Stylized action movies are nothing new, but they're enjoying a resurgence. Films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, and Baby Driver perfectly illustrate this highly stylized genre that goes beyond fast cars and fight scenes to deliver a sensory feast on top of a solid narrative.
Baby Driver uses the heist film as a foundation for a structure built out of many genre elements. It's not just action, but romance, musical and comedy. Rather than feeling like separate stories cobbled together to meet some kind of quota, it's fluid and endlessly entertaining. The reason for this appealing cohesion? The artistic filmmaking style of director Edgar Wright, which tops the film like icing on a cake.
Car crashes, fist fights and shoot outs might drive away the kind of fan that prefers their drama slow and simmering, but from its earliest marketing it was clear that Baby Driver wouldn't fall into the trap of being all brawn and no brains. The poster itself inspires nostalgia; the illustration is reminiscent of both old Hollywood and '50s pop culture. Despite being set in the modern era, the movie conveys a classic sensibility through its meticulous choice of colors, costumes and choreography. Nothing seems out of place; everything fits perfectly into the gorgeous aesthetic that Edgar Wright has created. It's hard to look away.
Many critics were quick to label the film as a musical in addition to an heist with great action. While none of the characters ever directly break out into song and dance, every beat, brake and acceleration is choreographed so perfectly to the soundtrack that you can't help but marvel at the spectacle. Genevieve Koski from Vox sums it up best:
"What makes Baby Driver a movie musical, rather than an action movie with a killer soundtrack, is how Wright incorporates the film’s music into not just the narrative but the action as well. Every action scene functions as a choreographed dance number, with gunshots and screeching wheels marking perfect time with the music, and Elgort turns in some winning lip-sync-and-dance moments that help establish Baby’s character beyond his signature quirk. But Baby Driver also follows many of the beats of the classic Hollywood musical — a form that Wright knows and loves — particularly in the courtship between Baby and Debora, which cannily uses music to narrative, thematic, and emotional ends."
It's an unusual feeling to be enchanted by a car chase or a fight scene the way you would be by a dance number, but that's the sort of reaction that Baby Driver elicits. If you didn't come for the reckless driving, you'll stay for the synchronized audio-visual feast. The beauty is that while the film's movements are theatrical, they would be utterly impossible to recreate outside of the movies. Dancing cars just don't translate to the stage. It's pure cinema.
The music and the movement aren't the only aspects of the film that arrest the audience. In an interview with Nerdist, head costume designer Courtney Hoffman explains how she assigned a signature color to each character, creating a primary-colored palette across the cast. She explains:
"[Baby is] once in the script described as 'the Gene Kelly of the coffee run.' He’s experiencing this world in a sort of a black-and-white way, so we liked the idea of him being in black and white while he’s surrounded by all these [dangerous] characters. So every character has been assigned a color. So Bats (Jamie Foxx) is red, and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is pink and purple, and Buddy (Jon Hamm) is blue."
Thanks to the combination of costumes, cars, and the way Wright shoots the streets of downtown Atlanta, Baby Driver is like watching a brightly colored comic book unfold on screen. Whether you enjoy comics or not, you have to appreciate the cheerful energy the style brings to the screen.
The story at the heart of Baby Driver isn't especially complicated: A young kid's mother dies in a car crash, leaving his ears ringing with tinnitus, simultaneously giving him an affinity for slick driving and loud music. He accidentally falls into a life of organized crime, but wants out when he falls in love because, at the end of the day, he's still a good kid.
Most moviegoers that shy away from action do so because action movies often spend more time on adrenaline than on getting the audience emotionally invested in the hero. Edgar Wright ensures that this won't be the case with Baby Driver: The story is simple enough that you'll remember to root for Baby and his girl, even with all the distracting crashing, clashing and face-bashing going on. Throughout the film, the highly stylized tunes and vivid imagery provide a constant, pleasant flood of dopamine to keep you happily immersed in Wright's carefully crafted and endlessly entertaining artistic vision.
Baby Driver is available on digital on September 12 — get it on iTunes!