Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

I’m going to get this out of the way first. When I walked out of my screening of Mad Max: Fury Road I felt like I hadn’t watched a film, I’d had an experience. One that was filled with bright colors, pounding music and some of the coolest things my rods and cones had ever been exposed to. It was glorious.

I’m a huge fan of the Mad Max films. Well, maybe not the original. The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome are two of my favorite movies from my youth. I watched both of them dozens of times back in the day, Beyond Thunderdome especially. There was something inherently cool about them regardless of the fact that they are more than a little depressing and bleak. Max, played very low key by Mel Gibson, was a self-centered opportunist that usually found a spark along his journey that reunited him with his humanity and compelled him to do the right thing. Unfortunately he always seemed to end up back at square one once the credits roll. It made him extremely interesting in The Road Warrior, and even though he went through the same arc in Beyond Thunderdome the script went about it in a different manner to keep it fresh. Max was a great character; a man of few words and a lot of balls.
It took the mastermind behind all 3 films (well, 2 and a half of them), George Miller, almost thirty years to get another Mad Max off the ground. Script issues, budgetary concerns, casting choices, location mishaps… you name it and this project most likely went through it. When the planets finally aligned and the cameras rolled my excitement began to build. It took decades, but the sequel I’ve always wanted was coming!

After Max (Ton Hardy) is taken prisoner by the desciples of the wasteland tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), he finds a way to escape their clutches when Joe’s second in command, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), drives away with what is most important to him – his harem of young brides.
The rumors are true. This flick is basically a 2 hour long car chase scene. But does that leave room for characterization and plot development? You bet it does. While it was a little disheartening to see that the title character was being pushed aside in favor of Furiosa I soon came to realize that Max was finding his redemption though her. Despite some unfortunate retconning of the character (it now appears that Max is haunted by the death of his daughter, not the death of his wife and son) we discover that both Max and Furiosa are two parts of the same puzzle. They may seem to be selfish assholes on the surface, but deep down they just want to do what is right amidst all the horror and violence of the ruined world around them. Yet another way to keep the character interesting is by giving him a mirror image. Genius.

At first glance Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) may not be a great choice for the character, but I found him to have the right amount of stoicism, physicality and unexpected humor required for the part. He’s a total badass in this flick just as Gibson was before him thanks to the writing and the way he’s played.  Example - His crew is in need of some supplies from an enemy vehicle stranded nearby. Max saunters into the dead of night unarmed to get what they need. We never see what happens next, only that Max returns dragging a huge bag full of supplies and covered in blood that is not his own. Fucking rad.
Even though Hardy nails the part of Max I have to give it up to the true hero of the story, Charlize Theron (Prometheus) as Furiosa. The part is written in such a way that reminded me of how Ripley was scripted in the original Alien – neither as a male or a female, just as an awesome character. The fact that the part eventually was cast as female makes the part all the richer in my eyes, especially when the actress was Charlize Theron. She brings a fierceness to the part that works wonders and a lot of heart that I doubt would have been there if not for her. While she is given much more dialogue than the lead, a staple of these films, she kind of comes off as Max’s inner voice at times. Excellent casting and she rocks the shit out of the part.

The rest of the cast is great too. Nicholas Hoult’s (Warm Bodies, Jack the Giant Slayer) Nux starts off as an annoying acolyte and evolves into much more. Rosie Huntington-Whitely (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) shows off that when someone talented is directing her she really can act alongside the best of them. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villain Toecutter in the original Mad Max, is also a strong silent type who lets his crazy make-up and costume do much of the work, but is written as a somewhat sympathetic villain. Sure he’s enslaved a multitude of followers and hoards both gasoline and water from the masses, but his purpose within the film is that he just wants to protect his own even though his family is completely fucked up (he has five wives that serve no purpose other than to be baby factories for his contaminated seed). But the lengths he is willing to go to in order to do so makes him extremely threatening to the heroes.
But what of the much lauded action scenes? They are without a doubt some of the coolest and most pulse pounding I have ever seen. Pretty much anything and everything that can happen does happen to a vehicle at one point or another. Some of the stunts, which were performed real-for-real as much as possible, are so bone crunchingly visceral it made me gasp more than a few times. The multitude of fight scenes come off as something akin to an alley fight which worked better than some overly choreographed kung-fooey. Realism is the name of the game and the CGI (thankfully) pops up only sparingly.

Miller is also known as a visual auteur, and this is his most impressive work to date. Every shot is interesting to look at and creative as fuck. There are awesome slo-mo shots (Max rising from the sand), breathtaking aerial shots (the flares) and shots filled with so much mayhem that I cannot fathom how it was pulled off without some sort of digital trickery (Max swinging by on a pole as vehicles explode gloriously behind him). It’s a feast for the eyes and is one of the most visually arresting flicks I’ve seen in years. Every frame is dense with detail and even though the color palette is mostly brown, the contrast has been bumped up to make it pop off the screen.
I have to also give props to the production team who came up with all these rad ass looking cars, trucks and motorcycles that are easily differentiated as belonging to a specific tribe by the way they are designed. The costumes are wicked as well, especially Immortan Joe’s armor and faceplate that serves more than just as protection. Everything has a function besides what’s on the surface, including the ridiculous flamethrower guitar player riding on a mobile speaker filled concert stage (complete with no less than six Taiko drummers on the back end) while suspended by bungee cords. It looks cool and goofy at first, but then it begins to sink in that this is the music of war being fed live to the troops to keep them amped up and on edge. Lots of thought obviously went into developing the world the story takes place in beyond what we’ve seen in the previous films. It’s all super creative and more than a little awe inspiring. I’ve seen plenty of movies that are filled to the brim with cool ideas and tech. Some utilize them well (Jupiter Ascending) and others not at all (Ultraviolet). I’m happy to report this is the former.

If you see this movie (and if you haven’t you should be ashamed of yourself) be sure to see it in 3D. Even though it was not shot in native 3D it was designed to take advantage of the medium as much as possible when it was converted. Thankfully this wasn’t one of those rush jobs (Avengers: Age of Ultron immediately comes to mind) and it is used so well that I will go on record as saying this is one of the top three 3D films I’ve ever seen (behind My Bloody Valentine 3D and TRON: Legacy). Every shot is layered and filled with such great depth that even the scenes that take place at night were impressive. Its a great use of the format even though the final shot of the epic climax reminded me of the ending of Jaws 3D
And I cannot forget to mention Tom Holkenborg’s (aka Junkie XL) awesome score. Trained under Hans Zimmer, Holkenborg fills the aural space with pounding bass, screechy guitars and some awesome strings. It gets you just as amped as the images flashing by on screen. I’m totally buying this soundtrack.

The only negatives I can think of is the Vuvalini tribe not being fleshed out as well as I would have liked and the fact that these old lady warriors were introduced just to be killed off in variously gory ways 20 minutes later. The romantic angle between Nux and Capable (Riley Keough) just sort of comes out of nowhere as well. And I will fully admit that at certain times during some of the action scenes I got lost among all the frenetic shenanigans being thrown at me in rapid fire succession. But these are minor quibbles and didn’t detract from my enjoyment one iota.
Why this movie didn’t draw more of an audience the weekend of its release is beyond me. Something creative and ballsy is dwarfed by Pitch Perfect 2?! A cappa-fuck that shit! Mad Max: Fury Road is a new and compelling vision that totally reinvents the titular character in ways that defy imagination. Like I said earlier, these films are dreary and at times overwhelmingly pessimistic. But there’s hope. And I hope we get more adventures in this weird and wild world that George Miller has created. The dude’s in his 70s and he’s rocking it harder than directors in their 20s. Bring it on!

5 out of 5

#MadMax #FuryRoad #MadMaxFuryRoad #Furiosa #ImperatorFuriosa #ImmortanJoe #Nux #GeorgeMiller

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