The opening 10-minutes of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver contains one of the five best action sequences I have ever seen in my life. Ansel Elgort plays Baby, the wheel-man for a revolving group of bank robbers. But this movie is not about the heists: It’s about the getaways. The three bank robbers (Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Eiza González) run out of the building and jump in the car, and Baby — who is always listening to music through a pair of headphones because it drowns out the ringing in his ears owed to tinnitus — speeds away with the cops in pursuit. What unfolds is an energetic, kinetic, insanely fun, crowd-pleasing car-chase sequence choreographed to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” down to the note. It’s unbelievable, and words could never do it justice. It is a legendary sequence. It will be iconic one day. If the entire movie consisted of only that sequence, I would have walked away grinning ear-to-ear, feeling as though I had witnessed some movie-making history.
In fact, I saw Baby Driver the first time a few months ago at SXSW, and a crowded movie theater erupted in applause after that opening sequence. But I don’t trust festival screenings. We’re all infected by a fever at those things, and we often let the mood of the crowd dictate our feelings about a movie. So, I saw Baby Driver again this week with a smaller, more reserved audience. At the end of that opening sequence, a long-haired rando in front of me started slapping his knees and clapping, oblivious to the decorum of a theater with fewer than 20 people in it. I was right there with him.
It really is that good. It’s an impressive, eye-popping, heart-pounding, incredibly fluid series of zigs, zags, spins, fishtails, and U-turns. Ansel Elgort controls his car like Channing Tatum controls his body in Step Up. It’s practically sexual, and you can actually see the movements: It’s not obscured by quick cuts and fancy editing: It’s like a motherfucking car ballet set to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It’s Wow multiplied by Holy Shit.
The rest of the movie is pretty goddamn great, too.
As it turns out, Baby is not exactly a willing participant in these heists. He’s paying off a huge debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey), the brains behind the operation. When Baby was a teenager, he boosted one of Doc’s cars, and it had a treasure of stolen goods in it, so Doc is forcing him to pay him back by being the wheel-man in a series of heists. Baby has just one more to pull off, and he’s square.
But of course, it’s never that easy.
When Baby’s not driving getaway cars, he’s a good kid with a big heart, who takes care of an elderly deaf man (CJ Jones), makes his own mix-tapes, and moons over his late Mom. Unfortunately, in the heist after the final heist, Baby ends up in a crew with Buddy (Hamm), Darling (González) and the mentally imbalanced Bats (Jamie Foxx) that eventually goes off the rails in spectacular fashion. Meanwhile, Baby has also fallen in love with a diner waitress named Debora played by Lily James, and if Baby can just extricate himself from his criminal element, he and Debora can ride off into the sunset.
The storyline is fine, but mostly it’s a canvass upon which Edgar Wright paints a series of incredible car chase sequences that makes you realize why the Fast & Furious crew have to drive expensive sports cars. Edgar Wright has nothing for which to overcompensate in Baby Driver, and he’s as capable of staging a getaway in a mid-sized sedan as he might be in a Maserati. Baby Driver is not about the cars; it’s about what Edgar Wright does with them, and what he does will blow your brain receptors out.
That said, Baby Driver is not without its problems. Edgar Wright still has no idea how to write women, and Debora here is just another manic-pixie Ramona Flowers in a different outfit — the romantic elements feel like something out of a different era. Lily James is lovely, but she’s less a character than a plot device. Meanwhile, as much as I hate to say it, Jon Hamm is badly miscast here. I don’t buy what he’s trying to sell, and without ruining any of the surprises, I’ll just say that Bernthal — who has a glorified cameo in the movie’s opening sequence — would’ve been a much better choice for Hamm’s role.
Those issues aside, however, I can’t stress enough just how wildly fun Baby Driver is. It’s the most crowd-pleasing movie of 2017, a soaring, zig-zagging, viscerally exciting, crackling crime caper with a lot of soul, an impeccable soundtrack, and personality that goes on for days. It’s the best movie of Edgar Wright’s career, and I say that as someone who has seen Shaun of the Dead no less than 10 times.