When he was 17 years old, Gary King was The King of his set of mates in Newton Haven, leading them on an unsuccessful attempt to hit all twelve pubs in a one-night crawl as adulthood arrived.  The King’s friends grew up and moved on, but it’s been all downhill since for Gary.  Twenty years later, he shows up in his friends’ lives out of the blue to re-enact that last act of defiant youth, and somehow convinces them do to it.  But the town of Newton Haven has changed a lot since they left — and it’s not just their famous organic farming, either.  Will the Five Musketeers make it to the twelfth pub known as the World’s End — and will that actually be the end of the world?

I missed The World’s End two weeks ago when it first hit the theaters, and I somehow missed the trailers, too.  My best friend since high school lives on my street, but we don’t get together often enough these days, so I suggested that he and I go see the film yesterday when both of us were in town at the same time.  That turned out to be an ideal combination to see the latest absurdist film from the producers of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It’s the perfect film to see with old friends, especially for those who really love a good laugh at the thought of reliving one’s youth and, er, becoming Starbucks-ized pod people.  But I get ahead of myself…

The World’s End might be the most hilarious film since There’s Something About Mary. Since I didn’t know anything about the film, the major plot twist midway took me by complete surprise, and I found myself repeating the same “WTF?” expressed by most of the characters up to that point.  Just when audiences think they know where the film is going, it changes directions again. The intense action marries up well with the laughs, and The World’s End keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

The film’s cast is brilliant, and while it is an ensemble, Simon Pegg is still the linchpin as Gary King.  Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan offer distinct personalities and hilarious performances, and Rosamund Pike is terrific as Freeman’s sister and the object of desire for both Pegg and Considine. Bill Nighy does an uncredited cameo as a voice-over near the end, and David Bradley as the presumably crazy Basil is also a stand-out.  The dialogue is sharp, witty, and engaging, and the emotional connections to the characters is surprisingly strong as a result.

To say more about the plot would be to offer too many spoilers.  It may be a little late for some to get into the theater to see The World’s End, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you owe it to yourself.  Just remember to find some old friends and enjoy the memories as well as the film.  On the 5-point Hot Air scale, The World’s End gets an unqualified 5:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

The World’s End is rated R, mostly for bad language, although the MPAA also includes sexual references.  There isn’t any nudity, however, and the language isn’t much different from what I recall in high school, either.  It’s definitely not for kids or young teens, but older teens should be able to handle it … except for the realization of what they might look like twenty years from now.

Update: Great point from eforhan in the comments: “The World’s End is one of the most liberty-loving, anti-groupthink movies I’ve seen in recent years.” Indeed it is, which is what I hinted at with the sub-hed on the front page, but it’s impossible to explain without giving away too much.