In a word? Tone.
So first, here's the international trailer for Baby Driver. Watch it first, then I'll talk at you about all this.
Once upon a time in the 1970's, road movies only took themselves as seriously as they needed to. They were short on plot, high on concept, rich with quirky characters, and they worked at least modestly to suspend your disbelief.
But most importantly they were fun. Look no further than Vanishing Point (1971) Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Gone in 60 Seconds (1974, not '99) and of course, the Godfather of road movies, Smokey and the Bandit, for evidence of what I’m on about.
Not to assume Edgar Wright’s intentions, but Baby Driver looks to be a stern homage to those films, while poking light fun at Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, the way Hot Fuzz did with Bad Boys II, or Shaun of the Dead to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
This balance of tonal maturity while maintaining a light heart has been so lacking in car movies of the past two decades. Really beginning with flicks like the Gone in Sixty Seconds remake and The Fast and The Furious in 1999, car movies just stopped winking at the audience (with the exception of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, a film which literally takes a beat to wink directly to the camera).
Some may argue that the later Fast and Furious films are having fun with themselves and the audience, but I just don’t see it that way. Hipsters may go to menacingly balk at entertainment written for the lowest IQ, but I’ve yet to see a Fast film that doesn’t demand I take it seriously, despite its incessant ridiculousness.
Put it this way. Fast movies are the tonal (don’t confuse that with aesthetic) equivalent to DC superhero films. Baby Driver looks tonally similar to something from the Marvel Cinematic Universe—like Ant Man or Guardians of the Galaxy. Nevermind its obvious grasp of the importance of character vulnerability, causal progression, stakes, tension, suspension of disbelief… the comparisons could go on.
All this makes it so appropriate that Baby Driver seems to be primarily skewering Drive.
And don’t get me wrong. I love Drive. Like, Top-Five-Favourite-Films-Of-All-Time-Love Drive. Like, spent $250 to buy a replica of the scorpion jacket that Ryan Gosling wears in the movie, love Drive (heck yes it’s officially licensed, heck no I don't wear it).
But if there’s any movie that takes itself 110% seriously and is borderline humourless, it’s Drive.
Baby Driver is about a practically nameless protagonist with a special talent for being behind the wheel, who also wants to escape his life of crime to live peacefully with his sweetheart waitress girlfriend. Additionally, it looks like he’s a little brain-damaged. And he’s going to have to get violent to accomplish his goal. And there’s a great bit about Michael Myers masks, and we’ve all heard the story about Gosling taking inspiration from the famous Halloween killer for his role in Drive.
So it's a perfect target, then.
Baby Driver looks so fucking good because it looks refreshing. After years of Vin Diesel grumbling some bullshit about family, or Ryan Gosling looking po-faced while Kavinsky plays in the background, it seems like Edgar Wright is finally going to remind us what car movies are supposed to be about.
Chris D'Alessandro is a screenwriter from Toronto, Canada who likes movies and arguing with people. He also has more cover-up tattoos than he'd care to admit.