The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy—a label jokingly coined during the press tour for its second entry—has come to a close with a mint chocolate chip wrapper flapping in the wind. Following horror comedy Shaun of the Dead and bromance actioner Hot Fuzz, The World’s End‘s sci-fi apocalypse makes good use of its title with some fire and brimstone and robots spraying blue blood. The old “Spaced” team took a hiatus when writer/director Edgar Wright delved into comic adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and writer/star Simon Pegg and comic genius Nick Frost were visited by aliens in Paul, but this reunion shows they haven’t skipped a beat. With visual and verbal callbacks present alongside a slew of familiar cameos, a welcome role reversal and darker backstories are added to maintain the thematic formula’s freshness and hilarity.
Pegg is the ringleader of these contemporary Knights of the Roundtable, but he’s no longer the straight man of the movie. No, that distinction belongs to Frost this time around as his usually endearing imbecile becomes the refreshing voice of reason. Their Gary King and Andy Knightley respectively used to be best friends growing up in Newton Haven until a mysterious accident put almost two decades of space between them. With the former in some kind of psychiatric holding confessing how life never got better than their ill-fated attempt at conquering the Golden Mile at eighteen—a journey to twelve pubs in one night for a pint each before bed—the desire to return home and make things right strikes. Well, being the selfish prick Gary is, it’s actually the need to feel important again that lights the fire.
We watch his time capsule of a man visit his now successful former buds to cajole them into a nostalgic trip of beer and comradery at the place they all left behind without a single glance back. While Gary looks the same in his leather jacket and holier than thou attitude, the rest have traded their youths for suits, ties, wives, and children. And even though none of them have seen each other in years, Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) all wonder how Andy would ever agree to spend one minute with Gary let alone an entire evening. As this curiosity gets them to follow their fearless leader once more, Andy will need some heartstring tugging manipulation to join. But everyone eventually does arrive so the fun can begin.
What follows is a relatable road trip comedy that slowly reveals the expository information necessary to understand how this quintet of friends grew apart. Gary tries way too hard to make things like they once were and the rest gradually discover it probably wasn’t a great idea to think bygones could be left bygones. It’s a dynamic to which everyone who has tried to reconnect with old chums beyond the odd Facebook birthday shout-out at least ten years past their high school graduation can relate. It doesn’t take more than a couple beers or bars to glean whatever new information is relevant or for the obnoxious member of the clan to wear out his welcome. Wright and Pegg know this and thus must find something else to keep the boys from calling it a night.
That something else comes in the form of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers plotline for both the residents and environment of their hometown. It’s a social commentary on technological networks and the increasing flatness of our world wherein piece and harmony is equated with homogenization and a stifling of the freedom to make bad choices that makes us human. Newton Haven’s new populace of robotic-like peacekeepers and a few simple-minded followers either too scared to fight or too lazy to be individuals goes about its business in much the same way as when the “zed-words” in Shaun of the Dead were introduced as suburbanites caught in the daily grind. Only when the control group of Gary and the boys risk upsetting the applecart does the full scope of what has happened reveal itself.
The revelation comes with a paradigm shift from introspective comedy working towards some semblance of catharsis to an all-out drunken brawl consisting of some stellar fight choreography and fantastic visual effects. The more inebriated these guys get, the giddier, chummier, and more brutal they find their demeanors. Each loses the filter of civility so that truth runs freely and frustrations get worked out through the dismembering of the robotic “blanks” converging upon them. Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) joins the fray as a former love interest of both Gary and Steven; old Newton standbys pop up in the form of drug dealer Reverend Green (Michael Smiley), bar regular Basil (David Bradley), and schoolteacher Mr. Shephard (Pierce Brosnan); and everyone’s hidden failures and regrets are aired in the heat of the moment.
It’s a chaotic escalation of insanity with alcohol and the invasion causing different reactions from each character—Marsan’s complete loss of inhibition is fantastic—as things unravel further into a very Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comic profundity that might go just a tad too left of center. The performances help give what are ultimately one-note roles some three-dimensionality formed mostly from their respective exorcising of personal demons until the dark past is finally made clear. At its best when the boys are riffing or engaged in physically challenging fisticuffs—Frost brilliantly goes WWE on a couple “blanks”—the story depth of its Cornetto predecessors is there if not as readily apparent. But even if you don’t somehow see beneath the artifice, The World’s End makes up for it in sheer entertainment anyway.
 (l to r) Nick Frost as Andy, Rosamund Pike as Sam, Paddy Considine as Steven, Eddie Marsan as Peter, Martin Freeman as Oliver, and Simon Pegg as Gary in Edgar Wright’s new comedy THE WORLD’S END, a Focus Features release. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham / Focus Features
 Simon Pegg stars as Gary King in Edgar Wright’s new comedy THE WORLD’S END, a Focus Features release. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham / Focus Features
 (l to r) Nick Frost as Andy, Simon Pegg as Gary and Paddy Considine as Steven in Edgar Wright’s new comedy THE WORLD’S END, a Focus Features release. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham / Focus Features