It's no secret that Pegg, Frost, and Wright didn't really know where to go after Hot Fuzz. They basically created Paul on the set of that movie, but didn't feel like it fit the Cornetto Trilogy well enough (being so centred around American culture, rather than British). And yet, years later it was aliens that they ultimately did return to. Whilst the "bodysnatchers"-esque storyline is a solid setup, The World's End still feels like a movie that never quite came together.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a fun, entertaining, and deeply humorous film with a brilliant cast and some great moments. Much like the previous two Cornetto outings, it shines best when it's skewering British culture (possibly best done with the dig at Wetherspoons-style cut'n'paste pub renovations 😂) or by maximising its use of an excellent, cameo filled supporting cast. Except, third time around there's distinctly less of both of those. The core cast is much more expanded, and the likes of Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan all hold their own against leads Pegg and Frost. Plus, the likes of Rosamund Pike and Pierce Brosnan are certainly big names for relatively minor roles (and Bill Nighy, who I is actually in all three movies as well, here simply as a voice though). Still, outside of these core characters, the cameos are light. David Bradley (Harry Potter) is a great conspiracy nut proven right, Michael Smiley (Luther) has a fun outing as the drug dealer scared straight, I was extremely happy to see Mark Heap finally get a chance after his Spaced days, and of course Rafe Spall still gets his cameo... but, compared to the other two in the set, it feels a little light on its feet.
Then there's the story. At its core, this is a film about childhood friends, escaping small-town England, and a pub crawl – which is to say, it's very British (or at least English, the standard caveat for all these films). But then it's also a redemption arc for Pegg's drug addict character, an arc which never really pays off. I genuinely think you could rewrite this movie with the five friends coming together to simply celebrate a reunion (you could literally have them decide to blow off a dull school reunion as the setup) and then have the double narrative of the alien invasion whilst their rose tinted vision of their past unravels still allow pretty much all of the main beats, but it avoids all the extra guff that the film is loaded with. Unlike Shaun or Danny, Gary is never that likeable – he's just an idiot. It makes for a slightly cringey first third and ends with an utterly pointless fight between Pegg and Frost in the final pub, without really ever having an arc. If the first movie was Pegg growing up a bit, the second was him chilling out, the third is him... learning nothing, destroying the world, and going on the live out his fantasies as a man child? It's just not the same...
It almost feels like they got a bit more of a budget and then blew it all on special effects (which are, admittedly, very good), whilst also being tethered to a deadline that they narrowly scraped through. All the bits you expect a Frost/Pegg/Wright movie to get right – the subtleties, the character traits, the pacing, the deep sarcasm – are just lacking. It's still an epic tale, and some elements are still solid (and others are downright excellent), but it just doesn't sit right with me. I think it boils down to the fact that I don't enjoy the setup anywhere near as much as the other two films, really get quite taken on for the ride in the middle, but just as I'm beginning to really like the movie, it hits you with the weird twist ending narration and a literal apocalypse and it just feels flat. Plus, they forgot the cornetto scene. I know there's the wink-nod in the apocalypse bit, but how hard would it have been for them to just buy a cornetto properly earlier in the movie. They even arrive in their hometown a bit early, Gary could have just seen "their cornerstore" and said "What do you want?" then just gone in and ignored it all, bought five cornettos, and boom you have the moment. The fact it's not there just feels like the film wasn't made to be part of that trilogy
I think it was just made a bit too late, maybe when expectations were a bit too high, or maybe when a studio was getting a bit antsy, but the result just feels like a subtle mistep. Honestly, if the other two films weren't so effortlessly brilliant, it would be a highlight of a movie, but it never quite manages to properly peak out from behind their shadow. I don't think its a total write off, but it's definitely the black sheep of the family.