Let’s get this over with at the very top. Okay?
Cornetto is a frozen dessert treat. In Italian, cornetto means “little horn.” Cornetto is an Italian brand of frozen dessert sold in an ice cream cone (hence, “little horn”). The brand is currently owned by parent company Unilever, a name you’ve seen on everything from Hellmann’s mayonnaise to Lifebuoy soap. There are a lot more than three flavors of this frozen treat (here in the US, the closest cousin to this I’ve noticed is Nestle’s Drumsticks).
According to the infallible Internet, and the color scheme used on various movie posters, the three flavors referred to in the Three-Flavours Cornetto Trilogy moniker are strawberry, classico (some sort of hazlenut thing), and mint chocolate. In this celebrated trilogy of comedy genre-based movies, Shaun of the Dead represents strawberry, Hot Fuzz is classico, and this movie, The World’s End, is mint chocolate.
The first time I heard this Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg project referred to this way, I had assumed that Three-Flavours Cornetto was a lot like what we in the US refer to as Neapolitan ice cream. That “Neapolitan” implies an Italian connection, right? I’m not sure if this applies anywhere but the States, but Neapolitan ice cream is three different flavors of ice cream in the same container together, striped side-by-side. These days the most common flavors are strawberry, vanilla and chocolate.
While this was a great analogy for my head when thinking about these movies, it turned out to not be the same thing at all, except for the ice cream part. And the three different flavors. Actually, there are a lot of similarities, when you think about it. Just no cones.
Both Wright and Pegg have suggested—and perhaps they were joking a bit—that they decided to refer to these three movies as the Three-Flavours Cornetto trilogy because a mention of the treat in Shaun of the Dead resulted in their receiving free strawberry-flavored cornetto from the manufacturer. They add that there were no such gifts for Hot Fuzz, but that they received more freebies with The World’s End. Mint chocolate, one would hope, in keeping with the color scheme.
I have watched all three of these movies over the years. For reasons I can’t immediately recall, I’ve watched Hot Fuzz multiple times, it seems. Maybe it’s been broadcast on television more often; I don’t know. It’s my least-favorite of the three. At least today, in my head.
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve viewed Shaun of the Dead only once, just like The World’s End, which spent a long time on my TBW list before I finally bit the bullet and purchased the movie from Amazon. To date, it’s one of three movies that I own only as digital copies. It’s siblings are Tarentino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, a great film I’ll watch multiple times before it’s all over, and The Notebook.
I’m not sure why I own The Notebook. It’s an okay movie that I watched because my wife wanted me to. I’m just not sure why I didn’t rent it.
I also own, as digital copies, and for reasons I’m not going to get into in this post, the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the third season of Veronica Mars.
I can tell you why I own the entire first season—and, thus, the entire series—of Firefly. Because it is awesome. So are Buffy and Veronica, by the way. It’s just weird that I own only a single season of each series.
The reason I purchased The World’s End instead of renting it is also a weird one. The older I get, the more trouble I have watching an entire movie in a single sitting. I usually watch a movie in 15 or 20 minute intervals, spread across as many days as it takes.
Since this movie’s running time is one hour and forty-nine minutes, that would require at least five or six intervals. Renting a movie on Amazon Prime allows you only 48 hours to watch the film after you begin watching it. I’ve been watching the movies The Man from Toronto and No Time to Die in this fashion for quite a while. Still not finished watching No Time to Die. I decided that if I rented The World’s End, the additional rental fees would add up to more than I had to pay to “own” a copy.
The movie starts with a voiceover by Simon Pegg’s character Gary, which kicks off a sequence that explains everything you need to know about the plot of the movie. At least, this part of the movie, before things become seriously weird.
As Gary narrates, “Ever had one of those nights that starts like any other night but ends up being the best night of your life? I did.”
Any time I’m quoting the movie, I’m actually quoting The World’s End script by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. I found it here at horrorlair.com. It’s an actual script, not a transcript, so I guess it’s possible that I’ll quote something that didn’t survive final cut in the movie itself. If that happens, I apologize in advance. I will try to fact-check myself with my copy of the movie.
Gary King (Simon Pegg) takes us immediately into a flashback, to the final day of school for Gary and his friends. It’s June 22, 1990, and Gary and his friends are played by actors much younger than the ones playing the roles once we flashforward. The voiceover goes on to name each member of the group and paint each as a different stereotype.
First up is Ollie (portrayed in his adult form by Martin Freeman). Teenaged Oliver looks like a yuppie-in-training, with his suit and toaster-sized cellphone. Gary mentions that Oliver was given the nickname “O-man” because he had a birthmark on his forehead in the shape of a 6. This was an Antichrist joke that I missed the first time I watched this.
Peter (Eddie Marsan, as an adult) is said to be the baby of the group and not “the kind of kid we’d usually hang out with.” Gary adds that he was good for a laugh and that he was absolutely “minted,” which I take to mean “rich” without referring to my English-to-American dictionary.
Steve (Paddy Considine, as an adult) was cool like Gary. They played guitars together, chased girls. Gary says he thinks Steve viewed him as a rival.
Finally, good ol’ Andy (Nick Frost, as an adult). Gary describes him as his “wingman,” so naturally Nick Frost would be in this role, as he was in the other two cornetto flavors. And in the even earlier television series Spaced, which I also recommend.
Before we move on, we’re also introduced in flashback, almost in passing, to Mr. Sheppard (Pierce Brosnan) a school guidance counselor who Gary thought was “cool.” You and I are media savvy enough to know that Pierce Brosnan is going to appear again in the story present.
In 1990, this group of friends tried to complete an epic pub crawl known as the Golden Mile: twelve pubs “along a legendary path of alcoholic indulgence, terminating at the alehouse that will herald our success: The World’s End.” Through a quite funny montage we see that they ultimately failed, stopping at pub number nine, but still managed to have what Gary referred to as the best night of his life.
Even when I’m not conscious of the fact, my brain is always trying to make sense of the endless barrage of stimuli I subject it to. At this point during my first watch of the movie, I decided that this movie fit neatly into the plot category we know as “The Quest.” In fact, it was giving me serious Stand by Me vibes in both the framing device of Gary telling the story and in the fact that the flashback versions of the characters were embarking upon a quest that assumed epic proportions in the narrator’s mind. This time the quest was to complete a pub crawl, not find a dead body before everyone else. I found the pub crawl more relatable.
Since the story of that night was over so quickly (four-and-a-half pages of the script, 4:24 minutes of screen time), I decided that this movie was going to be a shining example of that famous subset of the quest plot: the Recapturing Glory Days Plot. Gary and his old pals would be trying to complete the Golden Mile to recapture their youth. Perhaps you’re familiar with that story as well.
As the night in 1990 is ended, Gary continues to narrate:
I remember sitting up on top of that hill, blood on my knuckles, beer down my shirt, sick on my shoes, seeing the orange glow of a new dawn break and knowing in my heart, life would never feel this good again. And you know what?
“It never did,” Gary King from the present says. This is Simon Pegg now, of course, and he looks a lot older than he did in the flashback. He’s participating in some type of group therapy. I don’t know if it’s like AA or NA, or something mandated by a court. It’s not important. The important thing is we get to see Gary get the idea to complete the pub crawl after another group member asks him if he ever regrets not making it to the World’s End.
That, my brain told me, was the entire premise of this movie. Adults who get on a nostalgia kick and strive to recapture their youth. In the end, they’ll still not make it, but the journey itself would have made then wiser rather than just older. You’re familiar with the type. Or maybe they achieve the object of their quest, and it doesn’t feel as good or meaningful as it should. All that glitters isn’t gold or fill in your own trite expression.
And that’s almost what happens. Almost.
Gary King rounds up the old gang to attempt to complete the pub crawl twenty years after their failure. Then the plot takes a neck-breaking left turn into science-fiction, alien invasion territory. The aliens are assuming the identities of the human population of the gang’s hometown, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The rest of the movie is a full-tilt boogie of a sci-fi comedy action film. The pub crawl continues amidst all of the other alien invasion hijinks. The invaders, referred to as “blanks,” may be huge in number but are surprisingly easy to terminate, their fragile heads easily fracture to splash gallons of some sort of blue goo.
Pierce Brosnan returns to the story to earn the rest of his paycheck. Then we get an ending that is mostly positive, although there are some character deaths. Plus, the brief outro scene suggests that it all resulted in a grim dystopian future, with Gary King leading another group in a Mad Max-like wasteland.
The action scenes are amazing, of course, and you already know if you’re a fan of Edgar Wright’s visual style. The script is funny and broad where it needs to be. But the movie is also, in large part, about the futility of recapturing your glory days. Nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when your childhood neighbors have been replaced by soft-headed doppelgängers full of blue dye packs. It’s a sobering message that is mitigated by the sci-fi levity of the pub crawl.
I liked this one a lot and recommend it. It turns out that mint chocolate is my favorite flavor.
Firewater’s What-the-F***-Does-WTF-Mean? Report Card: A
One thought on “The World’s End (the conclusion of the Three-Flavours Cornetto Trilogy) — a movie review”
I have seen bits and pieces of this film and one day, I need to sit down and watch it from beginning to end. Love me some mint chocolate as well!
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