It's last orders for Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright who stage an apocalyptic pub crawl for the final part of an unofficial trilogy to follow Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. They do go out with a bang, if not quite the blast fans may be wishing for.
The chemistry between Pegg and Frost still fizzes, but at the same time, Pegg (who co-wrote the script) has created a character in Gary King who is one-note – always turned up to eleven. He bounces off the walls like an ADD-afflicted kid, eventually persuading the old gang from way back when to complete a pub crawl through leafy Newton Haven to finish at The World's End.
It is "unfinished business" for King who lives in the past, desperate to recapture the glory days that Wright brilliantly captures in a scrapbook introduction. This should set the pace for a fast and funny ride, but the first few pubs on 'The Golden Mile' lull you into a false sense of security – rattling along like one of those indie flicks where old pals reunite to gaze at their navels.
Then, bam! Wright pulls the rug out and silly sci-fi chaos ensues. Most of the gang (King's so-called "five musketeers") are comfortably ensconced in sensible jobs and so-so marriages, and are suddenly transformed into Matrix-style fighting machines. King demonstrates super ninja-like dexterity in one brawl, managing to fend off the enemy without spilling his pint.
Until this point, Frost is especially uptight as King's ex-besty Andrew who, after years of being sober, decides to jump back onto the wagon. Less well drawn are Martin Freeman's irritable estate agent, Eddie Marsan as a victim of bullying and Paddy Considine who competes with King for the affections of school hottie Sam (the incongruously posh Rosamund Pike).
Andrew may have been the more effective anchor for this story than King, just because the latter is difficult to empathise with. Pegg presents him as the flawed face of humanity to counter an alien threat, but he shows little regard for his old mates. Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy This is the End better exploits the pressure cooker conditions and it's, inherently, a lot funnier.
There are laugh-out-loud moments as Pegg and his musketeers try to make a stand while totally legless, but it's mostly just wryly amusing. And, unlike Shaun of the Dead and even Hot Fuzz, the characters are cardboard and the twisted dynamics between them don't came into play until the end is very nigh. A midlife crisis thread ties it all together, very loosely.
The action gets slightly repetitive, too, despite the comic possibilities of having drunks face off with super intelligent beings. In fact, the lads are just too slick with the martial arts. Wright does a great job of choreographing and editing a series of pub brawls, but some clumsiness might have upped the laugh count. Then, when the big finale comes, it's strangely talky.
It helps a great deal that Pegg and Wright know how to write good banter (though Pegg usually saves the best lines for himself) and films buffs will, as usual, enjoy the genre-bending madness, this time echoing B-movies of the '50s and '60s. Just don't expect your world to be rocked.