Edgar Wright is one of the best directors working today. He is the Millenial answer to Quentin Tarantino, a pop culture saturated savant that is able to craft wholly unique narratives out of 100’s of other building blocks. Edgar is so unique and fresh a voice that we had to import him over from the UK. And the fact that his work hasn’t connected in a broad audience way until recently hasn’t stopped him from trucking along, his talent so obvious to anyone who meets him that he was always gonna be working.
What’s even more amazing is that he has yet to make a bad movie, seemingly getting better every time he makes a film. Even if the story itself isn’t as fresh as his others, his filmmaking just gets more on point as he gets older. One just has to look at his latest movie, “Baby Driver”, to see that. Is it as original as his debut? No, it is definitely more indebted to his influences that his other movies. But all of the technical aspects have just been executed to perfection, making audiences just dizzy with excitement.
And it’s nice to know that even with massive setback/disappointment of leaving “Ant-Man”, he was able to bounce back with an excellent genre exercise that shows him at peak performance. In honor of his newest cinematic victory, it seems to be a perfect time to take a look back at his career of media savvy mastery.
5. The World’s End
It’s not that this is a bad movie. It’s just that it has one of the most unearned third acts in recent memory. The entire the run time, the movie is setting up how Simon Pegg’s character is an absolute mess, a trainwreck in wait. He’s a drug addicted mad man who sows nothing but trouble wherever he goes.
The whole movie is about this, falling in line with Wrights thematic interests of having to grow up without having to forget your past. But then the movie decides to end with Pegg’s junkie being the only savior in the world that can stop the Aliens from taking over. In his attempt to end the movie in a way not too dissimilar from “Star Trek”, with the hero talking the aliens out of their plans, the movie sabotages it’s own themes.
It’s a stunning miscalculation from a man usually on point with this stuff, especially when the first 2/3rds are great. Filled to the brim with gut busting comedy, immaculate action scenes, and a sense of well earned pathos/sadness, the movie really feels of a piece with the Cornetto and Blood trilogy that Wright conceived. But man, that ending.
4. Hot Fuzz
The placement of this movie is where the ranking starts to get pretty arbitrary. For this is a damn near perfect movie. Wright’s sophomore effort doesn’t fall prey to a slump, even if it may be a minute dip in quality from his debut. The only things really working against it is that it is a little long in the tooth. Some judicious editing could have trimmed the movie down just a tad to make it sing. But otherwise, it’s a crackerjack of a movie, another loving spoof of a genre he loves that manages to play as a worthy entry in the genre it’s spoofing.
In a nice little inversion from their debut, Pegg is playing a man too uptight and responsible to have a full life. He’s a big of an asshole, a stickler for the rules that makes him unappealing to just about everyone he meets. So much so that he’s transferred to a small village because he’s embarrassing every other cop in the city. But through the narrative at play, one of a sinister killer haunting the idyllic town he is now charged with protecting, Pegg has to allow himself to break the rules a bit if he wants to save the day. His growth comes from the act of “dumbing down”, allowing himself to be more like Nick Frost’s character in many ways.
What’s the point of living as the best if nobody cares about you? Funny as all hell and featuring the first movie that shows Wright is masterful director of action, “Hot Fuzz” is a movie that just rewards multiple viewings. It’s also the kind of movie that is someone doesn’t like it, you know that they’re deficient on a serious character level.
3. Baby Driver
This movie is pure, uncut Edgar Wright. On his prior movies, he always had collaborators. There’s the Cornetto and Blood trilogy that he crafted with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as equal voices. “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” was a movie he adapted that had to keep Bryan Lee O’Malley’s voice within the adaptation. But here, there’s no one else. Wright wrote it on his own and directed it, a dream he had 20 some odd years ago come to life with all the experience he has accrued thrust onto screen to create the most loving homage to Walter Hill ever.
What we get is a movie that is what would happen if “The Driver smashed right into “La La Land” as helmed by a candy coated director. This is everything “Drive” wants us to think it is, instead of the empty pastiche that does nothing original at all. And unlike “La La Land” or “Drive”, this movie is an absolute treat in the thrills it promises. The car chases and musical work is pitch perfect, working in absolute harmony to craft another unique musical.
In the goal of honoring Walter Hill, Wright is playing in archetypes. These are not “real” people. These are the people we see in every crime film ever. There’s a reason they all have nicknames that reek of cliche. But they come to life thanks to the actors Wright has wrangled together, but also the smart thematic work done within.
Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm are not set up like this initially, but they end up becoming father figure types for Baby. They are the dark flipsides of each other, with their external attitudes withholding their true selves. Jamie Foxx is nothing but pure id, the wild card character in all of these heists movies brought to self aware light. He is chaos incarnate and he is terrifying to behold. Lily James is the perfect girl, a movie cliche that is there to make Baby whole. Ansel Elgort is perfect in the role as a young man on the verge of a massive life choice, either going full bore into his criminal lifestyle or making a clean break of it.
There’s a blandness to him as he is not yet fully formed, simply existing as nothing but a tool of Spacey. It’s a similar way that Hill used Ryan O’Neal in his crime classic, making the blandness a key feature of the narrative. Wright has studied “The Driver” and movies of its ilk to completely understand them so he can play right into the cliches right up to the point where he makes detours to make it all his own.
There’s also an interesting thematic game going on with the romance subplot, as it almost plays like a white boy dream, getting the perfect girl who is for your every whim. But by tackling the dynamic set up between Baby and his father figures, Spacey/Hamm, we get Baby’s ultimate arc. Especially Hamm, who is set up to be the absolute darkside of Baby, a one time getaway driver who is a thrill seeker that had to graduate to coke fueled rampages with detours into heists to get his rocks off. Baby is not too far removed from him, using his music in tandem with his driving to get thrills.
By adding Lily James, he is even closer to Hamm by having his own woman that is simply just a role to play and not an actual couple. It’s all interesting stuff and helps elevate this above other crime films. The movie is visually lush, thrilling in it’s real world stunts, and hyper intelligent in it’s film love, this is a movie to behold. Coming off the tragedy of the “Ant-Man” debacle, this is a great sign to see that he will bounce back and has endless reserves of talent.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs The World
This more was a revelation back in 2010. It still is to this day, but the actual release of it was something else. We all knew that Wright was a real talent and knew how to make a movie, but the sheer display of technical precision and artistry was shocking to behold. Making two pretty small scale British comedies didn’t prepare anyone for this.
Adapting the then in progress Bryan Lee O’Malley comic series, Wright found a project that was a big leap for him while still managing to feel right in line with his thematic interests. A pop culture fiend himself, jumping into a story that itself was drunk on pop culture was a no brainer. More specifically, it was drunk on video gaming culture. And in it’s own way, it managed to tackle the Men’s Rights Activists mindset that has dominated gaming culture before gamergate broke out into the mainstream consciousness.
For Scott Pilgrim, as played so wonderfully by Michael Cera, is a doof. After a long term relationship ends with a strong willed woman, he immediately jumps into a relationship with a high school girl that bends to his will. There’s nothing malicious in this on his end. Not that it makes it ok, just that he subconsciously holds the belief that a woman shouldn’t challenge him because of the pain he suffered at his last relationship. Everyone around him knows it’s bad and a sign of his desperation to never suffer a hardship again.
But when Ramona Flowers, a magnetic Mary Elizabeth Winstead, comes into his life, he has to deal with his nonsense. No more simple minded and childish notions of easy living. No more notions of a woman doing everything for him. And especially, no more thinking that a woman can’t have a life outside of you. For Scott has to fight all of Ramona’s evil exes as a way for him to grow, to move past his neurotic tendencies and become a grown ass adult.
The final ex is nothing but a perfectly dark reflection of Scott, a wannabe cool guy who has perfected a way of controlling a woman to be nothing more than arm candy for him. Can Scott overcome his issues with Ramona having led a life before him before it’s too late?
What makes this interesting in the context of Wright’s career is that he essentially made a musical that isn’t really a musical, the same idea he brought to the table with “Baby Driver”. But whereas “Baby Driver” is a musical with car chases instead of dance numbers, “Scott Pilgrim” is a musical with fist fights instead of dance numbers. So highly elaborate and reality bending that they can’t be anything but over the top emotional representations of the actual battles going on. It’s the perfect way to tackle the story at hand and it allows Wright to deliver some awe inspiring action sequences that truly deliver some wonderfully video game inspired fights.
All of this wrapped up in one of the best looking movie ever made. It’s hard to even describe the sumptuous treat that Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope give to the audience. Visuals ripped right out of video games but given a truly cinematic coat of paint to deliver something truly original, so original that it essentially gave O’Malley the desire to rerelease his books in color. This may not be the number one movie on this list, but there may be no more complete a representation of Wright and his sensibilities.
1. Shaun of The Dead
Rarely is the debut film of a long working director their best movie. But in this case, Wright is the exception that proves the rule. Because it gave us the perfect summation of who he is as a director and the path he would be following the rest of his career. A movie that is indebted to the movies it is “satirizing” without ever devolving into insults. Every movie he would make would be a loving critique of its inspirations. So here, we get his love letter to George Romero’s legendary zombie trilogy (RIP George).
Throughout, he takes the piss out of the conventions that Romero has set forth, but he doesn’t stray from them. Shambling zombies out for brains that can only be put down by a brain shot. And while he may take the piss out of the genre, he delivers scenes worthy of the best of the genre, never landing on one side of the horror/comedy spectrum. So not only do we get his ability to pay homage to the past while forging a unique path in the present, but we also get to see him go for the themes he would follow the rest of his career (so far).
Shaun is a slacker who has finally pushed his long suffering girlfriend to the edge, causing her to break up with him. When the zombie outbreak occurs, Shaun has to grow up quick to save the woman he loves. But he is gonna have to lose the things that have been holding him back. In the grand tradition of Romero utilizing zombies to represent something more than hordes of undead, Wright is using them to represent the crushing weight of responsibility. Shaun has to overcome the crushing sight of neverending responsibility if he’s gonna have a future with Liz. But what truly sets this movie apart from his other ones? It’s easily the funniest movie, while never sacrificing the stakes of the thematic heart of the story.
The movie is nonstop funny, a gut buster even in the midst of real dramatic loss. It’s majestic balancing act, one that he hasn’t been able to completely master since. “Hot Fuzz” was a little too self indulgent with it’s run time. “Scott Pilgrim” was a little too ironic and frantic. “Baby Driver” was more focused on dramatics and thrills than humor. And “The World’s End” was too misguided in it’s narrative, throwing off the balance in the thematic side. Shaun is just pitch perfect on every level. While Wright has made some truly great movies since, nothing has yet to top the simple ingenuity of his lightning in a bottle debut.
Author Bio: Tom Lorenzo is Long Island, NY’s most preeminent pop culture fanatic. If it’s a western or a horror movie, he wants to see it. No argument is too minuscule or flawed for him to go full force with.