The Heat Beats Me
Have you ever tried freeze-dried ice cream? I didn’t until yesterday (thanks Dick’s Sporting Goods), and it’s like someone made an entire meal out of Lucky Charms’ marshmallows. There’s a big chance (and I mean BIG) that I gain the most pathetic food addiction ever. It’s the kind of stuff I do to close a two-hour-plus gap between movies I see. Which is funny because I go to the theater precisely to beat the heat, yet I spend a chunk of the day outside getting sweaty armpits anyway. The Arizona Summer is like father time; it’s undefeated in making you miserable.
ON TO THE MOVIES!
With Baby Driver, Edgar Wright has made a sound track set to the back drop of a movie. It’s almost irrelevant to talk about the characters or story or all that other film critic jazz, because the music commands this film.
That’s selling the rest of this film short. Wright introduces us to a real basket of deplorables, enlists an A-grade cast to act it out, and stages some breathtaking action throughout. Whatever minor flaws are present in the story (and there are some) are sanded over by a movie that, like a great song, grabs you and just won’t stop.
Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) is an expert getaway driver that lives his life one song at a time. One moment it’s doo-wop, then it’s The Damned, then it’s Egyptian Reggae. He’s an odd soul, the kind the movies are made to follow.
His predicament is that he’s a getaway driver for Doc (Kevin Spacey), who plans bank robberies with various people. Once Baby finishes his final job (he was in debt to Doc for 10 years after attempting to steal his car), he gets a taste of the normal life. That includes delivering pizzas and falling in love with a pretty waitress (Lily James). His deaf foster father Joe (CJ Jones, who is actually hearing impaired) finally gets his wish that Baby leaves his criminal life behind him.
But the world of crime is never really left, and soon Doc calls Baby back in for one last heist. This includes a few fellow criminals (Jon Hamm, Eila Gonzalez and Jamie Foxx) who are definitely at least a little mentally disturbed. They’re all so much fun to watch. Foxx in particular reminds you how electric of an actor he can be, playing a complete dirtbag murder.
Elgort does a good job here, even if he comes off as a bit too soft and young to play the action hero type. Others will say that’s the point, but I didn’t buy him going up against Hamm’s alpha-male psycho. He nails the romantic scenes with James, and I wanted to see their relationship succeed.
But those car chases, oh my god. Steve McQueen would’ve wanted to be in them. It’s not thought of a lot because he does more comedic films, but Wright might be one of the best action filmmakers in America today. He directs scenes with a slam-bang pace, and doesn’t let a silent moment penetrate any of them.
Wright’s flawless direction makes you forget some very simple Story Logic flaws present here. Doc is presented as a powerful crime overlord to Baby, but ends up making a selfless decision that is at odds with the character’s ruthless nature. In addition, you get the sense that Wright spends the whole film trying to decide who the real villain is. As a result, you get scenes of various characters spending one moment sticking up for Baby, and another moment swearing to kill him. I get that most of the people here are deluded psychopaths, but portraying them requires some consistency.
The ending is ambiguous, but I’m a believer in love, so I’ll take the positive interpretation of it. It’s also a massive Time Jump (in which a film that followed a natural progression of time suddenly goes very far into the future), but again, I’ll forgive the weak story-telling cause the rest of the movie is so good.
Pardon the pun, but you should race to see this.
Remove the super-hero stuff, and Spider-Man: Homecoming would’ve been a great John Hughes movie. It’s proof that Marvel has this men-and-women-in-capes formula down, that they prioritize the characters over the action. For a franchise that seemed on the verge of death a few years ago (2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2), it’s impressive to see it feel so alive again.
Thankfully, we’re spared the origin story to Peter Parker (Tom Holland) once again, and pick up right after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Iron Man has basically become a surrogate father figure to Spider-Man, advising him to simple start with ground-level heroism (like stopping bike thieves) instead of going after the big baddies.
But Peter can’t help himself, especially when he notices a super villain named Vulture (Michael Keaton) trafficking stolen alien material and making weapons about it. He goes after him, and they fight, yada yada yada.
What’s way more interesting is watching Peter interact in his high school, where he’s clearly the dork that everyone makes fun of. Director Jon Watts basically imagines Peter Parker as Anthony Michael Hall in those John Hughes movies, the classic dork pining after the hot girl. He can’t take his eyes off Liz (Laura Harrier), and even thinks that showing up in his Spider-Man outfit at a party would impress her. It’s classic Marvel, managing to fuse two different genres (the high school comedy and superhero flick) seamlessly.
Holland in particular is a revelation here. He builds on his promising cameo in Civil War, proving his Peter Parker can remain engaging for a whole movie. Keaton is a lot of fun, reveling in a villainous role that is very easy for people to relate to. His performance is the dark side of his desperate salesman act in The Founder last year, and it’s fun seeing him embrace villainy. Zendaya gets big laughs out of a small amount of dialogue, and her presence makes you look forward to any future romance between Peter and her character.
This has so many laughs in it, I’m ready to declare it the best comedy of the summer (which considering what’s come out so far, might not be saying much). Peter’s interactions with the voice in his suit (which he names Karen) is an entertaining sketch, and Parker’s high school interactions with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are relatable as can be for this formerly awkward high schooler.
Keep your eyes out for a nasty late-movie twist that puts the whole story in perspective. It also does a great job making you sympathize with the Vulture character. I won’t say exactly what happens, but imagine Jonah Hill meeting his girlfriend’s dad in 22 Jump Street, and make it a thousand times more sinister.
Does it match up to the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire blockbusters of the early-to-mid 2000s? No, those films had much more dramatic weight to them (Green-Goblin-as-Power-Ranger aside) and this feels more like disposable fun. But it’s the best kind of summer entertainment, the breezy film that leaves you wanting more of it. You did it again Marvel.
Published by Jagger Czajka