Nostalgia rots your insides, holding you back and preventing you from accomplishing anything new. This is a shitty, hard, unsentimental truth, one usually taught by too many heartbreaks or too many awkward reunions.
Gary King (Simon Pegg) still hasn't learned it. Still rocking the battered Dr. Martens and Sisters of Mercy T-shirt he's had since he was a teenager, Gary is a charming, witty, not-so-high-functioning alcoholic. Having somehow made it to his late 30s or early 40s, he spends most of his time thinking about how much better things used to be. The focal point of his nostalgia is a single teenage night, in which he and four of his dumb buddies attempted "The Golden Mile"—a pub crawl consisting of 12 pubs in his hometown of Newton Haven, culminating at a pub named the World's End.
They didn't quite make it to the World's End, but Gary has still built up their Golden Mile as the greatest night ever—and built up himself, too, recasting himself as the group's heroic leader. And so it is that his long-lost, infinitely more successful friends—Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Peter (Eddie Marsan)—all find themselves accosted by an insistent, eager, affectionate, and desperate Gary. Despite all of them knowing that revisiting the Golden Mile is probably a terrible idea, they find that—just as when they were kids—they can't say no to Gary.
They're a few pints in, and Gary is the only one having a good time, when the killer robots attack.
The World's End is the latest from Pegg, Frost, and director Edgar Wright, the trio that made 2004's Shaun of the Dead and 2007's Hot Fuzz. Like those films—which, with The World's End, make a loose series that's been called the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy—it's a fantastic genre movie that ends up accomplishing far more than most genre movies do. On the surface, the apocalyptic, increasingly drunken The World's End is a funnier, smarter Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dig a bit more, and it's an affecting movie about how you can't go home again, even if your crappy hometown isn't literally besieged by mindless automatons.
It's all very good—Pegg and Frost are excellent, as is just about everybody else, and Wright keeps things fast and punchy and clever, even as The World's End says more, and says it more deeply, than Shaun or Fuzz. But I've neglected to mention the thing that is, by far, most important: The World's End is phenomenally, relentlessly funny. It's an odd thing to say, given how pitiable he is, but Gary is one of the funniest characters Pegg has ever played, and his now not-so-dumb buddies, (mostly) grown up and (mostly) playing along, are pretty amazing, too. Some intensely unlikable and lonely person, I'm sure, could try to keep a straight face throughout The World's End or find something to criticize, but the only thing I can whine about is that this film is the final part in a series of excellent comedies. Watching the closing credits of The World's End, one can't help but feel like the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy has somehow come to an end far too soon. Or maybe I'm just being nostalgic.