Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Furiously Fast Mad Max: Fury Road

     It's sacrilege to write a review of George Miller's two-hour chase movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, and state in the first sentence that I never enjoyed the original Mel Gibson films that nearly every film lover holds in such high regard. So I came into Fury Road with fresh eyes and almost no idea of the specific plot lines of the first films (other than the post-apocalyptic gas/water being sacred aspect). It's been 30 years since the original films, and in that time, director Miller has worked on projects that are virtually the complete opposite: Babe, the talking pig movies, and the animated Happy Feet series. But he must have had this Max on the back of his mind for years: Fury Road is batshit crazy for a summer blockbuster opening the weekend before Memorial Day, a metaphorical dropping of the mic for Miller, an I-Can't-Believe-the-Studio-Gave-Him-150 Millions-Dollars desert of the weird, maniacal, violent and yes, womanly. It's not perfect--but it deserves all the praise and box office winnings of the world, just for totally not giving a fuck.
     Miller is in his mid-70's, but you'd never guess watching Fury Road: it's one of the fastest-paced action movies in recent memory. After a start that left me wondering how much I was going to like the film (it takes a few minutes to get your bearings in this strange world), once the accelerator is slammed to the floor, it never lets up until the final credits roll. This time Max is portrayed by Tom Hardy (filling in for Mel Gibson's original role), and though he's clearly up-for-anything, most actors could have played the character--he has less than 30 lines of dialogue (minus grunting), and really ins't the star of this installment. The real star is Imperator Furiosa (a shaved-head, one-armed Charlize Theron), who drives the gasoline-collecting War Rig across the barren landscape.
     Furiosa works for King Immortan Joe, who has a cult-like following of Powder lookalikes who are addicted to thoughts of the afterlife and act like crack addicts. At the beginning of the film, Max has been captured by these albino thugs, and he gets thrown in a cage and used as a blood bag for the sickly Nux (Nicholas Hoult, having plenty of fun). Eventually, our Max is strapped to the front of a desert dune buggy and the epic chase (and it is epic, as most of it is with real vehicles and real explosions without an overdose of special effects) begins.
     Reviews have been glowing for Mad Max: Fury Road, which is surprising not because the film isn't pretty great, but because it's incredibly weird and brutal. But--other than the 90 minutes of chase that is the beating, bloody heart of the film--Mad Max: Fury Road, in all of its ugliness and emptiness (the entirety of the movie was filmed in the infertile deserts of Namibia, Africa), is unrelentingly beautiful. Much of it is a work of art straight from Miller's mind: the intricacies of the complicated vehicular warfare, the costumes and make-up of the characters in the fictional world, the gorgeous post-apocalyptic wasteland and Miller's choice of camera angles and cinematography. Something this ugly is rarely so alluring. Specifically, the last portion of the film shines the brightest, with all of the bits and pieces of the action building into a crescendo of blood and fire.
      Many film goers are speaking of the feminist aspects of Mad Max: Fury Road, due to the arc of Furiosa and the women that she is trying to help, but I'll stay away from that. The film doesn't delve far enough into that aspect to truly make a case for it. What Fury Road  really is: an unrelenting action film that doesn't need a real plot to succeed. Other than Furiosa's plight, Fury Road exists for cars, trucks, buggies and motorcycles to drive incredibly fast, smash into each other and explode, all while racing from one end of the desert and then back again, with characters who are bizarre living in a post-society world created by Miller. And for that, it succeeds: Fury Road is incredibly interesting, and though its not quite completely mind-blowing, mind-blowing is what comes to mind when thinking of the movie studio giving Miller 150 Million dollars and sending him off to the African desert to create a summer blockbuster as funky as this one.     (A-)

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