Even if the Mayan calculations aren’t precise and the Earth doesn’t explode, 2012 will still be remembered as one of the most blockbustery summers since the inception of cinema. We’ve got Avengers, Dark Knights, Spider-Men, and former presidents slaying vampires, just to name a few. Even with G.I. Joe: Retaliation unexpectedly getting bumped to next March, if your goal is to see all the big studio movies this summer, you’re going to be spending a goodly amount of time at the multiplex; constantly teetering on the verge of sensory overload.
So what can you do to avoid having a complete mental episode in the middle of Total Recall, presuming you make it to August? Luckily, we believe Netflix has you covered here. Recently they added Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 crime drama Drive to their Watch Instantly service. In case you missed it in theaters, Drive is the story of a mysterious, soft-spoken stunt driver who moonlights as a professional wheelman; the best in the business in fact. Though not one to make many personal attachments, he begins spending a lot of time with a young woman and her son who live in his building. Their friendship leads him to agree to help the woman’s ex-con husband out of a bind. Unfortunately, this act of kindness ends up running him afoul the worst kind of people and trapped in an impossible situation.
So what does this have to do with the current slate of summer blockbusters? Drive is a movie that effectively walks the line between artistic, award season fare and the more raucous, id-pleasing summer movies that are often wholly concerned with commercial success. What this means is that Drive is sort of the perfect palate cleanser between superhero reboots, sci-fi sequel/prequels, and animated revisits. Here’s how we see it breaking down.
Much like the comic book selections at the theater this summer, Drive is a movie very dependent upon the strength of its hero. In fact, one of the songs on the soundtrack espouses that our protagonist driver is in fact a real hero in addition to being a real human being. Ryan Gosling may not wear spandex or a bat-shaped cowl, but he is no less capable of righting wrongs and punishing villains. His superpower is really just his extra-heightened senses behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Like Batman, he is brooding and his actions against his enemies are brutal. In fact, the image of the scorpion on his silk jacket might as well be a symbol emblazed on his chest.
Supervillains too are a necessary component of summer blockbusters, and Drive has no shortage of despicable baddies. Leading the forces of evil is Albert Brooks in his terrifying performance as the city’s premier crime boss. His willingness, even eagerness, to dispatch anyone even remotely in his way would make Lex Luthor grimace. His final confrontation with our hero is truly the stuff of myth. In addition to Brooks, the imposing Ron Perlman plays another gangster out to destroy Gosling. He is the physically imposing presence that perfectly complements/offsets Brooks small stature but vicious resolve. I don’t think either of them would have trouble gaining admittance into the Legion of Doom.
When you purchase your ticket to something like, say, The Expendables 2, you aren’t doing so with the intent of seeing complex story structures or exchanges of Shakespearean wit. You go see a movie like The Expendables 2 on the assurance that things are going to explode. Action sequences are the lifeblood of summer movies and Drive is certainly not lacking in this department. The opening car chase may not rack up the collateral damage as did Fast Five, but the intensity and intricacy of the driving stunts coupled with Refn’s stellar photography, makes this an action set piece not soon to be forgotten. It also doesn’t shy away from violence. When one character in particular meets the business end of a shotgun, the result is shot in explicit detail and yet still manages to be artful.
That’s really where the greatness of Drive lies: it gives you everything you want, but in ways that won’t make you feel base or lowbrow for receiving. The shot compositions chosen, the unique soundtrack that beautifully underscores each thrilling moment, and the captivating performances elevate what could potentially be a stripped-bare crime film in someone else’s hands.