In 2004, the filmmakers behind the cult UK show, Spaced, led by cowriter/director Edgar Wright exploded onto the worldwide stage with the love story to zombie movies, Shaun of the Dead. Aside from being absolutely awesome, Shaun of the Dead catapulted the careers of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. For Edgar Wright, it was the opportunity to create a trilogy of feature films in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, but what truly peeked the interest in his cult following was when Edgar Wright signed a deal with the pre-Disney owned Marvel Studios to write and direct a feature adaptation of the then-obscure hero, Ant-Man, in 2006.
And over the next eight years, Wright treated the world with teases of the test footage and proof of concept footage of Ant-Man in between writing and filming Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. The hype was real because comic book fans were finally excited to have another auteur in the Marvel universe to give us something different from the quickly recognized Marvel formula. But that train crashed in May 2016 when Marvel and Wright announced he was leaving Ant-Man. And, as an unbelievable amount of hate and vitriol was thrown at Marvel, those of us who didn’t care about what would undoubtedly be another cookie cutter comic book movie waited to see what Wright’s next project was going to be. And we didn’t have to wait long as Edgar Wright announce his next project was Baby Driver.
And the hype train was back rolling, and rolling fast. I, for one, have been watching Edgar Wright ever since Spaced in 1999. But the thing is, despite how epically brilliant his work has been in the past near 20 years, it’s either been written by, or cowritten by, Simon Pegg. With Baby Driver, we would finally get to see what kind of film Edgar could truly pull off as a writer/ director. And the short answer is Baby Driver is one hell of a ride.
Baby pulls up to a bank and busts out into a wicked set of air drums listening Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion while waiting for John Hamm’s Buddy, Eiza Gonzalez’s Darling and Griff, played by Jon Bernthal rob a bank. My joy of recognizing the song not withstanding, what Edgar does immediately is show us who Baby is. He’s a young kid in a world he doesn’t belong in and clearly doesn’t want to be there. Also that he’s one hell of a driver. It’s so simple, yet the instant the song starts and Baby is into it, you’re with him. I man, who hasn’t busted out to the rhythm at some point in the car? And Ansel Elgort throws himself into the role as you watch his first awkward meetings with Debora and you truly get how well crafted these characters Edgar Wright created are. But what surprised me the most with the character is how far he grew in this story and world. It’s a true testament to the talent Elgort has. And the same can be said for enormously underrated Lilly James. What Debora is to Baby is a reason to want to get out of this world he’s in. And when Wright cuts to a close of her as Baby walks in to the dinner she works at, and you see that genuine smile, you believe it.
When you hear about how an actor is made for a specific role, it couldn’t be more true than with John Hamm as career criminal, Buddy. Wright actually wrote the role specifically for Hamm. And Hamm repays this with delivering one of the most nuanced performances in the film. If not one of the most nuanced performances Wright has ever got from an actor in one of his films. Buddy has a pseudo Bonny and Clyde going on with his wife, Darling. Eiza Gonzalez plays off the role exactly as it should be. The little devil sitting on Buddy’s shoulder. Buddy, Darling and Baby keep doing jobs together because the boss, Kevin Spacey’s Doc, recognizes just how good of a driver Baby is. Spacey has made a career out of character nuance and shows why he will
always be known as one of the best character actors in Hollywood with the role of Doc. It speaks to Spacey’s skills as an actor when he can go from a father figure for Baby and threatening him in the same sentence.
When I watch one of Wright’s films, I always marvel at how he’s able to get performances out of his actors that you forget they can do. And this is exactly the case with Jamie Foxx. Coming of a long couple of years of lacklustre, good-not-great performances, Foxx kills it in the role of Bats. And I have to give him credit not for just the performance, but being in frame with Spacey and Hamm and not giving a single inch to either of those two great actors deep into their roles.
Perhaps the most unique of Wright’s talents is wrapped around all of these characters and this story. It’s Wright’s ability to score a movie. Whether it’s John Hamm shooting a rifle to the exact beats of the song playing in Baby’s iPod. Kevin Spacey pointing up on the ding of the arriving elevator. Baby walking down the street to a coffee shop passing the lyrics painted as graffiti at the point in the song that Baby’s listening to. Edgar Wright has a unique vision that translates into his films always finds a way to make each time you see Baby Driver, or any of his films, a truly enjoyable thing to watch.
And what makes this film truly stand out against the films in the box office it’s against is the fact that it’s real. Wright has made a career of out of using practical effects and materials to truly bring these worlds and gags to life. And the same can definitely be said for Baby Driver. Wright’s use of stunt drivers and his brilliant eye for tempo creates chases and stunts that never feel overdone or that we’re getting this forced to watch. Wright tells a story just as well with vehicles as much he does people and you feel tremendously satisfying when it gets to that climatic moment. Whether Baby Driver does better than Marvel’s Spider-Man Homecoming when it premieres in about two weeks is irrelevant because there’s a lot of great films out there this summer. But here’s the thing, less than half of those films being released are original. To make an original film in this day, let alone a truly great film, like Baby Driver, is few and far between.
Baby Driver is well worth 5 out of 5 stars and more than worth your time. Not that any of the summer tent poles like Transfomers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Wonder Woman, or Spider-Man are bad films. But with Baby Driver, unlike one of those tentpoles, you will still be talking about this long after you’ve left the theatre. And that is worth more than an CGI-filled battle scene in a superhero movie.