Everybody knows somebody like Gary King.
King, played by Simon Pegg, is the erstwhile hero of The World's End, the last film in Pegg, co-star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright's so-called 'Three Colours Cornetto' trilogy. Pushing 40 but still dressing (and living) the way he did when he was 18, King is that guy who peaked in high school and wants to drag everyone else back there with him.
In this case, King rounds up his four best friends from high school, who have all grown into ordinary, well-adjusted gents, and convinces them to finish a pub crawl they started 20 years ago. Naturally, this being the conclusion to a trilogy that's so far revolved around zombie outbreaks and slow-motion shoot-outs, they get a lot more than they bargained for.
Unlike the loveable types he usually plays, Pegg has boldly chosen to make King as unlikable as possible — he's truly pathetic, a vicious takedown of the perpetual adolescent, and if audiences are able to relate to him, that's more of an indictment of the viewer than a credit to Pegg's charms.
The shift from Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz's supremely likeable protagonists to this cringeworthy character is indicative of the larger tonal shift that's going on here. While those earlier films were laugh riots, The World's End is a much more subdued affair — it's darker, deeper, and occasionally depressing.
That's not to say there aren't laughs to be had in The World's End — there are plenty — but they just don't come as thick and fast as they do in Wright's earlier efforts. That's clearly intentional, to a degree; a natural result of the fairly serious themes of ageing and social malaise that co-writers Wright and Pegg are kicking around here.
But part of the problem is very much not intentional. There are a lot of moments in this movie that are clearly meant to get a laugh that don't quite work; obvious jokes that fall flat and banter that doesn't sparkle. It's impossible not to compare The World's End with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz and wish that it was, well, funnier.
That said, the script is still awfully tight. Wright is a master watchmaker, and every single part of his films connects to the others in some way — seemingly minor asides end up paying off as major plot points down the track; ostensibly insignificant details are actually layered with hidden meanings. There'll be plenty to dig into here on repeat viewings, even if it doesn't completely satisfy the first time.
Ultimately, that's where The World's End will most likely shine — at home, watched repeatedly at the tail end of a Three Colours Cornetto triple bill.
That's certainly how Gary King would choose to watch it, anyway.
The World's End is out now.