Edgar Wright's Evolving Tone
If you had to define the type of movie that Wright works in, it's genre mashup pastiches. The Cornetto trilogy's entire selling point was the slacker riffs on zombie, cop and alien invasion films respectively and Scott Pilgrim went cross-medium and delivered an evocative video game flick. What's important is that none of them were overt parodies; Shaun of the Dead is a good zombie movie, Hot Fuzz a genuinely intriguing mystery and even The World's End a fitting first encounter arc.
Baby Driver can be read in that same way but one the whole feels fundamentally different. It is still an action-thriller that knowingly subverts conventions (look at how the villain role flip in the third act is handled) but what's missing is that overt comedic bent. Instead, it's a wholly earnest film that straddles multiple genres, one that replicates the style of movies its director loves and has the confidence to not undercut that with self-aware irreverence. It's mature and packs a surprising emotional punch, revealing Wright's true skill.
In regards to Ant-Man, this alters the previously mentioned notion of Marvel making an "Edgar Wright film". We often assumed this indicated an out-and-out comedy, which is certainly the direction Reed steered it in, but Wright's subsequent movement and what it says of his previous work suggests some of the film might have been a little more serious and plainly thrilling.
The Heist Action
A major comparison point between Baby Driver and Ant-Man is their heist-driven plots, something intrinsic to the getaway driver idea but a notion Wright explicitly brought to the shrinking superhero (and carried over into the finished project after he'd moved on). This is where the fact both movies began development in the mid-2000s is important; while they were distinct projects, they were occupying the same headspace and riffing on the same beloved genre.
To go too in depth would be pure speculation, but Baby Driver's focus on the heist crew's interactions and the third act being the direct fallout from their robbery gone wrong feels like it was where Wright was heading with Ant-Man; based off what Reed's said, the third act of the finished film was where the majority of the new story was added.
Of course, within all that there's the action. On a visceral level Baby Driver pops and puts Ant-Man - which, actual shrinking aside was rather unimaginative, not even having that much fun with scale - to shame. So much of what's in here is specific to Baby - all chase and music - but the energy, heart and pacing is fully Wright.
The On-Set Music
Perhaps the most showily impressive part of Baby Driver is the use of music. The song choice is both believable in the world and evocative of the story being told, but beyond that the beat dominates the film as much as it does Baby's actions. Wright played the music on set to influence both the actors and the cinematography, then had the edit built from the ground-up on the tracks' rhythms. It's fitting of how meticulous he is a director and leads to the most fluid musical imaginable.
Music isn't essential to Ant-Man but there is some pointed use of existing songs - the film even goes as far as having the traditional Marvel fanfare replaced with Borombon by Camilo Azuquita - and it's conceivable that this element could have played a bigger part in Wright's version. The dominance in Baby Driver is, after all, backed up by some astute song choices throughout his career (think Don't Stop Me Now in Shaun of the Dead).
There's an obvious comparison here to Guardians of the Galaxy, where James Gunn likewise had songs from the respective Awesome Mixes on set for the actors to play off of and inform his scene's structure. That said, in those films the effect is less immediately invigorating - the music's existence, not its influence, is the talking point. Regardless of execution, it's likely this would have been something Wright would have wanted to factor in, at least for a sequence or two.
What Baby Driver really shows is an inherently gifted filmmaker advancing his craft and moving beyond the traditional expectations applied to him. Within that, though, are recurring ideas that are sure to have circled Ant-Man in some form.
Of course, there's a flipside to the discussion; the Ant-Man failure emboldened Wright and finally saw him go full pelt into his passion project, making it with no studio compromises or other restrictions. The film is so masterful it's sure to have been good in whatever incarnation it made it to the screen, but all the heartbreak of the Ant-Man fracas seems to have emboldened him. Now we have Baby Driver, maybe we can finally let the MCU that could have been go.
- Baby Driver (2017) release date: Jun 28, 2017