The first time the trailer for Baby Driver came on, I let out an audible sigh about ten seconds in at what was clearly a second-rate knock-off of the Fast and the Furious franchise, which itself never once interested me. But by thirty seconds into the trailer, the Edgar Wright-ness of it all was starting to shine through. And come the time the trailer was over, Baby Driver shot past Planet of the Apes, Kingsmen, and Justice League as my most anticipated film of the year. Even if it weren’t written and directed by the auteur who delivered one of the greatest films of all time (Scott Pilgrim versus The World, of course), that teaser alone commanded attention. And the full film fully delivers, offering, if anything, the antithesis to the Fast and Furious-like films that fetishize cars and crime. Baby Driver brings both, but never for a minute romanticized the lawlessness and violence which drive its high-octane action sequences.
Wright accomplishes this feat by proving from the first frames that he can entertain and excite every bit as much without car chases and shoot-outs as with, freeing audiences to empathize entirely with Baby’s own desire to cut the criminal ties to which he’s bound; at any point we’d be perfectly content were the rest of the film a romantic comedy between the affable Ansel Elgort and the alluring Lily James. It helps that these likable leads have clear chemistry; they would work as well in an updated Dirty Dancing as they do in this modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. After all, Baby is always in motion, and though his movements and mannerisms aren’t what would traditionally pass for dancing, both the way he walks and the way he drives are always in rhythm with the ever-present soundtrack scoring his life and the film alike.
Baby Driver belongs to nascent sub-genre of musicals wherein the characters never break from reality into a song and dance number, and yet the song selection is every bit as integral to the soul of the movie as the cinematography or the performances. Wright is never quite as successful at DJ-ing Baby Driver as James Gunn is with Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2, but there are a few standout selections, including Queen’s “Brighton Rock” and a new release from Simon and Garfunkel eponymously titled “Baby Driver.”
The real genius of the film comes at the climax. Wright establishes the expectation throughout that Baby will only escape his criminal entanglements once he finally decides to just drop everything, drive west with Deborah with a song on the radio of a car they can’t afford and no particular plan of what to do when they get wherever. Exactly at the moment when they seem to succeed in doing so, Wright deftly defies those expectation. In one last run-in with the law enforcement he’d until then always succeeded in running from, Baby turns off the ignition, throws away the keys, and peacefully surrenders, paying the debt to society which he’d racked up during the days and weeks and years prior. Baby Driver not only removes the glamour from the car-crime genre, it soberingly shows the consequences of such a lawless lifestyle.