Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Originally posted June 2nd, 2015

What a lovely day.

Wow. WOW. Wow. While I feel a bit unqualified to talk about a Mad Max movie (considering I haven't seen any of the first three films front to back), I do feel justified in reviewing Fury Road as an action spectacle.  Because honestly, fan of the series or not, the exhilaration and mastery of practical effects exhibited in George Miller's newest masterpiece is pretty much unprecedented in today's theatrical entertainment.

Let's face it, the post-apocalypse craze is getting old.  All these abandoned cities ravaged by zombies and futures with societies that only exist to act as class warfare metaphors are starting to look indistinguishable from one another.   But here comes Mad Max: Fury Road, the very definition of in-your-face action, apocalyptic wonder, and astonishing special effects.  The story is deliriously simple, but the world is so interesting and layered that simplicity was definitely the smart way to go.

In keeping with the original series' Cold War themes, Earth is a barren wasteland due to a nuclear war.  Max (Tom Hardy) is a former "cop" who now wanders aimlessly through the desert, either running from members of the War Boys (mutants who run a corrupt, savage society), or from his own personal past trauma.  He's abducted by the War Boys and used as a "blood bag" for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who appears terminally ill (though it's hard to tell when he lives in a society of deformed mutants).  When leader of War Boys, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), realizes his five wives (selected for breeding) have escaped with the help of the bad-ass truck-driving chick Furiosa (Charlize Theron), he sets out with his entire army to track them down, kill her, and take back what's his.  Max is taken on the pursuit to keep Nux alive, but he escapes and joins Furiosa on her quest to lead her and the other women to "The Green Place," where they hope they will be safe.

 What's most striking about Fury Road is its design; the vehicles that the War Boys drive are mind-blowingly creative.  A Mercedes Benz body with a tractor on the bottom; forties Dodge trucks equipped with monster truck wheels and machine guns; 30s Fords with metal spikes all over them... I could go on for hours.  However the winner for best design is clearly the moving rock stage with strapped-in drummers, dozens of amps and speakers, and a blind man in a red jumpsuit playing a flamethrowing guitar (Australian musician iOTA).  It might just be the coolest thing I have ever seen.

Beyond that, there are excellent performances all around, good character development, a script that relies on very little dialogue, and crash stunts that are insanely fun to watch.  I admire that most of the stunts appear to be done practically, and while CGI was used to enhance the environments and things like the giant sandstorm, the chases and crashes have incredible weight to them that's missing from a lot of modern action movies.  The make-up work on the mutants is bizarre and disgusting as well, aided by several actors who are actually deformed to help sell the idea.

These are, of course, all things I was hoping for.  What I couldn't have expected was an underlying feminist theme that runs beneath nearly every scene in the film.  There's an idea in this primitive future society that women can be property, made to wear spiked chastity belts, and used as sex slaves. Escaping that life is what Fury Road is at its heart.  They are rescued not by Max, but by Furiosa, who judging by her lack of a left arm, has gone through some incredible hardships no doubt related to her being a woman.  There's never any doubt that she can kick as much ass as any man in the movie.

While the action scenes are relentlessly fun, make no mistake that this is a dark movie that earns its R rating.   It's a savage world with savage rules, and the name of the game is staying alive (which several of the characters can't do).  Just as I feared the movie was taking itself too seriously, we get some great comic relief in the form of a few old ladies who've seen some serious shit, but at least have a sense of humor about it.  I know it's essential that I go back and watch the other Mad Max movies, but for now, I'm unbelievably satisfied with Fury Road. Some of it is bizarre, much of it is crazy, and all of it is brilliantly realized.