With the recent home release of Baby Driver, Film Contributor Matt Taylor argues that Edgar Wright is the greatest director of his generation
Edgar Wright is without a doubt one of the most exciting filmmakers working in the industry today. Each of his five films has been nothing short of excellent, so I pose the question: is Edgar Wright the director of our times?
In short: yes. Many come close (Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, and Quentin Tarantino are the names that spring to mind), but none better him. Each of these has a distinctive style; Nolan has recently come to specialise in intelligent blockbusters, Villeneuve delivers excellent slow-burn thrillers, and Tarantino deals in action-dramas characterised by lots of violence and swearing. Not to put any of them down (indeed, this year’s offerings from Nolan and Villeneuve, Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 respectively, have been some of the best of the entire year), but Edgar Wright manages to cover so many genres and types of film in such a short filmography, and do it so excellently every time, that to give the title to anyone else feels wrong. But what exactly makes him the best director of the generation?
His Use of Music
Wright uses music like no other director in the industry, and for all sorts of purposes. He uses it for comedy – see the scene in Shaun of the Dead that’s synced to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, or Chris Evans’ entrance in Scott Pilgrim vs The World that works with the Universal Studios theme. Both of these examples use on-screen action to the beat of the music playing for the purpose of getting a laugh from the audience. In Shaun, it’s the ridiculous juxtaposition of the song with the action (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kate Ashfield fending off a zombie with pool cues) that makes it funny; in Scott Pilgrim, it’s a number of factors, not least the fact that Chris Evans is a spot-on piece of casting and is having an absolute ball.
His best use of music, though, has to go to Baby Driver. Based on an idea Wright had simmering for 14 years of a getaway driver listening to music while waiting for his crook pals to finish the job, it uses music in a way that no other film does. Protagonist Baby’s entire life revolves around his music, and thus so does the film. The soundtrack (which includes artists such as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Beach Boys, Beck, Focus, and Queen) is among the most excellent of recent years (rivalled perhaps by Guardians of the Galaxy and La La Land), and the film plays out like a ballet of sorts. The opening scene set to Bellbottoms is among the highlights, and the Tequila shootout is simply incredible, with everything from gunfire to explosions being set to the beat of the music. It’s nothing short of exquisite, and is among the best uses of music in film of all time.
Edgar Wright has written some of the best screenplays this century. He has a way with words, particularly for comedies, that so few others do, and his screenplays are never anything but wonderful. His dialogue is consistently witty (with the exception of Baby Driver, which is by far his most serious film), and produces some of the best comedies this side of John Hughes. His use of dialogue coupled with accents in Hot Fuzz, for example, makes for some hilarious moments in an insanely quotable script – lines such as “no luck catching them swans, then?”, “you wanna be a big cop in a small town – **** off up the model village!”, or “nobody tells me nothin’!” never lose their impact after countless viewings, but the accent of Sandford, Gloucestershire makes even the simplest lines hilarious (think “right you are my love!” and “a great big bushy beard!”). While Fuzz is perhaps Wright’s best screenplay, his others are also excellent – Scott Pilgrim is the next best, which interacts with visual effects/performances on-screen to make something absolutely joyous. Baby Driver further showcases how good Wright is at penning a love story, creating a film totally unlike anything he’s ever done but that’s driven by a wonderfully investable romance between leads Ansel Elgort and Lily James. Be it comedy or romance that he’s writing, there’s no denying that Wright is among the best.
Edgar Wright’s casting is perfect. No two ways about it. There isn’t a single role in any of his films that could have been played better by someone else. Hot Fuzz is a great example, with the standouts (other than regular collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) being Olivia Colman as PC Doris Thatcher, and Rafe Spall and Paddy Considine as the Andy’s – all are side-splittingly funny, and have a large share of the script’s best lines. The best casting of Wright’s, however, must go to The World’s End. The conclusion to The Cornetto Trilogy sees Pegg, Frost and Considine joined by Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan to play five old high school friends who return to their hometown for one last night out. Not a single one of them is anything less than perfect, and the way they showcase their camaraderie and (eventual) love for each other is so believable that you feel genuine sadness when the Five Musketeers are cut down to Three. Marsan in particular is a joy, his Peter Page being the outsider but still feeling part of the group, and all five bounce off each other so well it’s hard not to be drawn in. Their chemistry is what drives the film as it moves towards its sci-fi/alien invasion roots, and keeps the whole thing feeling upbeat, even when we’re faced with potentially world-ending consequences. The Five Musketeers are a perfect example of just how perfect Edgar Wright’s casting is.
There we have it, then. Three reasons why Edgar Wright is the greatest of the generation. There are many, many more, such as his direction of action sequences, the way he crosses from genre to genre with ease, or how his love for each project shines through so clearly, but I feel these three are enough to give an answer to that question: Edgar Wright is indeed the director of our times.