Monday, February 22, 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road



I can't believe it's taken me this long to see this movie. Believe it or not, I was following the production of this film for quite some time, particularly once the incredibly talented Tom Hardy got involved. After being blown away by the trailers when Mad Max: Fury Road was being marketed a year ago, I definitely wanted to see it... but at the same time, having never seen any other Mad Max films, it wasn't quite enough to get me into theaters during it's original run. Indeed, it took a long flight across the country to finally convince me to spend some time (if not money) watching the movie that had already been nominated for Best Picture. Given that the awards show is less than a week away, not to mention its strong popularity, I figured it was about time that I officially delivered my verdict on Mad Max: Fury Road

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Max Rockatansky has been reduced to a single instinct - survival. However, he's immediately chased down and captured by a group of War Boys... cancer riddled young men who worship the tyrannical and mask-wearing leader, Immortan Joe. Hoarding water within his citadel, Joe graciously offers the liquid to his people in wasteful bursts from the tower, warning them not to become addicted to it. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, Max is relegated to the War Boys as a personal blood bag, as his O-negative blood makes him a universal donor to the dying soldiers. Meanwhile, Joe tasks an important mission to one of his lieutenants Imperator Furiosa to collect gasoline from the nearby "Gas Town". Little does he know that Furiosa has taken Joe's prized wives and plans to release them from captivity in the "Green Place" once they've escaped the masked villain's clutches. However, Joe arms his entire legion and orders them to retrieve the brides, as Max is strapped to the front of a car leading the pursuit.

If there's a benefit to waiting this long before seeing a huge hit like this one, it's being able to hear all of the complaints ahead of time. One of the major things I heard about this movie was that it didn't really have a story. While it's not entirely invalid, I think the fact that it took me a whole paragraph to summarize the first fifteen minutes of this movie more or less speaks to the richness of the world George Miller created with this movie. Despite having never seen any of the other Mad Max films, I was never lost at any point in this film. The screenplay is devised to introduce this world to the uninitiated in a very smooth and painless way. Admittedly, the meat of the story takes place during the first act, but it sets up the action in a way that is wholly satisfying as we watch the rest of the film unfold.

When I think about the fact that Miller is directing this movie late into his 60's, I'm constantly impressed with how much genuine energy and adrenaline this film has flowing through it. The practicality of the stunts isn't only difficult to pull off, but it can be extremely tricky for it to give you that rush of excitement that a perfectly manicured CGI set piece can provide. Thankfully, Miller not only went all-in on his practical effects, but he knows how to pull them off with gusto. Throughout this movie there are stunts that I've never even imagined, let alone seen, and they're performed to perfection. I have no idea how they managed to capture what they did, but they were very fortunate that none of the stunt people died as the War Boys swung from massive poles to snatch people from neighboring cars.

Beyond the amazing action scenes, however, there was actually some interesting thematic material being presented. It doesn't take a master film deconstructionist to catch the feminist message being portrayed in this film, with the powerful female lead taking control of a situation in order to free other women from subjugation. In a desolate world where bullets, gasoline, and water are the primary commodities, it wasn't a far stretch to imagine ruthless men taking control of what was left of society. However, there are plenty of strong women in Fury Road, and seeing them rise against their captors in defiance was a pretty relevant and important message to send. It's something that was carried on (with a little more subtlety) in The Force Awakens, and it was really nice to see.

If I had to pick some nits, I'd have to say that the lack of variety to the location did become somewhat tiresome over time. Also, there wasn't really anyone in the film we got to know very well, and our involvement in the rescue of Joe's wives was appreciated on a very surface level. We obviously don't want to see people enslaved, but beyond that we weren't really asked to care too much about these characters. Still, the subtle character arc of Max, the humanization of War Boy Nux, and the strength of will imposed by Furiosa made up for some of the lackluster depth of the surrounding characters. Plus, as I mentioned in my best of 2015 list, this thunderous score by Junkie XL was so good that it helped fill in some of the gaps left in the screenplay.

Ultimately, there isn't a ton to complain about here. It's definitely not a film for the light of heart (though they don't take the R-rating too extreme), but for those that don't mind a grizzly vision of the future played out on a treacherous road of vehicular mayhem, this film is spectacular. Mad doesn't even begin to describe how crazy this film is, but if you're curious you should definitely check it out. Despite being in the title, Max isn't really the focal point of the film, but Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and the rest of the cast do a great job in a game-changing movie that some thought was never going to be released. For the achievement this is, barring any minor complaints I may have, Mad Max: Fury Road deserves three and a half stars.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is rated R for intense sequences of action throughout, and for disturbing images