By Tony Inglis
What is the summer blockbuster in 2017? Looking at what’s on offer, the words that most immediately spring to mind are: gloomy, humourless, mind-numbing, boring, joyless and sequel. Call me defeatist, but it’s true. Look at Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, the new Transformers, even the more successful, but still flawed, Wonder Woman; these so-called blockbusters are filled with muted colour palettes, clunking dialogue, weightless action and an embarrassing desperation to be commercially viable.
Baby Driver, the new film from British director Edgar Wright, is the antithesis of these films. It embodies exactly what summer blockbusters are supposed to be – an intravenous injection of pure cinema which slaps a grin on your face almost as soon as the studio card appears to start the film and keeps it there until the credits roll.
Wright, who is known for his quirky, and very British, genre busting comedies with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as his cult adaptation of graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs the World, has done what filmmakers like Michael Bay and the cohort at DC Comics could only dream of pulling off. Baby Driver is a meticulously put together but seemingly effortless thrill ride that is original, high on fun, laughs and action. He has done it on a fraction of the budget and at about 45 minutes less in duration.
The story follows the titular Baby, played with a relaxed slickness by Ansel Elgort, who manages to embody old-fashioned cool as well as a theatrical goofiness. He is a getaway driver for a group of bank-robbing, post office-jacking lowlifes (Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx among them), led by Kevin Spacey’s well-connected, fast-talking Doc.
Baby has tinnitus resulting from a childhood accident, which he drowns out by constantly blasting tunes from whatever outlet he has available, whether that be a car stereo or through one of his many iPods. And as the action unfolds, we, the audience, experience the music just as Baby does – sound tracking highway chases, the coffee run or even a violent shoot out. At times, the music effortlessly clicks into gear with what’s going down onscreen – gunshots and clip reloads start moving to the beat of the music. The musicality and choreography is integral to the story, while never being distracting or obvious. It’s as if bullets snap to the hit of a snare drum in the real world all the time.
It’s at moments like this, of which there are countless others scattered throughout the film, when Baby Driver is at its most dazzlingly entertaining. As soon as the first note of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’ introduce us to the waiting Baby and his criminal cohort, the movie pulls us in and grips us as tightly as Baby’s screeching tyres do the roads. The opening heist and chase sequence is the most intoxicating rush I’ve had in a cinema screen this year. It is just so much fun – a quality that many filmmakers and studios seem to have forgotten about.
That is not to say this is lowbrow art. Wright is a cinephile, and everything in this movie drips of his expert eye for style, as well as his absolute passion for this project. There are references to everything in here, from The French Connection to La La Land. It’s often said that when a crew has too much fun making a film, it results in a poor end-product. With Baby Driver, an end-product of the utmost quality, I fail to see how any of the actors could have anything but the best time when the director at the helm so clearly knows what he wants to portray on screen.
In terms of plot and characters, Baby Driver is not a revolution. It follows very well worn and classic cinema tropes. The young hotshot, who turns out to be an unwilling criminal, falls for the perfect girl. They dream of their escape to pastures new, but he is drawn back in for one last job, and things don’t quite go according to plan. Wright does play with our expectations of the Hollywood happy ending, but ultimately we’re not here for that. When Baby cranks the stereo and, all of a sudden, we’re speeding down the hot Atlanta streets in a gleaming red Corvette to a Tarantino-esque celluloid jukebox of songs, it is done with such precision and expertise that it is helpless to resist being pulled along with it.
Baby Driver stands out because it is full of the moments we go to the cinema for – that perfect song choice, unexpected laugh, grip-your-seat shock or breakneck turn. Moments which make our hearts leap a little. When a film filled with such unbridled joy comes along, it leaves the chasing pack of summer blockbusters in a cloud of smoke, with their wheels spinning.