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Dunkirk •••••

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan
Action/Drama/History, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: July 21, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just witnessed a brilliant cinematic depiction of war heroism at its finest.


Dunkirk is an amazing achievement for Christopher Nolan. Let’s recap.


We meet a young British soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who narrowly escapes with his life while being shot at by German soldiers on the streets of Dunkirk. Tommy flees to the beach where thousands of British and French soldiers are waiting to be evacuated. He meets another soldier named Gibson who apparently has buried a friend on the beach. The two men encounter a wounded man and carry him to an evacuation ship. Meanwhile back in Britain, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his sons Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan) take their private boat through the English channel to help with the evacuation.


We’re treated to four points of view (POV): young soldier Tommy trying to escape, Mr. Dawson coming to the rescue, flying ace Farrier (Tom Hardy) guarding the shore, and Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) supervising the evacuation. It’s a great structure that tells one of the lesser-known stories of WWII, at least for Americans.


You’re right, Greg. I was woefully ignorant of the story behind this heroic evacuation. Apparently Hitler made a huge mistake by not aggressively attacking the evacuees, and we can all be grateful for his blunder.

Dunkirk is an extremely well-crafted film. It skillfully weaves together three stories about different characters whose lives converge at the end. This is a war movie and so there is plenty of death, but director Christopher Nolan wisely chooses not to make gore the star of this film. The star is valor, and it is on full display from minute-one until the closing credits. Nolan also makes great use of the “less is more” principle in filmmaking. There are long and excruciatingly tense scenes with little or no dialogue. The fear is palpable. But so is the heroic drive in these characters to act in spite of the fear.


LIke many of our readers, I’ve seen a lot of war movies. But I’ve never watched a movie that made me feel the emotion of desperation that Dunkirk evokes. I never understood just how personal the war was. Britons of all ages felt that their way of life and their very lives were at stake.

There are different levels of heroism in this film. There’s the heroism of the young men just trying to survive long enough to get on a boat. Then there’s the heroism of the commander overseeing the evacuation, then volunteering to stay behind to oversee the evacuation of the French. And we see the heroism of civilians going to sea to rescue the soldiers. And finally, the heroism of a pilot who lets his tanks run dry protecting the men trying to get away. He martyrs himself in the service of others.


Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is only on partial display here, but in no way does this limitation detract from this film’s excellence. Campbell discusses the low-point, the nadir of the hero’s journey, as the “belly of the whale” – the point in the journey when all appears to be lost for the hero and death seems imminent. Dunkirk is a film that shows in vivid detail what the belly of the whale is like for the hero, and it is hell indeed. This is the epicenter of the hero’s transformation – either the hero musters up the courage and grit to thwart death, or the hero succumbs.

Dunkirk shows us both these polar opposite outcomes. Young George is one of our heroes who dies in the process of saving British soldiers. In no way is he any less of a hero for dying; in fact, by making this ultimate sacrifice he solidifies his heroism to an extreme, thus illustrating that heroes need not complete the Campbellian journey to secure their status of hero. Tommy, our main hero, does survive the whale’s belly. Will he become as “shell-shocked” as the soldier that Mr. Dawson rescued at sea? We don’t know. But the post-heroic transformation toward PTSD is a tragic one that sadly afflicts millions of people.


One of the things that this movie (and another the comes to mind, Warhorse) exemplifies is that not every compelling story is a Hero’s Journey. Surely each of these POV characters is heroic. But the story structure doesn’t follow the classic rise and fall we’ve come to expect from our movies. There are elements of the Hero’s Journey (Tommy returning to the ordinary world of England, eg). But the transformation of the hero or those around him is not necessary for a compelling story. This is one of those rare occasions where the enormity of the event is enough to move the viewer into an emotional state that makes the event memorable.

 


Dunkirk is a superb film that brilliantly captures the agonizing unacceptability of war. Yet it does so in a tasteful and aesthetically dexterous way. Christopher Nolan deserves Oscar consideration for weaving together three disparate stories of stellar heroism. I daresay that Dunkirk is one of the best films of 2017, showcasing the best of human virtue and valor. I have been torn between awarding 4 versus 5 Reels, but after some consideration, I’m going with the full 5 Reels out of 5 here.

The heroism, as we’ve said, is unparalleled and hyper-inspirational. I was struck by the heroism of civilians who took action when it was not required of them as it was of the soldiers. Ordinary people like Mr. Dawson who step up to do the right thing are especially admirable and elevating. Most of the heroism on display here occurs during a tiny sliver of the hero’s journey, the belly of the whale, and this is indeed where the heroic rubber meets the road. Director Christopher Nolan deserves huge kudos for portraying the whale’s belly in riveting, exemplary fashion. The heroism here merits the full 5 Hero points out of 5.

Regarding transformation, we are witness to instantaneous transformations “in the moment” of severe crisis, as when heroes must respond immediately to U-boat bombs pummeling ships and bullets piercing a boat’s hull. These spontaneous transformative heroic acts are marvelous to behold. Much less marvelous is the post-heroic transformation toward PTSD that we witness from Mr. Dawson’s first evacuee. We can’t overlook the unsavory aftermath of an especially punishing hero’s journey. Overall, I award this film 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Few films have displayed heroism as well as Dunkirk. The story is told with amazing technical acuity. I didn’t know the story of Dunkirk before entering the theater, but it is forever etched in my mind. The very purpose of storytelling is to share our values and history with each other – to deliver the messages of our past to those of the future. Dunkirk does this with surprising power. I give it a full 5 out of 5 Reels.

Heroism comes in many forms. We’re witness to heroism in great sacrifice (as in the case of the Spitfire pilot) down to small acts of kindness (as when the young man lies to the shell-shocked soldier as to the death of young George.) I give 5 out of 5 Heroes to Dunkirk.

I don’t think this movie was about transformation as much as it was about sacrifice. We do see some transformations – but they are incidental to the story. Everyone in the movie was already giving all they had to give. I would say that they all had already undergone their transformations to get to the point of desperation they experienced on the shores of Dunkirk. While I award only 3 out of 5 Deltas, it in no way diminishes the power of Nolan’s work.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

War for the Planet of the Apes ••1/2

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Director: Matt Reeves
Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Action/Adventure/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it appears the apes have learned, “War, what is it good for?”


Andy Serkis returns as Caesar – it looks like another Serkis show. Let’s recap:


Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the ape clan, is deep in the forest but under siege from frequent attacks by a human army called Alpha-Omega. During one attack, he captures several soldiers and learns that a dangerous Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is hellbent on destroying the apes. As a goodwill gesture, Caesar releases the soldiers. During the next attack, however, Caesar’s wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and son Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) are killed. Caesar is infuriated and sets out alone to kill the Colonel.


But his closest friends won’t let him go alone. The four of them happen upon a man who tries to kill them and they kill him instead. Back in his hut is a mute young girl who joins them on their trek. It’s not long before they find Colonel’s base. One of the turncoat apes tells Caesar that Colonel and his team have trekked off to a detention base where they are going to meet another army troupe. So, Caesar, his three friends, and a tagalong little girl start their journey to intercept and kill the Colonel.


Greg, once again we’re faced with the task of reviewing a movie that’s a tiny slice of a larger story arc. For me, this makes evaluation of the film difficult. If we consider this movie individually, solely on its own merits, it is less than satisfying. There are long, drawn out scenes devoted to character development. These scenes are effective in that regard, and in the context of the larger whole (i.e., the complete Ape franchise) these scenes are probably necessary for good storytelling. But they make this installment of the franchise a slow slog at times.

For now, let me focus on the positives. War for the Planet of the Apes does succeed is offering up stunning cinematography and remarkable CGI effects. These talking, intelligent apes are more realistic than ever, and scenes involving snowy mountain vistas and fiery battle scenes are breathtaking. As with previous Planet of the Apes films, I applaud the portrayal of variations within complex groupings of apes and humans, as well as the depiction of myriad leadership processes. The social psychology here oozes with riveting realism.


Scott, I thought this film failed on nearly every level. The only thing they got right was the ability to give Caesar (and not many else) great facial emotion. But the rest of the CGI was dialed in. In the prequels to this film, we can see ape hairs fluttering in the wind. But in War the ape hairs look like they are matted down with wax. There are scenes where an ape is walking around in the background. And you can nearly see the green screen outline.

The story is nothing short of ridiculous. Take, for instance, the fact that Harrelson’s Colonel tries to kill Caesar in the first act. Then in the second act, when Caesar is in his concentration camp, he keeps him alive. The only reason for this is so that Caesar can give a rousing speech and make the apes revolt for food and water. Colonel should have killed Caesar right away.

And why did Caesar and friends take on a tagalong little girl? And after the apes killed her father, why would she have anything but hatred for them? And apparently the only reason Bad Ape gives her a gift is so that one of the apes can name her “Nova” – because that makes everything come full circle. This was nothing short of a “stitcher” movie designed to make all the loose ends of previous films come to a conclusion – by hook or by crook. It didn’t need to make sense, it only needed the end to come back to the beginning.


I do agree that this film goes to great lengths to make humans look bad and apes look good. The humans are portrayed as monolithically evil, and this point is hammered home when a soldier that Caesar freed earlier is the one who delivers the death blow to Caesar. The apes are far more heterogeneous, and Caesar is a far wiser and more merciful leader than the bloodthirsty Colonel. So that’s why Caesar and friends take the girl with them — to show us that they have a heart so that we’ll root for them.

Another problem with the story is the remarkably convenient avalanche that wipes out all the surviving humans at the end. Yes, we’re happy that the good guys (the apes) survived their ordeal, but for survival to hinge on a freakish act of nature rather than on cunning or courage from our heroic apes, well, that left a bad taste in my mouth. Another absurdity at the end was the (again) convenient placement of enormous fuel tanks all around the defense perimeter of the fort. That sure made Caesar’s task of blowing up the place easy.

This year we’re evaluating the hero’s story and the hero’s transformation. As this movie is a mere slice of a larger whole, there isn’t much to go talk about. This suggests to me that these large, multi-movie arcs need to be binge-watched to be fully appreciated. Caesar transformed the most in the first installment of this franchise, slightly more in the second installment as he ascended into leadership, but here there isn’t much growth for Caesar. If anything, he regresses to adopting a Koba mentality, which is hardly heroic.


You’re right, Caesar falls into a revenge plot and it makes him look bad. But the good news is that his surrounding friends look even more heroic. Caesar does come away looking like a strong leader. And he event looks a bit like a martyr at times. But you’re right, Scott – there’s little transformation for him in this film, or for anyone else.

War for the Planet of the Apes has only one mission – to tie together the beginning and the ending of the series. It does so leaving visible seams. There are long meaningless scenes where little happens but Caesar looks into the camera. There are excruciatingly long scenes where someone explains everything in the movie. Notably, the villain exposition by the Colonel goes on for five minutes and is basically a recap of a movie we’ll never see. I was bored to tears. I give War for the Planet of the Apes 2 out of 5 Reels.

Caesar demonstrates few heroic qualities. He kills with impunity. He wants revenge on the man who killed his family and that blinds him making good decisions. He puts his trusted friends into danger. I didn’t find him interesting or sympathetic. I can only give him 2 out of 5 Heroes.

There are no real transformations to speak of. Caesar doesn’t come to any conclusions about humans and apes. He leads his people out of the mountains and into a valley where he leaves them to live beyond the reach of the humans. I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: 


War for the Planet of the Apes works quite well as part of a larger story arc but fails to satisfy on its own 2-hour merits. I appreciated the attempt to slow down the action for the purpose of developing character depth. Some viewers, such as you, Greg, and to some extent myself as well, may find the slow pace to be burdensome to endure. After writhing through many of this summer’s high-octane action movies, I welcomed this slower pace to some degree. Still, this film suffers from improbable and convenient occurrences at the end to resolve the hero’s mission. Overall, the best I can do is award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is but a mere slice of a larger story arc. Caesar sets out to avenge his family members’ deaths, a rather dubious hero’s mission, but he does defeat the bad guys and save many ape lives along the way. He also rediscovers his compassion and wisdom from watching the actions of a young girl whom he rescues. Caesar’s leadership is mostly inspired, and for that reason I can award him 3 Hero points out of 5.

Regarding transformation, Caesar does show some regression and negative influence from his departed friend Koba, but Caesar’s true heroic colors come to the fore in the end when he does right by sparing the Colonel’s life. These changes in Caesar are rather mild but they are there, and I’ll thus give him 3 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Spider-Man: Homecoming ••••

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Jon Watts
Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein,  John Francis Daley
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: July 7, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, let’s get into the swing of things and start reviewing the latest Spider-Man movie.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I marvel at your pun-manship, Greg. Let’s recap.


In the prologue, we’re introduced to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) – an everyman contractor responsible for cleaning up the alien tech left over from the last battle the Avengers had with beings from beyond the stars. He’s interrupted by a federal official who is taking over the salvage operation since the tech is so dangerous. But Toomes isn’t deterred and goes underground selling the alien tech on the black market.

Meanwhile, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has already had some notoriety as Spider Man after fighting in the Avengers Civil War. Now, he’s sitting in Tony Stark’s limo getting some mentoring. Stark passes his responsibilities on to “Happy” (Jon Favreau) – his man Friday – who must keep tabs on the new young superhero.


While waiting for Stark to contact him to fight crime alongside the other Avengers, Peter passes up a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities such as joining the debate team. Meanwhile, he is attracted to a young girl named Liz (Laura Harrier) who is on the debate team and who Peter wants to take to the prom. While breaking up an ATM robbery one night, Peter accidentally reveals his identity to his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). The two work together to try to win favor with Tony Stark, but it isn’t easy.


Scott, we’ve come to expect a lot from Marvel films. They are strongly character-based and still have great plots. It’s a hard combination to master, but Marvel generally does it. However, they let me down with Spider-Man: Homecoming. The coming- of-age story for young Peter Parker is not very compelling and the it had a lot of holes in it. I left the film feeling disappointed.

For one thing, the villain character never comes off as particularly evil. He’s just a guy trying to provide for his family. He accidentally kills one of his henchmen rather than overtly dispatching him. While he appears to steal the alien ‘junk’ – we never see him do it. Keaton’s bad guy just isn’t bad enough.

Perhaps this incarnation of Spider-Man is aimed more at a younger audience, say tweens (10-12 year olds) rather than teens and twenty-somethings. There was a clear lack of blood and violence. And the language was similarly subdued. Even Peter Parker is a younger version of Spider-Men of years gone by – just age 14 (or 15). If this is Marvel’s attempt to cater to a younger audience, then this sort of “Avengers-lite” presentation makes sense.


You’re right about Marvel films, Greg. They are so consistently polished and gleaming that part of me resents their formulaic success and actively roots for one of their movies to fail. The problem is that for Marvel, failure is not an option. I’m forced to report that Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Marvel’s almost monotonous tradition of excellence. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a terrific movie, Greg. I tried not to like it, I really did! But Tom Holland is just perfect in the role of a young Spider-Boy. He has puppy dog eyes, a squeaky (clean) adolescent voice, and a charming and naive do-gooder attitude that in combination are all perfect for a young superhero who is coming of age.

We never want our villains to suffer from the dullness of being purely evil, and Michael Keaton as Toomes strikes the perfect dark grey shade of villainy. He’s not a terrible man but he’s bad enough to wreak havoc on society and even kill people in the name of profit. In addition to Toomes, the ensemble supporting characters add depth to the strong story. Girlfriend Liz, buddy Ned, Aunt May, Toomes, and Tony Stark supply humor, heft, and a spirited energy that won me over.


Young Peter Parker is a great heroic character. He is virtuous and strong but not egotistical. His major flaw is the desire to be a super hero on par with his Avenger contemporaries. He’s too impatient to wait for his maturity to catch up with his super powers. This is where Tony Stark (and to a lesser degree, Happy) come in as mentors. Sadly, their mentoring is little more than a pep talk before and after events. I did like the sort of reluctant mentoring that Tony gives Peter. Tony is uncertain as to how to advise the younger hero and so his advice is often too terse to have good effect (not to mention that he has delegated this responsibility to Happy and literally phones his mentoring in from time to time). But, of course, that is where the fun lies as Peter makes mistake after super-mistake when not taking heed of Tony’s advice and wisdom.

There are plenty of transformations here. Peter grows as a young man as he approaches dating the object of his desire, Liz. He also grows in confidence as he first learns to use the extended powers of his super suit, and then later to act without it.

I am concerned, though, about that suit. I think Spider-Man is on the same path as Iron Man was. Is it the suit or the man who is the hero? In older incarnations of Spider-Man, Peter Parker has only a few super powers: super strength, “Spidey Sense”, and advanced intelligence. The only devices he uses are the web-slinging apparatus. So, Spider-Man has (up until now) been all about the wit, charm, and intelligence of a mostly mortal against advanced powers of his villains. I fear this new incarnation of Spider-Man, with his sophisticated suit, will devolve into “gadget of the week” where it’s the suit that becomes the object of interest, not the man.


Mentoring can go one of two ways — either the mentor has to encourage a fledgling hero who lacks self-confidence, or the mentor has to knock an overconfident hero down a peg. The latter occurs with this rendition of Spider-Man. Tony Stark takes this peg-knocking to a new level with his rather dismissive attitude toward young Peter, telling the arachnid to basically give up hope of joining the Avengers. But Stark also shares an extremely important insight, namely, that if Peter only thinks he’s something in the suit, then he’s not worthy of the suit. So naturally, young Peter confronts a situation in which he proves himself sans suit.

As this film tells a coming-of-age story, we do witness Peter Parker transform himself from a small-time hero operating with training wheels to a stronger, smarter hero who uses both his wits and his emerging skills to take down criminal bad-asses. And he can’t do it without help from others. He needs his buddy Ned to lend a hand, and he also needs Tony Stark’s dismissiveness as added fuel. I wish I could say that Peter needs Liz and Aunt May, but alas, these women are relegated to distant supporting roles.


Spider-Man: Homecoming is an entertaining film filled with special effects and a new take on a classic hero. Like other films this season, CGI gives way to good storytelling. It’s a perfect allegory for the Spider-Man problem. Peter Parker must learn that technology is only the sugar coating to true heroism – just as CGI is the sugar coating to a great story. If you don’t have a great core, the whole suffers. I can only give Spider-Man: Homecoming 4 out of 5 Reels.

Peter Parker is a proto-hero. This is the story of how Peter Parker becomes the true Spider-Man. At the beginning of the story he’s a clumsy super hero. Then he becomes overconfident in the power of the suit. Finally, he throws off the suit and becomes the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s a great hero origin story. I give Peter Parker 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Peter’s transformation is a good one. He grows emotionally by realizing that heroism comes from within – not from without. I give this film 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Marvel’s marvelous run of first-rate comic book superhero film extravaganzas. Young actor Tom Holland shines as a budding young super-arachnid who is desperate to prove himself and prove his mentor Tony Stark wrong. This movie offers an entertaining blend of humor, adventure, and superheroism. I also award it 4 Reels out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that we have here an exemplary coming-of-age story of heroic development. Peter Parker is fearless in confronting bad guys no matter how dangerous the job, and he shows a willingness to sacrifice a romance with his high school crush, Liz, in order to fight crime. All the elements of the classic hero’s journey are here — the call to adventure, the mentor, the villain, the belly of the whale, and the transformation into a full-blown spidery hero. I’ll also give him 5 out of 5 Hero points.

Parker’s transformation is also terrific to behold, as he grows from boy to man right before our eyes. We witness the genesis of transformation — a good mentor figure in Starks as well as a steely courage from Parker during his darkest hour without his suit. I award him 4 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Baby Driver ••••1/2

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright
Action/Crime/Music, Rated: R
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: June 28, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Nobody puts Baby in the corner, unless he’s driving around the corner of your block.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

This Baby’s got a lot of Miles on him, that’s for sure. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young hot shot getaway driver. He has tinnitus – a ringing in the ears – and must constantly listen to music to escape the din. His boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has him indentured as Baby stole one of his cars years ago. Now, Baby has to drive getaway for bank robbers until his debt is paid. And he has just one more run to go to pay back what he owes.


Baby successfully completes his final job for Doc and then meets a lovely young woman named Debora (Lily James). The two hit it off but when they’re out to dinner one night, Doc confronts Baby and threatens Debora’s safety if Baby doesn’t perform one more getaway drive. Baby reluctantly agrees and makes plans to run away with Debora. The driving job goes wrong in several ways and Baby finds himself fighting for his life and for the safety of Debora and his foster father Joseph (CJ Jones).


Scott, I’m rarely bowled over by a movie, but Baby Driver hits all the right notes. I cannot describe the precision of every detail in this film. Right from the opening credits where Baby rocks out to “Bellbottoms” – every beat, break, and note is linked with the action we see on the screen. Director of Photography Bill Pope (The Matrix) aligns the lyrics to scenic elements. Editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss synchronize the constant drum of the soundtrack to every image we see on the screen. Even Ansel Elgort lip-syncs these songs as if he were raised on them as mother’s milk. If you thought the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy was great, you must see Baby Driver. There is nothing else like this film.


Absolutely correct, Greg. Despite a few minor flaws, Baby Driver is one of the best films of 2017. My fear going into the movie was that it would be a remake of Fast and Furious, but this movie is far superior to any installment of the F&F franchise. The driving scenes are mostly in the service of character development and moving the plot forward. Director Edgar Wright deserves Oscar consideration for exemplary and innovative camera work, and Kevin Spacey merits similar recognition for his portrayal of a ruthless yet brilliant mastermind villain.

Oddly, we’re introduced to our hero, Baby, midway through his hero’s journey. We’re told through narrative exposition that Baby was thrust into his main hero’s journey years earlier when his parents died in a car crash. Later he’s thrown into another sub-journey when he steals Doc’s car. This unusual story structure has the advantage of propelling us into the action right away but it also denies us seeing Baby’s origin story. I, for one, would love to see a prequel to this film that would take us back to Baby’s childhood and adolescence so that we can see how he evolved into a thief and then got swallowed into Doc’s cauldron of evil.


I thought the hero’s journey was pretty standard, actually. In his ordinary world, Baby’s a driver for a dark mentor, Doc. Things are going pretty well when one day he meets a beautiful young woman. She lays down the call to adventure – to hit the road and never look back. Now, his main goal is to finish his job with Doc and get out of town. But there are complications when Doc doesn’t let Baby out of the job. It’s an expertly executed story structure from beginning to end. The bits about his parents’ demise is all backstory. But I would go with you to see that backstory as a prequel. Yes, indeed.

As a hero, Baby is perfect – by having flaws. He is basically a good kid. He has a “superpower” of being an exceptional driver. He’s kind to his deaf-mute foster father. He’s gallant with his love interest. Yet, he’s in the dark business of robbing banks – which occasionally results in someone getting hurt or killed. He’s a bit of an anti-hero with Doc as a dark mentor and Debora as the anti-villain – leading him away from a life of crime.


So does that mean that Baby fails to transform as most good heroes do? We get the sense that he’s a good man. He takes care of his indigent foster father; he warns the post office worker not to enter the building while it’s being robbed; and he returns the purse to the lady whose car he hijacks. He’s a good person caught in a bad situation — something we can all relate to and ultimately draws us to him. But he seems to be this good person from the beginning of the film to the end, suggesting a lack of transformation.

Quite possibly Baby’s transformation is not a moral one but a mental and emotional one. He falls in love, quite possibly for the first time, and learns all too well the price of loving another. His dealings with Doc reinforce the darkness of the world and teach him valuable lessons about trust and loyalty. And speaking of Doc, the film’s end showcases an act of supreme redemption when Doc sacrifices his life to save Baby and Debora. Redemption, by definition, implies transformation, and Doc’s was both powerful and timely.


I’m glad you brought up Doc’s transformation. It seemed sudden and out of character. We don’t get any indication that Doc is soft-hearted in any way. He’s very hard-nosed, in fact. He threatens to call off the Post Office job when a weapons deal goes south. He’s ruthless, cunning, and uncompromising. Yet, at the last minute, when he sees Baby has a girlfriend, he has a change of heart and helps Baby escape, even giving his own life. It was a transformation that didn’t ring true.

Despite this flaw, I still found Baby Driver was an amazing piece of art and I cannot recommend it higher. I give Baby Driver a full 5 Reels out of 5.

Baby is a great hero – possibly even an anti-hero. While he is virtuous, his morals are in question as he is a thief and an accomplice to burglary and even murder. But we like him for his high level of competence as a driver and his kindness to his girlfriend and foster father. I give Baby 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The transformations in this film are good, but I’m not sure they’re great. Baby is sentenced to 25 years in jail with parole at 5 years. And in the epilog, it appears he is released for his good deeds at parole. And he appears to have become the moral man we know he can be. However Doc’s inexplicable transformation from a dark mentor to a martyr is hard to believe. I can only give 4 out of 5 Deltas for them.

Movie: Transformation:  Heroes:


Baby Driver is one of the best films of 2017, a true sleeper hit that is crafted stylishly and expertly in terms of story quality, character development, and the heroic journey. This is one of those movies that deserves Oscar consideration but likely won’t receive it because of the time of year (early summer) that it was released. I’m happy to award Baby Driver 4 Reels out of 5.

Baby is a hero, not an anti-hero, as he ends on a morally positive note, extricating himself from his life of crime while demonstrating a loving heart to his father, his girlfriend, and even complete strangers. Baby has many of the characteristics of the great eight traits of heroes, including intelligence, strength, reliability, resilience, caringness, selflessness, and inspiration. I give Baby a hero rating of 4 Heroes out of 5.

Regarding heroic transformation, Baby finds love which heightens his transformation away from his life of crime. Along the way he also discovers key insights about himself and the dark world of crime. Greg, you may be right about Doc’s transformative self-sacrifice being out of character, but I’m not so sure. Baby may have won over Doc the way he won over everyone else. Still, I’m only giving this film 3 Deltas out of 5 because we never do see Baby’s original, central transformation to a life of crime, as this movie begins at the midpoint of the hero’s journey. Let’s hope a prequel film is in the works that will illuminate Baby’s path toward criminality.

Movie: Transformation:  Heroes: