend Peter’s name for more than 20 years, updating it periodically to ensure that Peter had to pay for all of his tickets. Gary also is apparently doing some form of drugs, as he admits to snorting something on the toilet when he’s worried that the police will find it. When they actually reach the town and start the trip, Gary still has the same map from the original trip.
At the initial stop, “The First Post,” Gary makes a speech about how it’s a quaint pub that used to be a post office, only to go inside and find a generic pub that has been recently refurbished. Gary tries to find nostalgia in it, even though the others make it clear that it used to look absolutely nothing like this. The four have their first drink, aside from the teetotalling Andy, then make their way to the next pub.
At pub two, “The Old Familiar,” they enter only to find that it’s identical to the last pub, due to the “Starbuck-ification” of the UK. The group is joined by Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Steven has a crush on and who Gary had sex with in the bathroom of the same pub back on the original pub crawl. Gary tries to get in Sam’s pants again but fails due to being Gary. Sam leaves and the group heads out.
At “The Famous Cock,” they run into Basil (David “I am also Doctor Who” Bradley), the conspiracy theorist of Newton Haven, but he avoids talking to them. Gary is then thrown out due to his behavior at the pub on the original crawl. While everyone else says that 11 pints is still enough, Gary secretly combines three leftover beers he finds outside into a pint and downs it.
At “The Cross Hands,” most of the group wants to abandon Gary after he callously ignores them talking about actual problems and keeps trying to re-live his glory days. Eventually, as they’re about to leave, Gary heads to the bathroom, leaving his phone. They answer it, finding out it’s from his mother, who he had told them had recently died of cancer. In the toilet, Gary sees that there’s still a hole in the wall from the original crawl. A high-schooler joins him but ignores Gary’s attempts to talk about the past. Gary, angry, shoves him, but the boy responds by grabbing Gary by the face and trying to knock him out. Gary fights back and ends up decapitating the boy, who is revealed to be filled with a blue ink-like substance. The head continues to move.
Andy suddenly comes in, pissed at Gary for his lies, ignoring the headless body. A group of other high-schoolers enter and attack the five, resulting in a fight which has Gary and his court emerge victorious. They attempt to call out to talk about what happened but find that their attempts are blocked. The Network is down. The five realize that this is why everything about the town has been so strange and no one seemed to remember them: Everyone has been replaced by robots. Everyone but Gary wants to head back to London, but Gary says that them quitting the crawl will look suspicious. They end up continuing the pub crawl.
As they make their way to “The Good Companions,” it’s apparent that many people throughout the town are now watching them. They enter, drain their beers quickly (including Andy, who is now drinking), and leave. At the next pub, “The Trusty Servant,” Oliver heads to the toilet as Gary approaches Reverend Green (Michael Smiley), his former drug dealer. Green tells them that the things in the town are NOT robots, because “robot” means slave, and they’re not slaves. They’re confronted by two more “not-robots” who try to silence Green, only for Green to eventually be told by a voice that he has a call. After answering it sadly, Green bitterly says “thanks” to the group and heads to the bathroom, where Oliver emerges. They continue on the crawl.
At “The Two Headed Dog,” much of the town’s pretense has been dropped, as the bartender now not only knows their names, but also seemingly everything they’ve said to a “not-robot” throughout the crawl. They discuss that they need a new term for the “not-robots” and they end up adopting the word “Blank” due to not coming up with a better term. Sam arrives with her friends The Twins (Kelly and Stacey Franklin), who she says have been acting weird. Gary tries to explain to her what’s happened, but she doesn’t believe him. However, when Sam tells the Twins what he said, they react poorly, leading her to believe it’s true. Gary appears and attacks them, pulling off one’s head to prove the point.
The Twins attack Gary and Sam, but Gary fights them off. Steven emerges to confess his feelings to Sam, but is interrupted by the Twinbot, which is one twin with the other’s legs for arms. Steven and Gary defeat the Twinbot, rejoin the group, and head off to “The Mermaid.”
At “The Mermaid,” Steven is abducted by Basil, who reveals that he’s never been replaced because he prevents the Blanks from ever getting his DNA sample that they need to make a copy of him. Basil tells Steven that the Blanks actually arrived in the shooting star that Gary saw at the end of the original crawl. Meanwhile, three Blanks who are in the form of the hottest girls from high school (Sophie Evans, Samantha White, and Rose Reynolds) seduce Gary, Peter, and Andy. One even swallows Andy’s wedding ring, though he’s recently separated.
Basil explains that the Blanks don’t want to replace people if they can help it and, in fact, are genuinely nicer and better than most humans but, unless you agree to comply with their plans, they replace you. Basil refuses to tell Steven what happens to the people who get replaced before disappearing. Steven relays the information to the group, now including Sam, however, it becomes apparent that the Blanks aren’t omniscient when they produce a copy of a citizen who died a few years back in Italy. They leave for the next pub.
At “The Beehive,” they are met by Mr. Shepherd (Pierce “I’m here because Dalton isn’t and they still needed a Bond” Brosnan), their old teacher. He explains that the Blanks have been replacing people because they want to bring Earth up to a sufficient level of civilization to allow Earth to join a Network of planets which cooperate and interact. Oliver seems to agree with Shepherd until Andy notices that Oliver now has a birthmark that he had previously removed and punches the top of his head off. Seeing that Oliver is actually now a Blank, the group attacks Shepherd, before they’re attacked by a swarm of Blanks from the bar. Andy, having reached his breaking point, hulks out, grabs two barstools and starts smashing every head he can find. During the fight, Gary manages to finish his ninth pint, matching his record from the original crawl. After beating all of the Blanks, the group is met with yet another wave of the same Blanks, including a replaced Shepherd.
The remaining five members split up and escape, planning on reuniting at the smoke house, a shack at The Bowls Club where they used to get high. Gary runs off with Sam, putting her in her car and telling her to get out of the town, while he rejoins the others. Sam drives off as the Blanks stop trying to look human, instead having glowing hands and faces. Gary makes it to the shack where Peter, Steven, and Andy are waiting for him.
Inside, everyone is suspicious of Gary but, after realizing that they can use birthmarks and scars as identifiers, the group prove to each other that they’re real. It’s revealed that Andy and Gary’s relationship soured after Gary overdosed on drugs, drove him to the hospital while drunk, rolled the car, and almost died from the crash while Gary ran off to avoid getting in trouble. Gary refuses to show his scars on his arms, instead smashing his head into a beam to produce blood as proof. The four remaining friends leave, only for Gary to lead them towards the next pub.
On the way, Peter meets the Blank of his former bully, Shane (Darren Boyd), and Peter uses the opportunity to beat the living crap out of him, resulting in his capture. Gary refuses to quit the pub crawl, resulting in Andy knocking him out and carrying him. Andy and Steven try to get to Gary’s car, but they have to cut through the tenth pub, “The King’s Head.” They rest briefly in the bar, only for Gary to wake up and drink his tenth pint. Gary says that “ten pubs isn’t bad,” but then throws Andy his keys and makes a run for it. Andy throws the keys to Steven and follows Gary as he makes it to the next pub.
At “The Hole in the Wall,” Andy fights his way through a crowd of Blanks to join Gary, who finishes his 11th pint and marks it off the list. As they are surrounded, Steven drives through the wall of the bar. Steven gets overwhelmed by Blanks and Andy follows Gary out of a window. Gary makes it all the way to “The World’s End,” the final pub, with Andy in pursuit, though Andy stops briefly to retrieve his wedding ring from the Blank that swallowed it. Gary finds a pint already poured for him, but Andy smacks it out of his hand. Andy finally confronts Gary over all of his betrayal, revealing that it wasn’t the car crash or any of the drugs, it was that Andy got better and became an adult, but Gary didn’t. Andy wanted to keep following Gary through life, but Gary never actually got a life.
Gary challenges Andy about what a happy life actually feels like, but Andy says that his life is far from perfect, as his wife has now taken his kids and he knows he can’t win her back. It’s then revealed that Gary had recently tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists and was committed. However, he hated being told what to do by the program there, preferring the freedom of his youth.
It never got better, Andy. It never got better than that night. It was supposed to be the beginning of my life. All that promise and fucking optimism. That feeling that we could take on the whole universe. It was a big lie. NOTHING HAPPENED!
Gary tries to get his last pint, but upon pulling the lever, the bar sinks underground and the pair are confronted by The Network (Bill Nighy), a disembodied voice. The Network speaks to Gary as the representative of the human race, humorously sounding like he’s calling him “Gary, King of the humans” as opposed to “Gary King, of the humans.” The Network explains that the plan is to replace a small percentage of the population to spread the Gospel of the Network, so that the planet will be able to be part of the Galactic Community. It’s revealed that, if you agree to join, you are given the option of being young again, with only your happy memories. Gary is met with his younger self, who he quickly kills, saying “there’s only one Gary King.”
The Network threatens him, but Gary challenges the Network, asking it who it is to tell the Human Race what to do. The Network calls Humanity children, but Andy counters that, children or not, helping someone requires their consent, otherwise it’s just controlling them. The Network tells them that this attitude is exactly why Earth is the least civilized planet in the entire galaxy and it enables Earth to constantly repeat avoidable cycles of self-destruction. Steven rejoins the pair, having survived, and agrees with the duo about resisting the assimilation. It’s revealed that the Network has not been particularly successful at dealing with Earth, having had to replace basically everyone in the town, with the rest being turned into organic fertilizer. The trio keep rebuffing the Network until the Network asks them what they want, at which point Gary quotes The Wild Bunch:
We wanna be free. We wanna be free, to do what we want to do and we want to get loaded and we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we’re gonna do.
The Network then gives up and leaves the planet to its own devices. The Blanks all power down but the Network starts to overload. The group runs away but still are going to be caught in the blast radius, until Sam returns with her car, allowing them to narrowly outrun the explosion.
The end is narrated by Andy. After the explosion, there was a pulse that apparently sent humanity back to the Dark Ages. There were a lot of casualties, including Gary’s mother, but Andy tries to look on the bright side as he gets back with his wife. He says he doesn’t miss any processed foods, but he sees a Cornetto wrapper and looks desperate to eat one. The Blanks woke up and face discrimination, though they now have no connection to the Network. Peter’s blank replaced Peter with his family and Oliver’s Blank took over Oliver’s business. Steven and Sam got together.
Though Andy doesn’t know what happened to Gary, the film shows Gary walking through the post-apocalyptic landscape accompanied by the younger Blanks of his companions. He walks into yet another pub called “The Rising Sun,” which has a sign out front that says “No Blanks.” Gary orders five waters, but the bartender refuses to serve the Blanks. Gary says that they’re on a quest, then orders five waters again. The bartender moves to grab a weapon, but Gary draws a broadsword and gets into fighting formation with his companions. When asked who the hell he thinks he is, Gary ends the movie with the line:
They call me The King.
I think this movie, more than the other two Cornetto films, deserves to be represented, because it was the most overlooked. Part of that is because it came out at the same time as another two movies that were also Apocalypse comedies, This is the End and Rapture-Palooza, and part of it is that it just wasn’t marketed well. Honestly, if it hadn’t been by Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg, I wouldn’t have seen it in the theater, and even when I did, I didn’t get as much out of it as Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. And that’s really the main thing that I think hurt this movie: It’s much better on the second or third viewing than the first. On the first, you miss too many things that later become amazing jokes or character moments, because you’re still trying to follow the story and who dropped what zinger in the last conversation. The movie is a lot denser in its humor than the other two films, so it’s more important to already have an idea of what the plot is.
Now, to help with this, the Cornetto Trilogy films are huge on foreshadowing. In Shaun of the Dead, Nick Frost’s character Ed describes what he and Shaun (Pegg) are going to do the next day, which ends up being a humorous description of the movie’s plot. Additionally, Shaun outlines the plan for dealing with the attack multiple times, the TV broadcast humorously tells the audience what’s happening, and they even meet a mirror of Shaun’s group that show the decisions Shaun should have made. In Hot Fuzz, the entire first half of the movie is setting up callbacks for the last act, and the many action film scenarios that Danny (Frost) proposes to Sgt. Angel (Pegg) later come into play in the finale.
In this film, this is turned up to 11, because not only does Gary’s opening monologue basically describe the events of the later crawl (including when they meet Sam, when they lose Oliver and Peter, and where they go to escape the Blanks), but each of the pub names and signs reflects what happens in the pub. This served two purposes: First, it makes it easier for the audience to follow what happens with less exposition and, second, it drives home the point that Gary hasn’t changed between the two crawls.
As to the signs, that could literally be its own essay. Most of them have at least two meanings, and the ones with Blue paint on them are the ones where they fight Blanks. My favorite ones are “The Mermaid,” which depicts the hair colors of the girls who seduce the group, like how mermaids seduced sailors, and “The King’s Head,” because it’s actually a portrait of Simon Pegg.
The theme of the film, like with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is perpetual adolescence, though it’s much more direct in this one since the point of Gary King’s character is that he hasn’t ever changed. He goes out of his way to try and be the same person since high school, even keeping his wardrobe and car. Due to the many changes that he’s made, The Beast is much like the fabled Ship of Theseus: If every part of it has been replaced, is it still the same car? Well, Gary says yes.
Gary equates his inability to finish “The Golden Mile” with his inability to ever actually finish anything. That might seem ridiculous, but I’m not really allowed to say anything about it, since I literally started this blog to finish “The 100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time” list as a way of trying to move onto the next phase of my life after having it massively derailed. Sometimes the best way to move on is to find something you can accomplish that can represent what you’re really failing at, so you can stop being so afraid of failing.
I love Pegg’s portrayal in the film, and I think it nailed what Wright was going for. Gary is likeable, even lovable, but he’s never respectable, and he shouldn’t be respected. He’s complete Id, with almost no self-control or self-reflection. He just wants freedom. The problem is that total freedom is, as the Network correctly points out, basically just self-destruction. The Network, in contrast, is the ultimate Superego, a social standard brutally and completely imposed upon the individuals.
The movie goes out of the way to contrast Gary and the Network/Blanks, though my favorite contrast actually comes from the Robot/Boo-Boo conversations. The Blanks don’t like being called “robots” because the word robot is derived from a Czech term for serf or forced laborer, which they summarize as “slave.” This is despite the fact that the word “Robot” itself was coined by Karel Čapek in his play “R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)” and has since been used to identify artificial lifeforms or mechanisms capable of carrying out autonomous actions, without necessarily meaning that such life is enslaved.
In contrast to this, Gary says the phrase “Let’s Boo-Boo” when he wants to leave. He explains that it was a reference to the stage direction from A Winter’s Tale, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” It then became “Exit, pursued by Yogi Bear,” then “Let’s Yogi and Boo-Boo,” then, finally, “Let’s Boo-Boo.” The Blanks, and therefore the Network, do not believe in changing any more than Gary believes in changing himself, to the point that they hang on to the original and largely defunct meanings of words, rather than accepting that their meaning has changed over time. Gary, while he does, in fact, recognize that words change over time and for fun reasons, instead has just refused to drop the language from when he stopped changing, a sign of his stunted growth.
This is actually part of Wright’s adherence to traditional storytelling devices by having the antagonist mirrors the protagonist’s traits. In this case, Gary’s inability to grow and his selective memory are pretty much exactly what the Network is offering him: To be young again, with only his good memories. Basically, both sides are promising stagnation, and both sides are wrong. Not EQUALLY wrong, since Gary is just a shithead, not a mass-murderer, but they’re still both wrong. Life is about growth and change and some of the requisite trial-and-error for that growth is going to be error.
The end of the movie is significant because Gary orders a water, showing that he actually is trying to be sober and experience life, and that he’s moved onto the next part of his life. The fact that the pub is called “The Rising Sun” only drives that further home, signaling a new day for him.
Aside from Gary’s arc, part of the film also points out that by homogenizing or “Starbucking” everything, much of the charm and individuality of the small towns are being erased. While it’s most obvious when they enter “The Old Familiar,” most of the pubs on the crawl now look pretty much the same. They’ve been stripped of any nostalgia in favor of being “civilized.”
This is all without going into the amazing soundtrack, including The Doors’ cover of “Alabama Song, ” which was written by the father of Epic Theater, Bertolt Brecht. The characters names are all brilliant, as they are all references to court positions representing their place in the group. The cinematography is perfect, although it’s pretty similar to the other two Cornetto films, so it was expected. The detail put into the pubs, the dialogue, everything in this film was well done. It’s a shame it isn’t watched more.
I love this movie. It’s inspiring, it’s clever, it’s insightful, it’s witty, and it could fill an entire volume of analysis. Find a copy and watch it.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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