If ever a filmmaker were to direct my daily life, I’d want it to be Edgar Wright. With his incredibly kinetic style, sense of constant exciting motion, and perfect cueing of music to elevate a scene, he could make even the dullest moment seem cool. Baby Driver, Wright’s first film since The World’s End and his quitting of Marvel’s Ant-Man, proves that his technical skill works just as well when taking itself seriously as it does in the highly stylised comedies that made Wright’s name. From cacophonous car chases to free-running escapes, Baby Driver’s music-fuelled action is frenetic and all but guaranteed to leave you grinning.
Each action scene was built from the ground up around the song that plays during it, and this unique and no doubt painstaking process pays huge dividends. Any time the soundtrack builds to a crescendo, so does the onscreen chaos, building anticipation before barrelling into you with a conclusive and immensely satisfying thump. Even amongst the screeching of tires and explosive gunshots, the anthems never get lost in the mix, visual and aural coherence maintained at all times, even as the volume and rapidity of each sequence ramps up with every successive escalating plot beat.
As the getaway driver for heist organiser Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the only constant member of otherwise ever shifting teams of bank robbers and other lowlifes. Indebted to Doc, Baby drives for heist after heist, only taking a small fraction of the haul, before one last mission promises to free him from his life of crime to focus on his burgeoning romance with innocent diner waitress Deborah (Lily James). Surprisingly enough, this job actually goes off without too much of a hitch, illustrating a willingness to eschew genre conventions that unfortunately isn’t followed up later in the film.
Baby Driver is the first Edgar Wright film that isn’t an out and out comedy, and while there are still plenty of very funny moments, including some incredible sight gags, this move into dramatic territory renders his dialogue and plotting more inert. Original jokes and character beats are still present, but the script is a lot more generic here than in the Cornetto trilogy or Scott Pilgrim and if you’re hoping for the quote-a-minute brilliance of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, you’re likely to leave slightly disappointed. Typically brilliant editing keeps every scene snappy and entertaining, but with Wright’s track record, you can’t but want more out of the writing.
Elgort and James are pretty much cyphers as the romantic leads, though Elgort does pull off the physical demands of his role with great aplomb (a single take dance through the streets to get the morning’s coffee is a dizzyingly fun highlight). The supporting players get a lot more individuality, from Spacey’s strangely honourable crime boss to Jamie Foxx really cutting loose as an unpredictable enforcer and Jon Hamm as the slick face of the operation, discomfortingly likable until he’s terrifying. Everyone gets at least one moment of violent glory, and some characters’ deaths are trademark Wright, brutal and hilarious in equal measure.
It’s a shame that, a few moments (including a neatly realistic conclusion) aside, the previously phenomenal Wright dialogue feels like such filler this time around. Though, in many ways, Baby Driver is a full-blown musical (Baby sings and dances along to plenty of the tracks), far more in thrall to the soundtrack’s tempo and a constant sense of motion than it is to dialogue and story. As an action-musical, it’s the best example of that admittedly very niche genre, thrilling and catchy and unstoppably fast, packed with innovation around every corner.