Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road movie review.

Part sequel, part reboot, Mad Max: Fury Road is the long awaited passion project of Australian director George Miller, whose last film in the Mad Max series, the disastrous Beyond Thunderdome, came thirty years prior to this one.

Of course, it isn’t that uncommon for sequels to emerge after long waits of their own, including an eleven year gap between the second and third Toy Story films, but three decades? It’s certainly something of a testament to the popularity and passionate acclaim towards the Mad Max films that it was able to even be conceived on paper, let alone get green lit.

I can’t consider myself a fan of the original trilogy, as there’s only one film in that series I actually like, but I do see the appeal behind it, as well as the tremendous hype and critical adoration this fourth entry has generated. While I can’t call it the instant action staple that so many others have…. This movie is such a great time that I don’t care. This is the equivalent to a steampunk David Lean fever dream… and I love it!

In the sandy and bleak post-apocalyptic wastelands, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a drifter living by one simple creed: survive by any means. While captured and imprisoned in the territory of tyrannical and megalomaniacal cultist Immortan Joe, several of Joe’s captive brides, used solely for creating milk and carrying children, are taken by Joe’s now rogue driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to find safety beyond his citadel. As Joe’s forces draw nearer to them, Max becomes an unlikely ally to Furiosa on the road, each working together to accomplish their own inner goals.

My only real problem with the movie is the title character himself. As a character, I’ve always found Max to be something of a boring cipher. Obviously, he’s meant to bear influence to the Man with No Name that Clint Eastwood popularized in Leone’s spaghetti westerns, but even Blondie had more of a character for an actor to work with. Tom Hardy does make for a fantastic fit for Max, and as far as I’m concerned, has already managed with one film to eclipse Gibson in the role in three films. There’s just something about what a tremendously stoic and rough exterior he conveys with damaged and more unstable inner feelings, but that really makes the character seem stronger than it is. He’s essentially a surrogate for the audience, something of which we can witness to the events of the film, and is ultimately overshadowed by every other person in his own movie.

Be that as it may, all of these things seem minor when you get down to all of this movie’s undeniable strengths as well. The film is George Miller’s baby from beginning to end, and this is no less apparent in his writing than his direction. I’ll get to the direction of the film in due time, but as for the writing, it’s outstanding in how well it combines the best of both heavy and high-concept thematic elements with bare bones essential action staging. The film carries numerous shades and allegories towards the influence and widespread devastation of cults and idols, the desert wastelands acting as an endless purgatory in every direction, and is also a shockingly feminist film that treats both genders equally. Okay, so the brides do spend a lot of the film in skimpy clothing (all colored white to represent purity), but Miller never treats these characters in distasteful or one note ways.

The film, true to its name, is a very mad one, almost breathless in its action staging, but knows when to calm down for some more humanistic lulls with well paced and natural development. When it comes to the characters, it’s a bit shocking that the title character ultimately ends up taking the back seat to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. Much like Max, Furiosa is also a hardened and intimidating figure, but also shares her own damaged core, though her actions are driven not by survival, but by redemption. When first we meet Furiosa, we can see in hindsight just what a tragic and manipulative life she’s been given in this environment, and like any caring mother, holds onto some glimmer of hope for asylum not just for herself, but for these young women.

Also providing unexpected humanity to the proceedings is Nicholas Hoult as a crazed near death worshipper of Joe obsessed with dying glorious deaths in battle for the promise of sitting with noble kings and warriors of Valhalla. It’s actually quite refreshing in this movie of so many deranged and downright animalistic shells of human beings that we get to see something as engaging as Hoult’s character, quickly becoming disillusioned of everything he’s believed for so many years, losing his manic edge to expose a more sympathetic and morally conflicted man, and driven to achieve his own redemption and become a noble hero by his own path.

Of course, like I said before, it’s Miller’s creation all the way, and when his writing is able to invest us in the characters, his direction is then free to let loose with unabashed creativity and outlandish mania. The editing of the movie itself is incredibly trippy and nail biting, cutting the frequent action sequences with non-stop ferocity, and frankly makes the Fast and Furious movies look like child’s play by comparison. It’s clear that Miller was given a limitless amount of freedom to do whatever he wanted with this movie, and goes all out with the expenses he has. This is especially apparent when it comes to the insane designs of the cars, from cruising cars on monster truck wheels, buggies covered in spiky metal cages, all the way down to a car that exists only to carry a metal band whose lead musician plays a flame spewing electric guitar. There’s no reason Miller needed to include such a thing, but who cares? It’s awesome either way.

What makes all these things further impressive, and justifies the alleged 200 million dollar budget, is that almost everything that we are witnessing on screen is actually happening. In an age where movies are CGI’d within an inch of their lives, Miller combats all of that with phenomenal stunt driving and fighting, grounded choreography, and well placed sparing explosions that seem like a remedy to the Michael Bay fascination with big booms. It’s also lovely to look at in how it feels like Miller also went giddily nuts with the use of color, acting as an antidote to the mentality that dark and gritty movies need bland grays to be taken seriously.

Is Fury Road the next landmark in cinematic action? Not in my eyes, but for all this movie gets right, there’s simply too much here that cannot be ignored. Miller not only scores a home run here. He knocks the ball out of the stadium, and crashing through the windshield of a car parked at the supermarket next door. I can’t put the insanity, but also pure thematic density and entertainment value of this movie any more succinctly than that. I dare not to spoil many of the best bits of the film, which are at their best experiencing it yourself.

"What a lovely day!"

****1/2 / *****

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