The cast and makers of apocalypse comedy “The World’s End” are a good decade older than the crew behind the apocalypse comedy “This Is the End.”
That makes all the difference. Where the latter was essentially a string of (often inventive, often hilarious) non sequiturs and inside jokes about the clan spawned by Judd Apatow, the former is rooted in a middle-aged sense of disappointment and failure.
Director Edgar Wright and actors/writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost may be of the generation still in thrall to “Star Wars.” But they are as aware of the problems with stunted adolescence as they are an embodiment of it.
Indeed, the entire setup for their third film in the so-called Cornetto Trilogy that includes “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” (so named for a brand of ice cream snacks in each) is about recreating the happy past. In 1990, five high schoolers attempted — and happily failed — a 12-pub crawl in their remote hometown. They’ve all grown up to varying degrees of success — except for Gary King (Pegg), who still dresses in a trench coat and Sisters of Mercy T-shirt, rocking a mixtape that includes Suede and Soup Dragons, and wants to give the crawl another go. You can go home again — as long as you can guilt-trip your reluctant mates (Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine).
There’s a mid-film twist that ought not to be spoiled, although it’s something vaguely involving the film’s title. The shift from insightful study of Peter Pan syndrome to genre thrills isn’t as smoothly integrated as it was in “Shaun of the Dead.” Instead of a major world event that relates to the characters’ issues, everyone just goes “Drunken Master,” knocking back even more pints while storming into battle. It’s plenty of fun — right down to a genuinely novel capper — but to what end?
On the other hand, “The World’s End” doesn’t have the third act tonal collapse that slightly marred “Shaun.” Wright and Pegg, who once again wrote the script, remain expert genre twisters, as well as underrated wordsmiths. As with the rest of their work, many of the best jokes are verbal, as when Gary talks about getting the band back together — but not the actual band they evidently once had. Even as their film gets delightfully away from them, “The World’s End” makes a case for its makers, at least, and a case for staying somewhat emotionally stunted.