Film after film, modern geek auteur Edgar Wright has examined through pure ironic comedy what it is that makes his favorite genres tick. Like an expert horologist fine-tuning an intricate system of gears, he’s taken his eyepiece to the likes of zombie cinema with Shaun of the Dead and Bayhem-fueled police action with Hot Fuzz. He’s dabbled in less hyper-focused satire with his other films; notably the third in that “Cornetto Trilogy,” the woefully underrated The World’s End. That film eschews the focused genre magnification of its predecessors in favor of a film focused on character, highlighting the true thread that makes those earlier satires so effective. World’s End is still full of comic energy and action-packed bombast, but what links it to its three-flavors brethren is the emotional connection it illustrates between the characters played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They struggle with real, human emotions.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Wright’s other most notable work, similarly avoids any specific genre template (aside from perhaps coming-of-age film, but that’s a bit broad). Instead, it funnels a variety of pop cultural influences into a millennial fever-dream pastiche of video games and garage bands. It’s more founded on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original influences and experiences than it is Wright’s, but it showcases with previously unparalleled focus the horologist’s touch that defines his voice as a director. Like a punk-rock Street Fighter cuckoo clock, Scott Pilgrim flows effortlessly from Battle of the Bands to martial arts showcase, ticking away with Swiss precision and waves of aesthetic confidence. Still, it exists on a level of heightened style that might be impenetrable to some audiences, and it has the box office receipts (or lack thereof) to prove it.
Enter Baby Driver. Like an adrenaline shot to the rhythm centers of the brain, Wright’s latest feels like an elaborate mixtape crafted with passion to woo the heart of Cinema itself. Ansel Elgort dances through its opening sequences, iPod jockeying what must be a playlist on Wright’s own devices titled “Songs I would Rob a Bank To if I Were to Someday Rob a Bank” as the camera rocks back and forth like an invisible partner. From The French Connection to Monsters, Inc., the film exudes a palpable love of the medium, cut apart and placed together with such meticulous rhythm it feels like it can only have been done under a desk lamp with a magnifying glass and tweezers. To see this film on a proper screen with a theatrical sound system is absolutely sublime.
What I find particularly intriguing, though, is how Baby Driver feels like a return to focused genre filmmaking for Wright. Where the early “Cornetto” films are pitch-perfect satire, this film is dead serious in its intent. This is a genuine, honest-to-Mann heist thriller, with characters bandying about snappy dialog with names like Bats, Buddy, and Baby. It’s fun and peppy and full of swagger; and it knows exactly what it’s doing every step of the way. Every shot, be it gun or camera, is choreographed. Like any good mixtape, its pacing is carefully considered.
A prime example of how Wright plays with genre here is how he uses names. Everybody has jazzy code names to disguise their identities over the course of the film. Even Debora, Baby’s love interest, is wearing the wrong name tag when we meet her at the diner. Everybody, whether they mean to be or want to be, is a 100% genre archetype. Like any good heist thriller, however, things start going south. People die, characters we like are put in danger, and the stakes become more personal; more real. As this develops, we start learning their real names. In a tense diner scene, the exact point in the movie it becomes clear that she’s in danger, we see Debora wearing the right name tag. The movie is filled with fun details like this (lyrics printed on the wall during the opening credits, the intricacy of the shootouts, and Jon Bernthal’s last line are a genuine hoot; I hooted quietly to myself the second time I saw it), but it works throughout on its own merits as an action-packed crime thriller.
There’s heart in Baby Driver, but more than even the satires of the “Three Flavors Cornetto,” it feels like pure genre exercise. Even Baby’s heartstring-plucking backstory feels like another note in this particular genre symphony, adding just the right color at just the right time… but that’s about it. I really love this film, but I miss that extra level of character focus that made The World’s End in particular so surprising to me. If Baby Driver is Wright’s wooing mixtape, I hope it’s successful in winning the elusive heart of our lady, Cinema. I’d love to see them come together and discover something truly unique. He’s a master craftsmen who has proven his hand at bringing vibrant life to even a straight-ahead vroom vroom action thriller, but I feel like he’s got even more in him. Edgar Wright is on the verge of surpassing himself, and I can’t wait to see it happen.
Join DC, Ray, and Darren, as they explore how episodic films have had an impact on modern cinema.
When I was a kid, I used to rush home from elementary school to watch Toonami. And although my teachers would hound me for missing my homework the next day, I spent hours in front of the television, glued to hours of animation. Between each episode were inspirational AMVs (animated music videos) that gave me the strength to get through school the next day.
My siblings and I would take breaks between shows to watch MTV and BET, catching up on all of the insane 90’s music videos featured at the time. Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot were taking weird to a whole new level in hip-hop, while the Foo Fighters and Beck were showing us that rock music can be just as loony. We lived in that space, musically. Jammin’ out to Outkast in the car just as easily as the video game soundtracks I’d download-very, horrifically slowly-on our dial up internet connection.
A few years later I was sacrificing sleep to sneak into the living room to watch Adult Swim. Late night programming for “definitely-not-kids” that all my friends would rave about in middle school. Space Ghost, Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist. All packed between soundclips of J Dilla, MF DOOM, and Flying Lotus. I would later become huge fans of all three.
I spent my time absorbed in all of it, nerd media and a hodgepodge of miscellaneous music. Punk rock shook my world (and my grades) while the high school library fueled my comic book addiction. People couldn’t get a vibe on what kind of person I was, and I didn’t really know either. I rolled my first d20 at age 14, the same year I memorized College Dropout from beginning to end. My weekends were spent walking the several miles to the movie theater, arguing with friends over who would win between Captain America and Iron Man, or planning how to make money for the newest video game.
But between all of the excitement and journeys to find myself, I realized something that every nerd does.
I was different.
All the shonen I’d absorbed in my youth made me feel as if I was destined for something incredible, and that it was all waiting for me just around the next corner. It made me believe that even though I was the weird black kid, that I would become Hokage or Lupe Fiasco or the next Blade.
Remember Blade? Blade was fuckin’ raw. But I digress.
I’ve turned a lot of corners and I’m not the Navigator of the Trimaxion Drone Ship. Darn. Nor am I the Chosen One, and I’m about 80% sure that I’m not a replicant. My parents are my real parents so I’m not from Krypton (and neither are they), and I’ve yet to be bitten by any radio-active spiders.
Greatness is what you make of your life, as I’ve learned from the nerds before me. Those who create from a place of passion and honesty find themselves surrounded by others who no longer have to feel something we have all felt in our lives.
This is where I’ve gathered together people with similar backgrounds, in that we were raised off of nerd media and want to use our lives to promote, analyse, and create more. Because all of it helped make us who we are. Because the people out there creating are the ones who felt the same way that we all have. And they chose to make stories for us, to be a guiding light through troubling times.
Whether those times consist of dealing with racism, sexism, bullying, transphobia, homophobia; we’re all nerds. We bond over our sameness and enjoy the perspectives that our differences bring to the table.
So here is the home where we digest it all. Games, film, music, art, animation, and all the nerdy news we feel inclined to share. Our purpose is to understand and expand on what makes high quality media work, and to reflect on what low quality media is lacking. And of course if you truly appreciate something, you should be able to see both the flaws and strengths of its character.
We’re dedicated to releasing one post daily at 12pm PST, and The DesC podcast will be releasing bi-weekly with some fun stuff in between. You can find season one of the podcast here. Check it out, leave a comment and a like, and feel free to share what you dig.
David “DC” Collins