Edgar Wright’s bold new ve­hi­cle

Af­ter leav­ing ‘Ant-Man,’ the writer-di­rec­tor re­turns with ‘Baby Driver,’ a gang­ster film that stands out against sum­mer’s big-bud­get flicks

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY STEPHANIE MERRY stephanie.merry@wash­post.com

It’s of­fi­cial: “Baby Driver” is a hit. Best­ing even gen­er­ous pre­dic­tions, the movie brought in $30 mil­lion dur­ing its first five days in the­aters, which isn’t a lot com­pared with “Won­der Woman,” but it’s sig­nif­i­cant for a film with a $35 mil­lion bud­get. Be­sides, the mu­sic­heavy ac­tioner isn’t a se­quel or ori­gin story or franchise in­stall­ment but an en­dan­gered species at the sum­mer box of­fice: an en­tirely orig­i­nal story. ¶ Wri­ter­di­rec­tor Edgar Wright is a pro at de­liv­er­ing unique movies. He put his own spin on genre films with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” though he also did a for­mi­da­ble job adapt­ing a graphic novel with the much­loved “Scott Pil­grim vs. The World.” ¶ On the heels of that 2010 suc­cess, he nearly got sucked into the Mar­vel franchise ma­chine. Wright had been plan­ning to write and direct “Ant-Man” start­ing around 2007, but in 2014, on the cusp of film­ing, news came out that he was leav­ing the project. It was the usual is­sue; he and Dis­ney­owned Mar­vel had “cre­ative dif­fer­ences.” The stu­dio liked that the Bri­tish di­rec­tor had a point of view but would have pre­ferred if he had a lit­tle less of one.

This isn’t the first time a franchise has lured a vi­sion­ary di­rec­tor only to have things go side­ways. Last month, “Lego Movie” direc­tors Phil Lord and Christo­pher Miller de­parted the Han Solo “Star Wars” spinoff mid-pro­duc­tion — which is ba­si­cally un­heard of — be­cause of dis­putes with Lucasfilm, also owned by Dis­ney. They were re­placed by Ron Howard.

It’s a shame for direc­tors who spent years work­ing on a project to have to leave it all be­hind. But from a movie­goer’s stand­point, isn’t this cause for cel­e­bra­tion? With so few orig­i­nal movies hit­ting the­aters, do we re­ally want our most imag­i­na­tive direc­tors re­boot­ing, re­hash­ing or per­pet­u­ally re-ex­tend­ing sto­ries we al­ready know? That seems like a waste for peo­ple who so ca­pa­bly dream up their own new worlds.

If only we could get Wright to vow he won’t sign on for an­other franchise film. Alas, he’s not mak­ing any prom­ises.

“I would be a fool to say I wouldn’t,” he said dur­ing a re­cent visit to Wash­ing­ton. But he would have some ground rules. Cre­ative free­dom would be a must, for ex­am­ple. “Oth­er­wise you start to sort of won­der why you’re there. I don’t want to be just a di­rec­tor for hire on some­thing. I need to be emo­tion­ally in­vested in it to do my best work.”

He was cer­tainly in­vested in “Baby Driver,” a movie he started dream­ing up more than two decades ago. The story fol­lows a preter­nat­u­rally tal­ented young get­away driver named Baby (Ansel El­gort), whose quirk is a case of tin­ni­tus. He listens to mu­sic to dis­tract from the ring­ing in his ears. In some ways it’s a stan­dard story: He has to pull off one last im­pos­si­ble heist so he can es­cape with his new love in­ter­est.

But a lot about the movie is beau­ti­fully in­con­gru­ous, start­ing with the fact that mu­sic plays a cen­tral role, with much of the ac­tion and chase scenes care­fully chore­ographed to the rhythm in Baby’s ears. Wright likens it to a gang­ster movie in re­verse: It’s not about a kid as­pir­ing to a life of crime, but about a savvy law­breaker who wants a BE­LOW: Ansel El­gort, right, stars in Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” as a preter­nat­u­rally gifted get­away driver. BOT­TOM: Di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Bill Pope, left, Wright, cen­ter, and El­gort on the set of “Baby Driver.” The film is Wright’s first since leav­ing Mar­vel’s “Ant-Man” in 2014. “I wanted to make a Mar­vel movie, but I don’t think they re­ally wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie,” he told Va­ri­ety. sim­ple, hon­est life.

Wright could have no doubt done amaz­ing things with a Mar­vel comic char­ac­ter he loved. Just ask Joss Whe­don — an­other di­rec­tor with imag­i­na­tion to spare who had a tough time work­ing for Mar­vel on the “Avengers” movies.

“I thought the script was not only the best script that Mar­vel had ever had, but the most Mar­vel script I’d read,” Whe­don told the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter af­ter Wright’s de­par­ture. “I don’t know where things went wrong. But I was very sad. Be­cause I thought, this is a no-brainer. This is Mar­vel get­ting it ex­actly right.”

“Selma” di­rec­tor Ava DuVer­nay, mean­while, con­sid­ered work­ing on Mar­vel’s “Black Pan­ther” but de­cided it wasn’t a good fit af­ter ini­tial meet­ings.

“I think I’ll just say we had dif­fer­ent ideas about what the story would be,” she said dur­ing a 2015 in­ter­view with Essence. “Mar­vel has a cer­tain way of do­ing things and I think they’re fan­tas­tic and a lot of peo­ple love what they do.”

For most direc­tors, get­ting into the franchise game is a sign of suc­cess, and stu­dios like Mar­vel and Warner Bros., which puts out DC Comics movies, have been cherry-pick­ing in­die direc­tors with lim­ited cred­its to helm new movies, such as “Spi­der-Man: Home­com­ing” di­rec­tor Jon Watts. That’s prob­a­bly smart, given that direc­tors with­out a huge track record will be more likely to fall in line. Stu­dios with suc­cess­ful fran­chises have a very spe­cific vi­sion for what they want, and they ex­pect direc­tors to work within their tem­plate.

Colin Trevor­row, for ex­am­ple, had only di­rected a mi­nor Sun­dance hit, “Safety Not Guar­an­teed,” be­fore he was re­cruited for “Juras­sic World.” He’s also di­rect­ing the ninth Star Wars movie, though in be­tween those two franchise films, he opted to do a com­pletely orig­i­nal movie.

“I’ve been so for­tu­nate to make new ver­sions of things we loved when we were kids,” he said dur­ing an in­ter­view while do­ing press for “The Book of Henry.” “I per­son­ally feel like I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make some­thing truly orig­i­nal and new just so peo­ple can know what I stand for and what kind of film­maker I am.”

Orig­i­nal­ity doesn’t al­ways mean suc­cess, how­ever. “The Book of Henry” was ridiculed by crit­ics and tanked at the box of­fice. The di­rec­tor had nei­ther the high bar nor the safety net of a franchise film.

A few direc­tors are con­sciously avoid­ing fran­chises. Jor­dan Peele, whose so­cial satire hor­ror “Get Out” was a huge sur­prise suc­cess ear­lier this year, has no in­ter­est in touch­ing a big-bud­get tent­pole — at least not yet.

“My goal and plan is to rise in bud­get slowly,” he told the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter last month. “It doesn’t make any sense for me to jump to an enor­mous bud­get when it changes the process en­tirely.”

“Get Out,” which pulled in more than $250 mil­lion world­wide, was made for less than $5 mil­lion.

“At that bud­get, I could ac­tu­ally make ‘Get Out’ how I wanted to make it and not have peo­ple look­ing over my shoul­der try­ing to make sure I got ev­ery piece of it right,” he said. Dur­ing the roundtable in­ter­view, Uni­ver­sal chair­man Donna Lan­g­ley chimed in to add how rare it is for a new film­maker to feel that way.

Wright, mean­while, will have plenty of cre­ative free­dom af­ter the suc­cess of his new film. Still, he can’t quite es­cape the one that got away. In mak­ing the press rounds, he’s fielded a num­ber of ques­tions about the “Ant-Man” de­ba­cle. No, he hasn’t seen the movie, and he has no plans to. Yes, he’s on good terms with Pey­ton Reed, who took over di­rect­ing du­ties.

Dur­ing a pod­cast with Va­ri­ety, he ex­plained, as best he could, what ex­actly hap­pened.

“The most diplo­matic an­swer is I wanted to make a Mar­vel movie, but I don’t think they re­ally wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie,” he ex­plained.

And that’s fine. Be­cause the pub­lic is ob­vi­ously happy to watch an Edgar Wright movie, with or with­out Paul Rudd as an all-pow­er­ful ant.

WASH­ING­TON POST IL­LUS­TRA­TION BASED ON GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

WILSON WEBB/TRIS­TAR PIC­TURES/SONY PIC­TURES ENTERTAINMENT

WILSON WEBB/TRIS­TAR PIC­TURES/SONY PIC­TURES ENTERTAINMENT

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