Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return to do more or less the same thing they did in Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz -- run around, make jokes and battle supernatural forces. Imagine the guys dropped down into the plot of Invasion of The Body Snatchers and joined for this third installment of what's come to be known as "The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" (British brand of ice cream that makes an appearance in each film) by Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan. Naturally there'll be a lot of people comparing the "flavour" to Shaun and Fuzz, also to this year's Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg-directed This Is The End. And that's valid. The latter, like this film, is a comedy about estranged friends encountering apocalyptic madness over the course of "one crazy night."
But because I have the privilege of living 15 minutes away from Los Angeles's cool old repertory cinema, the Quentin Tarantino-owned-and-restored New Beverly, I recently attended a screening of the 1955 Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly-directed musical It's Always Fair Weather, a film hand-picked by The World's End's director Edgar Wright and one that has even more to do with The World's End than any of titles I just mentioned. It's Always Fair Weather is a strange musical comedy where nearly all the songs are upstaged by their visual presentation and serve mostly as narrative bolstering to the dark subject of broken friendships, disappointment and self-hate. It might be from the same people who brought you Singin' In The Rain but it's a much surlier animal.
And though The World's End isn't a musical, its early 90s British dance-rock soundtrack is an almost non-stop backdrop to very similar themes: disliking the people you once loved, disliking yourself, regretting life choices and wrecking everything you valued in the pursuit of status or, on the other end of the spectrum, partying. Primal Scream's "Loaded" kicks things off, crashes into Happy Mondays and The Soup Dragons, Blur, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and on and on and on. Taken together, the songs act as a hands-in-the-air Ecstasy binge that's a constant sonic counterpoint to the two-decades-long bummer of a comedown every character on screen is going through. As the five friends-now-strangers proceed from forced reunion to forced partying -- 12 pints in 12 pubs in the hometown they all left behind -- to forced fighting for their lives as the world truly threatens to end, they confront their grown-up selves with Pegg, Frost and Wright's almost patented brand of silliness and uncomfortably earnest desire for brotherly love. If Shaun of the Dead was the joy of Singin' in The Rain, this is the disgruntled Fair Weather, with all the relationship anxiety its title implies.
Of course they still have to fight evil forces from another dimension as well, so it's not all bleak comic angst. It's an action movie, a race against time, a love story, a slapstick car chase with robots (or whatever they are) and a chance for audience members who love bands like Saint Etienne to feel good about themselves when the movie makes a Saint Etienne in-joke. Specific kinds of nerds need specific kinds of nerd movies; we're lucky we've got Pegg, Frost and Wright as friends we can count on to make them for us.