Update: This feature was originally published March 20th, 2017
Some movies seem too good to be true, and 2017 is a host to many of them. There's Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh's NASCAR heist film that has Channing Tatum and Adam Driver playing brothers. Or The Disaster Artist, the fabled story of a top tier Z-movie, starring James Franco in a role he was born to play. Even Thor: Ragnorak, with Taika Waititi at the helm and Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, and Tessa Thompson in the cast, comes off as something we'd never get to see. But it's a Marvel movie so chances are we'll see it every waking hour of our lives.
Perhaps the most incredible 2017 release is Baby Driver, which recently premiered at the SXSW Festival. A crime thriller featuring a more star-studded cast than Wright has ever worked with? Surely cinema lovers are having their collective leg pulled.
15 Edgar Wright
Sometimes, the name beneath "A Film By" is enough to get you hyped. Since Edgar Wright garnered mainstream attention for Shaun of the Dead, he hasn't made one bad film. He seems almost incapable of doing so. With the attention to detail he applies to every frame, the amount of coverage he gathers for even the shortest scene, and the relentless quick cuts, Wright seems to love filmmaking so much he can't allow one of his own to be sub-par.
Wright not only cares about movies, but also cares about genre. He's an expert in genre filmmaking, and bends high concepts to his unique intentions. Shaun of the Dead, drawing from horror films, used the backdrop of a world in crisis to tell the story of one man's personal crises. Hot Fuzz used the aggressive, feverish tendencies of action movies to emphasize another man's obsessive work tendencies. And The World's End used elements of body-snatching sci-fi movies as an allegory for alcoholism. Edgar Wright embraces genre tropes without getting manhandled by them.
14 It's Been A Long Time Coming
Baby Driver has an interesting history that stretches back to 1994. For over twenty years Wright's latest has fermented in his brain, and even foreshadowed its fruition in Wright's early work.
Any idea resting in the back of somebody's mind for twenty years is bound to get better over time. And any idea resting in Edgar Wright's mind for that long is bound to yield something really special.
As stated before, Baby Driver boasts more acting talent than any of Wright's previous film (and that includes Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and its ensemble of cult favorites). The inclusion of Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, Emmy winner Jon Hamm, underrated gem Jon Bernthal, and rising star Ansel Elgort is enough to make your head spin like an electric dreidel. What's more is they seem perfectly fitted to their respective roles.
Spacey plays Doc, a domineering crime boss who favors Elgort's quietly charming Baby as a getaway driver for his heists. Doc's revolving door of accomplices includes Buddy, a terrifying thief played by Jon Hamm (who's actually been associated with Baby Driver since a 2012 table read). There's also Griff (played by the often utilized but rarely applauded Bernthal), and a mentally imbalanced crook named Bats (Jamie Foxx, no doubt bringing swagger and menace to the role).
Praise of Baby Driver's cast has been universal, so it's safe to assume Wright's impeccable directing talents will be accented by stellar performances.
A simple log-line doesn't do Baby Driver much credit: a getaway driver falls in love with a waitress and tries to leave his life of crime. But there's a little more going on here, and it has to do with Baby himself.
Baby has tinnitus, a result of the car crash that killed his parents when he was young. He still has a "hum in the drum," as Doc describes it, and listens to music to help. The pounding headphones that are almost constantly in his ears not only alleviate Baby's handicap, they make him a fiend behind the wheel of a car.
Baby's condition demands Wright's approach to the film. Almost everything in Baby Driver, from car chases to gun fights to simple dialogue, is choreographed to music playing throughout the film. In a buzzed-about scene early on in the movie, Baby gracefully slips and slides as he gets coffee for his crew. A Starbucks run gets dance treatment in this movie! Wright has no illusions about revolutionizing heist films on a story level, but, as is his way, he brings an extra twist to the genre.
Wright took this musical angle seriously, and got the best people to map out each elaborate action scene (and coffee scene, and any scene really). To choreograph Baby Driver, Wright hired Ryan Heffington, who made a name for himself when he choreographed the music video for Sia's "Chandelier." Heffington's kinetic dance movies should keep pace with Wright's equally kinetic editing (and cinematography, and anything else really).
Heffington's job was presumably made easier by Ansel Elgort's experience as a trained dancer. He's proficient in ballet, tap, and even break-dancing. His fancy footwork comes from his education at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, which served as the basis for the arts high school in the 80s TV show Fame.
With Heffington and Elgort on his team, Wright clearly didn't want to make something slightly resembling a musical, he wanted to make an actual musical. Albeit one featuring an overture of gunfire and revved engines rather than your typical symphony.
10 It's Not A Parody
Baby Driver presents a rarity for Edgar Wright: a genre film without a catch. His previous films were comedic renditions of a various genres. Shaun of the Dead took horror, Hot Fuzz took action, and The World's End took sci-fi. Even Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, adapted from Brian Lee O'Malley's graphic novel, poked fun at video games.
But Baby Driver is a no frills action movie that Wright just happened to direct. In fact, the director had to remind people and press multiple times that he never intended to make a straight comedy. He wanted to make a crime thriller like the ones he always admired (see: influences), and Baby Driver gave him that chance.
Of course, calling Wright's earlier movies "parodies" is a somewhat condescending oversimplification. His main goal has always been quality filmmaking, and he just took a comical route to go about it. But he envisioned his newest piece as a pure and simple action flick. Wright enters new territory with Baby Driver, which automatically make's it intriguing.
9 But It's Still Funny
Rest easy! Wright clearly made fun a top priority for his latest. A lot of whizzing and banging occurs in the film's early footage, so it's safe to predict Baby Driver will leave you sufficiently uplifted after the credits role. This movie is in no way a sobering mediation on America's gun epidemic.
If you're still not convinced, pay attention to the comedic beats sprinkled into the trailers. One that stands out includes a disappointing mix-up between Michael Myers, serial killer from Halloween, and Mike Myers, comedian of Austin Powers fame. That's evidently Wright's brand of referential humor.
Another moment in the international trailer not only warrants laughter but also shows what a class act Baby is. In a send-up of the "Get out of the car!" routine, Baby steals a car from an old woman, but has enough manners, and driving expertise, to spin the car around and give her purse back. It seems like a baffling stunt Nicholas Angel might pull off.
In case you didn't already know, there are two new trailers for Baby Driver. Each trailer is great on its own. Both consolidate the movie's plot while simultaneously extending a sense of the film's tone.
The differences between trailers also bode well for the film. While a few clips and lines of dialogue cross over, the international trailer contains a sequence not present in the first. During Doc's run down of an upcoming heist, Baby, initially appearing inattentive, proves he was following the plan all along by repeating Doc's words verbatim. That extra scene sends a message to fans: there's plenty of great stuff in Baby Driver. Enough to spread over two trailers.
If the trailers somehow fail to thrill, one should look to the movie's newly released posters. One has the wires of Baby's yellow headphones hanging down to form two yellow lines in the center of a road. The other, minimal to perfection, shows a gun pointed upwards, firing a car that leaves dust floating in the wind.
To craft Baby Driver, Wright called on what he refers to as the "holy trinity" of 90s heist films, namely Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, and Heat. As mentioned before, Baby Driver clearly pulled from these influences and, rather than put them in the comedy blender, molded them into something completely unique that could just as easily stand beside them. Good things happen when Wright summons material from other films, whether they're made by George Romero or Michael Bay, and marks them with his personal stamp.
Wright also pulled from inspirations that, unlike the trinity, might not come as readily to mind. He's stated he admires certain Hong Kong films and musicals that center themselves around five major set-pieces. Wright explained he sees the value in set-pieces and how they can suddenly shift an action scene when bad things occur.
It sounds like Baby Driver left no stone unturned during its formation, and should treat moviegoers to the best of all possible worlds.
6 Stunt Work
Wright's ability to deliver a pulse pounding, grounded action scene should come as a surprise to no one, especially anybody who saw Hot Fuzz. But even a quick taste of Baby Driver's hot pursuits gives a sense for how special these car chases are. In the first trailer, an elongated drift through an alleyway boggles the mind beyond realignment.
Jeremy Fry is the stunt driver behind Baby's vehicular mastery. His recent credits hail from action greats, such as both John Wick movies, Jason Bourne, and Midnight Special. Fry teamed with Baby Driver's stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott, whose resume lists Mr. and Mrs. Smith, 2 Guns, and Drive among his many high profile accomplishments. Fry and Prescott put their heads together and came up with the impressive alleyway drift in question, pulling off a daunting 180 in 180 out maneuver.
Allied with these master stuntmen, Wright endeavored to keep all of Baby Driver's stunts, from car crashes to sharp turns, as real as possible through practical effects. We're guaranteed some exhilarating set-pieces.
5 Goodbye To Summer
Baby Driver hits theaters in early August, just in time for the Summer movie season's waning period. For most right-minded people, this will be a melancholy period, as the air gets colder and the days get shorter. Fortunately, the last of 2017's Summer movies will include a rip roaring heist thriller from one of Hollywood's best working directors.
We could all waste time lamenting the truckload of sequels, spin offs, reboots, and adaptations we'll be drowning in for four straight months (though we're all secretly looking forward to them). Conversely, we could rejoice a sudden burst of original filmmaking courtesy of Edgar Wright.
Summer Movies lay it on thick with spectacle. Wonder Woman, The Mummy, and Transformers: The Last Knight are just a few releases that will saturate theaters nationwide with buckets of splendor. But after all that, it'll be welcome to unwind with a modest, wheels-on-pavement actioner that's sure to send Summer off in style.
Bill Pope's cinematography has permanently implanted images into the minds of film fans worldwide. Sam Raimi's second and third Spiderman movies, Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book, and The Matrix trilogy (the revival of which should involve Pope if Warner Brothers is smart), provide a small portion of Pope's brilliant work. Pope is an artist in the blockbuster landscape, terrain not usually known for its artfulness.
Wright's latest teams the director and Pope for the third time. They worked together on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and The World's End. When two craftsmen work together multiple times, it's often a sign of their professional and creative compatibility. When someone witnesses Wright and Pope's previous collaborations, it becomes clear the two must get along swimmingly.
Scott Pilgrim packed a healthy dosage of unforgettable sights, like Michael Cera wielding a flaming sword. The World's End provided an expertly shot bathroom melee between middle-aged British men and a bunch of Blanks. Who knows what fantastic shots will stand out in Baby Driver?
Baby Driver's Oscar winning talent can be found behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. Steven Price, the Academy Award winning composer of Gravity, lent his baton to the Baby Driver score. In a musically driven movie (cue rim shot), it's wise not to underestimate the whole musical component. Fortunately, Price is a heavy hitter (literally if you remember Gravity's thrashing soundtrack).
Price, like Pope, is a returning colleague of Wright's. He penned the score for The World's End, and also conjured melodies for the Wright-produced Attack the Block, a wildly inventive alien invasion picture that introduced the world to John Boyega, everyone's favorite First Order defector.
Like with Pope, Price signals Wright's inclination to keep renowned talent close to the vest. And when creating your passion project of twenty plus years, you'd be wise to have the best talent by your side, making it the best it can possibly be.
2 Featured Music
Wright is a notorious music connoisseur. From Shaun of the Dead's smart application of "Don't Stop Me Now" ("Kill the Queen!") to Scott Pilgrim's fitting usage of The Rolling Stone's "Under My Thumb," Wright appreciates the boon music can offer a film's quality. And since it's been established how Baby Driver depends on music, one would hope the song choices deliver.
Fortunately, early signs point to Baby Driver having an endlessly repeatable soundtrack. It fosters music spanning all types, stacking the song-list with jazz, soul, and hip-hop tunes from some truly great artists. Queen, Blur, Young M.C., T. Rex, and, as noted above, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, all stake a claim in Baby Driver's repertoire.
Until the soundtrack itself is available to download, there's no way to determine precisely how great Baby Driver's soundtrack will be. But expectations of it reaching, or almost reaching, a Pulp Fiction level of greatness don't seem too lofty.
1 Critical Response
Hopping on a movie festival like SXSW attracts a number of benefits, the most desirable being early accolades from critics. Many past movies, like The Cabin in the Woods and This Is The End, have stoked anticipatory flames by premiering first at SXSW before their official release date. Baby Driver follows suit with its own SXSW debut.
Glowing reviews for Baby Driver have cascaded in from every corner of the online pop culture community. Vanity Fair, Variety, IGN, The Hollywood Reporter, and Birth.Movies.Death. are just a few publications singing the film's praises. Its Rotten Tomatoes score as of now is 100%, based on a reputable amount of twenty-one reviews.
If you're an Edgar Wright fan, you won't care a jot for what critics think. But if you're a Wright novice, Baby Driver's critical reception should peak your interest, and hopefully compel you to make room in your budget for a movie ticket.
Baby Driver races into theaters on August 11th.