This article contains spoilers for Baby Driver and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Now, before you set about preparing to kill me and burn down my house, let me clarify that I don’t hate this film. In fact, I don’t even dislike it. That said, I believe that Baby Driver isn’t really worthy of all the acclaim it seems to be getting. And I say this as someone who has been a massive fan of director and screenwriter Edgar Wright’s previous work. I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, while both Hot Fuzz and The World’s End are amongst my favourite films ever made. So why exactly did Baby Driver not click for me?
I suppose the main reason is probably the lack of great characters. Admittedly, Wright’s previous work wasn’t the most character-driven, but he still found the time to give us several entertaining or interesting characters; in fact, I’d argue that Gary King from The World’s End is one of the most fascinating characters put to film in recent years. When it comes to Baby Driver though, none of the characters feel like they’ve been developed beyond their respective basic archetypes; Baby (Ansel Elgort), the criminal with a heart of gold; Doc (Kevin Spacey), the authoritative mob boss; Bats (Jamie Foxx), the violent psychopath; many are characters whose names I’d struggle to remember after about a week. Love interest Debora (Lily James) is especially bad, getting absolutely no characterisation beyond being “the girlfriend”. This means that her romance with Baby feels really unengaging, which is a real problem when the film is asking us to be invested in the main character putting his entire life at risk because of that romance.
My other real problem is that the film feels very safe. Usually, Wright’s films end up being a different beast to what we’re promised – Shaun of the Dead was advertised as a “rom-com with zombies”; most of the first half of Hot Fuzz is more akin to an Agatha Christie-style whodunit than an action film; The World’s End seems to change genres on a whim; even Scott Pilgrim buries its rom-com story under tonnes of video-game themed stylings. With Baby Driver, we were promised a crime caper with a romance subplot – a typical “escape from the criminal life plot” – and that’s exactly what we got. This isn’t necessarily bad, but the fact that there’s no surprising rug-pull regarding the story makes the film feel very predictable and almost bland. The only exception I can think of is the surprisingly early killing of Bats, who you’d expect to be Baby’s biggest obstacle in his path to freedom (looks like Snoke wasn’t 2017’s only villainous red herring). It doesn’t help that Edgar Wright’s typical directorial style of quick cuts of mundane actions, or zany instances of physical comedy, which could have lifted the more standard material in Baby Driver, is almost completely absent. Strangely, despite the fact that Wright is the sole creative force involved in the story, it feels like anyone could have realistically directed this film.
As stated earlier, I don’t dislike Baby Driver, and there is plenty to like about it. Synchronizing the action scenes to the beat of the soundtrack is a genius bit of editing; the performances are very strong across the cast (with Elgort, in particular, standing out), and even though the story is very much by-the-numbers, the script provides a large number of very funny scenes (such as the “Michael Myers” scene). Despite all this, Baby Driver feels like a missed opportunity. I suppose I have to praise the film for finally giving Wright a global box office success, but I really hope that this doesn’t become the standard for his future work, because there is nothing more disappointing about modern cinema than seeing a great director squandered on mediocre material.
Baby Driver (2017), directed by Edgar Wright, is distributed on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, certificate 15.