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The-Worlds-End-Nick-FrostThe third and final part of Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ is a science fiction action comedy romp based around a pub crawl, which occasionally brings to mind classic British sci-fi TV like The Quatermass Experiment and The Day Of The Triffids as well as more widely-known American big screen fayre (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, most obviously). As with the earlier installments Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the former once again co-authoring the script with long-term writing partner Wright. They repeat the trick of staging a typically-American genre picture in the unlikely environs of a mundane southern English town and, as per the two earlier films, drinking establishments feature heavily. Here, dotted around the town centre of fictional London satellite Newton Haven, they serve as backdrops for increasingly-crazy fight sequences and are filled with an assortment of oddballs. (If you ever want to visit the featured boozers then you’ll need to look up Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, and some may even be able to guarantee fights and oddballs.)

The hostelries of Newton Haven make up ‘The Golden Mile’, a legendary crawl that Gary King (Pegg) and his four friends (Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) tried and failed to complete in their teenage years. It seems at first that King hasn’t grown up in the interim and now sees those days as the best of his life; the others have moved on, but are persuaded to return home and to give the 12-pint ordeal another go to appease their old classmate. However things have changed: the nondescript market town the friends left twenty years earlier was the kind of place where nothing out of the ordinary happened, but they return to a very different Newton Haven (and not just in terms of the sudden influx of interchangeable chain pubs, either).

Pegg, Frost and Wright have worked extremely well together since Spaced, one of the finest comedy TV shows ever made, though a repertory cast has gradually formed around them; Spaced fans will enjoy the appearances of Julia Deakin, Mark Heap and Michael Smiley in The World’s End, while actors such as Freeman, Considine, Bill Nighy, Steve Oram, Rafe Spall and Reece Sheersmith can now be considered Wright regulars, cementing the notion of a loose trilogy as much as the genre spoofing, the Cornetto references or the fence-jumping scenes. They are joined here by Rosamund Pike and her former Die Another Day co-star Pierce Brosnan, both of whom adapt to the mix of comedy and action with ease.

Wright’s directing style hasn’t changed all that much since his TV days, but that has at least resulted in a consistent look across the three films, and I dare say the experience he has built up will tell in future years. His calling card remains those sudden whizz-bang mini-montages (here it’s the The-Worlds-End-Nick-Frost-Simon-Pegg-Paddy-Considinerepeated pulling of pints as the action moves from one pub to the next) and it’s pleasing that so many of the jokes come from the editing and camerawork he has clearly directed, rather than the usual comedy model of relying on a star to deliver the laughs. The humorous cast performances are certainly of a piece with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz too: a crowd-pleasing mix of slapstick, gags, gurning and straight-faced genre nods that have presumably been inserted for movie geeks (in the climactic speech here Pegg’s King recites famous lines from Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels – though they may be more familiar as the sample kicking off Primal Scream’s hit Loaded – while keen-eyed horror fans will spot references to the likes of George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci).

Once more Wright and co take their action sequences semi-seriously, and although The World’s End plays as a straightforward comedy for quite a while (even largely refusing to go down the tried-and-tested route of suggesting that all is not well in Newton Haven), the arrival of a series of energetic pub fights feels as inevitable as the patching-up of the bromance between Pegg and Frost’s characters. The cast and crew presumably had fun filming the action, but unfortunately the second half of the film is too repetitive as a result, and it’s dispiriting when you realise that the already-paralytic characters still have three or four pubs to visit. Still, some unexpected touches have been inserted to hold the viewer’s interest: the weird post-apocalyptic epilogue was a surprise, and the same could be said for the sudden serious detour showing King’s bandaged wrists, but it’s the lighter, throwaway moments – when Rosamund Pike’s Sam arrives to speed the group away from an impending explosion, for example, she apologises for the mess in her car – that see the film over the finish line. On balance it’s the weakest part of Pegg and Wright’s trilogy, but it’s still entertaining.

Directed by: Edgar Wright.
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg.
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan.
Cinematography: Bill Pope.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Steven Price, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 108 minutes.
Year: 2013.

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This latest introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is clumsily linked to goings-on elsewhere by a brief mention of the events depicted at the end of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a post-credits scene that has presumably been lifted from an upcoming Marvel ‘Phase Three’ release and the underwhelming appearance of a minor character who appeared in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The pressure to slot new stories or characters into forthcoming movies is beginning to tell, and it’s a chore that isn’t currently being tackled with any outstanding creativity by the various writers and directors working on these films; naturally we can expect even more of this convoluted business as Marvel tries to find room for the likes of Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel, each of which is the subject of a standalone film in the next three years, and there’s also a Spider-Man reboot to factor in.

On to matters at hand. The superhero thrills n’ spills shift temporarily from the US’s east coast to west in this formulaic, inoffensive and light-hearted film. Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang (aka the titular hero), an ex-con who is absolved from an earlier unseen white collar crime by the overly-apologetic screenplay, which takes the easy way out by painting him as a modern day Robin Hood (while we’re at it, even though only a fool would look to Marvel’s comic book adaptations for doses of gritty realism, what’s with the depiction of the inmates of San Quentin as a bunch of friendly, completely agreeable chaps?)

Lang’s motivation when committing further crimes with ex-cellmate Michael Peña is not wanton greed, like most people, but a more wholesome desire to pay child support so that he can continue seeing his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). His skill as a cat burglar leads him to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist and former S.H.I.E.L.D agent who once invented an incredible shrinking suit. And thus under the tutelage of Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Lang becomes Ant-Man, a hero who can shrink to the size of an ant and is able to command forces of like-minded insects.

Though it’s nothing new, the best moments of Peyton Reed’s film come when Lang is tiny and attempting to negotiate the world from an ant’s perspective: it’s full of unexpected hazards, as per Fantastic VoyageInnerspace, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids et al, though the comic-book character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby predates all of those films. Thus rodents become huge, fearsome monsters and objects as innocuous as a record player stylus are suddenly life-threatening, while the shrunken size allows Lang to perform feats of heroic endeavor and reach areas that are otherwise off-limits to normal-sized humans. In the film’s highly enjoyable and amusing finale Ant-Man and his nemesis Yellowjacket (aka corporate villain Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll) even duke it out on and around a Thomas The Tank Engine train set, with a few size-related gags hitting the mark.

The main problem is that we’ve seen so many origin tales in recent years that to truly stand out each new entry into this bloated, gargantuan world needs something else: a dose of the x-factor, perhaps, or a certain je ne sais quoi; feel free to insert your own relevant term, if you wish. And yes, perhaps a maverick filmmaker could have helped lift this, and yes, one can only wonder what kind of film Edgar Wright would have made had he stayed on as director; he’s still credited as a co-writer but ‘creative differences’ were given as the reason Wright left the project, and it seems as though Marvel’s strict guidelines with regard to consistency of tone, visual design, etc. will only attract compliant filmmakers from now on (this is where I mention it’s purely coincidental that Reed’s previous film was the comedy Yes Man).

It’s a shame, really, as there’s some good work here, but the set-up, crap villain, story arc and even the pitch of the humour all seems way too familiar, and as such much of the material sitting between the action sequences sags. True believers and those with an unquenchable thirst for all things superhero will lap it up, and parts of Ant-Man are certainly fun, but I expect anyone who has been dealing with fatigue on-and-off for a year or two will be ambivalent. Still, given that it manages to keep its focus on a sole superhero for the most part, Ant-Man may well be seen in the future as an exercise in minimalism. This lesser-known character will presumably be shoe-horned into upcoming blockbusters before too long, destined to play second fiddle to the likes of Thor and Iron Man, but at least he gets a couple of his own hours in the spotlight here. And it was nice to see Roger Sterling and Avon Barksdale, albeit fleetingly.

Directed by: Peyton Reed.
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd. Based on Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña
Cinematography: Russell Carpenter.
Editing: Dan Lebental, Colby Parker, Jr.
Music: Cristophe Beck.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Year: 2015.

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