Writer/Director Edgar Wright is known for his unique films that both satarize and embrace whatever genre he chooses. We're talking Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and The World's End. Wright's dialogue is always poetic with the sharpest wit and most clever word-plays. His editing style is unmistakable, fast and in your face, smashing one scene seamlessly into another. His shots are colorful, with just as much to say as the dialogue that accompanies them. His action scenes are sincere, brutal, and among the best out there; it's a wonder that Wright hasn't been handed a giant action franchise on a scale even bigger than Baby Driver (Though we guess Ant-Man would have been that film, had he stayed on). Wright's actors are always top notch, selected with care and directed to perfection. All four of his previous releases are winners for these reasons, quite the feat for any director. Does Baby Driver continue the trend? Is Edgar Wright now five for five, as a writer/director?
The short answer is...Yes. Baby Driver will be that movie of the summer that everyone bugs you to see. And you should totally see it!
The slightly longer answer is that Baby Driver is superb in every area, except the narrative. That's not to say the narrative is bad; it isn't. It just doesn't push the boundaries of the genre, or take the same risks one always associates with Wright.
Ansel Elgort shines as Baby, the title character of the film. Baby's insane skills as a getaway driver has landed him an exclusive gig for Atlanta crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). Well, his skills and his debt to Doc, that is. The other players in Doc's heists may change, but he always puts Baby behind the wheel. Due to his debt to Doc, their relationship continues until Baby completes one last job to make them even, though it is still a far cry from getting him out of the criminal underworld. Debts turn into threats, and Baby is forced to continue working for Doc, even when it puts innocents and his newly met lady friend, Debora (Lily James) at risk. As Baby looks for a way out, he must deal with hotheads like Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eliza Gonzalez), and the particularly unstable, murderous Bats (Jamie Foxx), none of which can comprehend the genius resting between those two, near irremovable ear buds.
Let's start with the film's weakest link, as discussing Baby Driver's weaknesses will take far less time than the praise I'm about to pile on this film. Narrative-wise, Baby Driver is Edgar Wright's least ambitious and original film. Unlike his other projects -- even Scott Pilgrim, which manages to parody the comic book and shonen genres to an extent -- Baby Driver is a straight-forward entry in the heist genre. The film starts really strong, lulls a bit in the second half, and then delivers ten-fold in the climax. Unlike typical Wright fare, the plot falls into some tired clichés and predictable scenes, without adding much of a twist or commenting on the genre. Wright does avoid one typical Heist cliché; the long and intricate planning phase where the plan is laid out it, by keeping it extremely short and sweet. Even with all my bashing, the narrative is still better than most films, and really only feels safe when compared to Wright's wackier films that made him a legend. If it weren't for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim establishing this high standard, the storytelling traps Wright allows himself to fall into would not be as noticeable or as troubling.
Now, it's time for me to heap on the praise!
We'll start with what is most important to the film and Baby himself: the music. If you couldn't tell from the trailer, music is a big deal in Baby Driver, integrated so perfectly that it adds to every scene without ever becoming distracting or a gimmick. Even the Guardians of the Galaxy films could learn a thing or two about merging music and narrative from Baby Driver. Similar to Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Guardians, Baby's connection to music is his lifeblood, due to it's important link to his mother and his tragic past. Baby literally has a different iPod of every day of the week, or any mood. Wright has always been expert at selecting tantalizing soundtracks for his movies from a wide range of music, and he has perfected this process to nearly unreachable levels in Baby Driver.
The marriage of Wright's song choices and scene is absolutely mind-blowing. Baby dances through Atlanta to pick up coffee in one long shot, rocking out to "The Harlem Shuffle" by Bob & Earl, with every step he takes matching the tunes, and the street itself almost coming to life to mirror the lyrics through murals, shops, and even words literally painted on the street. Baby Driver has quite a few long, beautifully choreographed shots like this, even in smaller scenes without as much action. In the shootouts, the bullets fire off in sync to the beat, in a marriage of sound effects and song that rivals that of the aforementioned merging of music and the scenes. The sound mixing is absolutely superb, perfectly surrounding you in just the right spots, often imitating the sound of ear buds. Dialogue too becomes a part of Baby Driver's soundtrack, quite literally, as Baby records conversations and mixes them into songs. I found it impossible not to tap my foot while viewing this flick.
The music isn't the only thing that's lyrical in Baby Driver. Wright's dialogue is as great as it's always been, so clever and well-written that it can sound poetic, especially when delivered by Spacey, who really crushes it in this film. That's not to put down anyone else in the cast, as everyone brings their A-game including Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Hamm, Gonzalez, James, Foxx, and CJ Jones as Baby's roommate/former caretaker Joseph.
It is with Baby and Joseph's relationship that Wright hits the emotional high note of his career, really endearing you to both characters in a way that matches the chemistry/bromance of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have co-starred in three of Wright's earlier films. Wright's films have always been funny, but Baby, Joseph, and Debora make this Wright's most heart-felt project.
The choreography is always top notch, from the aforementioned dance down an Atlanta street to the mind-blowing car chases. Baby Driver has the best car stunts since 2011's Drive starring Ryan Gosling, simply put. No, there aren't cars falling out of planes, flying out one building and into another, or getting chased by a submarine as in The Fast and the Furious franchise; just good old-fashioned stunt driving that even rivals the greatest chase scenes ever filmed like the San Francisco chase from 1968's Bullitt starring Steve McQueen. Though Baby Driver offers more stylized throwbacks to classic film car chases, there are some pretty incredible car stunts like you've never seen!
Let's not forget Edgar Wright's other greatest talent (man, this dude is so talented), editing. If you've seen Hot Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Baby Driver takes it one level further, as editing is not only used for more of the coolest scene transitions in cinema, but also brings song and film together in a way that I haven't seen before. It also makes for those very tight action scenes, whether it's a chase, a gun-fight, or even a conversation between Baby and Debora. Wright continues to prove he is a leader in film editing, even if he overseeing it and not the credited editor on the film.
Aiding the editing is the composition of the scenes, incredibly stylish and as colorful as the music. Again, exactly what one expects from Edgar Wright, following Scott Pilgrim. Meanwhile, once the violence ramps up in the third act, is is as bloody and brutal as Hot Fuzz. If you haven't noticed the trend yet, nearly all of Wright's strengths are on display in Baby Driver, building off of what the director has accomplished time and time again. Yet, with this much skill, these elements may never get old and define the director.
Baby Driver may be Wright's most tame, and least original, film in terms of narrative, but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in spades absolutely everywhere else. The acting, dialogue, action, style, and, of course, music are as good as you can get, making Baby Driver the must-see film of the summer!
Do you plan on seeing Baby Driver next week? What's your favorite Edgar Wright film so far? Let us know in the comment section below!
Baby Driver races into theaters on June 28, 2017.
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