We’re taking a look at what has made each of Edgar Wright’s films great in lead up to the release of Baby Driver.
In the long run, it makes sense that Edgar Wright would do an action film. Considering the British writer/director broke into the film world in the dirty, classless genre of horror, what better way to elevate himself with the only slightly less dirty, moderately classier genre of action?
On top of that, the action genre itself could’ve used a good ribbing. By 2007, the action genre had basically split into a plethora of subsections: the superhero movies had a run of hits (Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, Batman Begins), the spy thriller had a comeback with the Bourne films and Casino Royale, and even the Fast & Furious franchise was still coasting on its first run. Even the standard fare of action movies had gotten up on their mahco high-horse again with the likes of xXx, S.W.A.T., Equilibrium, and the most infamous of all, Bad Boys II. Action movies had mutated and evolved into multiple beasts terrorizing movie theaters with explosions, gun fights, and too few a sense of creativity. It was time for a good ol’ pie in the face, with a touch of English arrogance.
Enter Hot Fuzz, Wright’s fantastic love letter and kiss-off to the overblown action films of the previous two decades. Again written by him and Simon Pegg (who also co-wrote and starred in Shaun of the Dead), the movie at face value is a pseudo-detective story. London super-cop Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is transferred to the quiet village of Sandford. He’s partnered with the bumbling Danny (Nick Frost, also a Wright veteran) and an incompetent police force, which hinders his skills investigating a series of “accidental” deaths in the village. Shenanigans ensue as Angel and Danny try to solve the case.
Granted, those shenanigans are presented in the coolest way possible. Wright and editor Chris Dickens not take to the action as the most high-octane events in the film, but instead takes every possible moment to emphasize its tensions. With the simple click of Angel’s pen as he commences mountains of paperwork, David Arnold’s music amps up and the cuts flash like neon lights at a rave. The main joke of Hot Fuzz is a common one of the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun, Fuzz, and The World’s End), in that taking the blandness of middle-class Britain and using it as a springboard for tension. Shaun used it to mirror the mindless invasion of zombies while World’s End would use it to show the horrors of gentrification. Fuzz uses it as Danny does with his collection of action movies: an overloaded escape from normal life.
Like Wright’s previous and future films, Hot Fuzz’s humor is a well-paced combination of upfront yukes and subtle chuckles in the background. Upfront, there’s the chemistry between straight-man Pegg and buffoon Frost in everything from their back-and-forth banter to the simple act of Frost awkwardly running off in the rain after arguing with Angel. It’s impressive to see Pegg play a full-on straight man and be such an expert at droll comedy as he breaks the fourth wall frequently to punctuate scenes. It’s incredibly obvious that Frost and Pegg are real-life buddies, as the affection they have for each other is tangible on-screen. They’re the buddy cops you and your friends pretended to be after watching Lethal Weapon on VHS for the first time. Complimenting them is a cracking supporting cast, from the prickish comments of Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall as Sandford detectives Wainwright and Cartwright to quick cameos from Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, and even Cate Goddamn Blanchett.
Even with the genre he was spoofing, Wright managed to show himself as a solid director of action set pieces. The final showdown in the village is a modern-day Western shootout, cut like a Tony Scott film and surprisingly features no actual deaths against Angel’s elderly adversaries. Whether it’s the showdown in the grocery store with two guys and a rather impressive stack of cutlery to the car chase derailed by a swan, Wright knows how to keep the action progressing without it overtaking the film. He’s a man of rapid-fire action, but it’s all in service of keeping the movie going forward.
Many consider Hot Fuzz to be Wright’s best film (at least for the people who haven’t seen Baby Driver yet…like me), and there’s a strong case to agree with that claim. It’s the most straightforward of Wright’s projects, rarely distracted into traps like man-child comedy (Shaun of the Dead) or unnecessary character side plots (The World’s End). Even Scott Pilgrim vs. the World flaunts its hyper-caffeinated music and video games a bit too much on occasion. Like the old sea mine recovered from the Mr. Webley’s barn, Wright saves the big boom for the finale and let’s the mystery of the plot and comedy from the cast keep the movie going. It’s technical prowess matched with the beating heart of a film fan, someone who loves movies so much that he actually put in the time and effort to be creative. It’s a lost art, and bless Wright for being one of the few who still gets to do it.