Monday, May 18, 2015

Movie Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

I wasn’t going to write a review of Fury Road because, quite frankly, I don’t know that I’m up to it. I don’t know how to talk about this thing. But I feel like I was privileged to see something special and visionary in the theater and I that it deserves my time and words. I was truly moved by the experience of watching Mad Max: Fury Road, and while I’ve seen and loved plenty of movies to varying degrees, I am not often left agape with wonder for an entire movie.

Spoiler-free version – GO. Go now. If you don’t have an outright problem with 3D, you might want to try that. I felt like this was an experience meant for 3D and I want to see it again that way. 
 
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like Mad Max: Fury Road in a theater. It is a near non-stop assault of mad images and screaming steel. I literally couldn’t sit back in my seat. 
 
George Miller is an insane visionary genius that has gifted us with a film that I never would have imagined could make it through Hollywood intact. In an odd way, the closest thing in recent memory is Guardians of the Galaxy as far as a seemingly mad and unique project making it to the public. The two movies couldn’t be more different tonally, but both give me hope that maybe the creative, adventurous spirit of Hollywood isn’t entirely dead, after all.

I hope that convinced you to go. Spoilers aren’t an issue with Fury Road in the way that they might be with other movies (which is a testament to the movie’s strength), but there are a few little tidbits that are nice surprises. I knew very little going into the movie and was able to enjoy each story beat and visual delight as they unfolded.

Oh, and if you’re concerned – this is not a remake or reboot. But you needn’t have seen the prior movies to see this one. You’ll understand Max and his world before the title hits the screen.

From here on out there be

*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*

The movie opens with a voiceover from Max – the most words we get out of him at once for the whole movie. There’s a different guy in those worn, busted boots this time around and I want to address that first.

The fact that Tom Hardy is playing Max rather than Mel Gibson didn’t and doesn’t bother me. I like Hardy a lot and I look at the change the same way I do the James Bond franchise – yep, new guy, let’s move on. There are stories to be told and they can’t be stopped by casting or convenience.

Having said that, I didn’t realize how much the character of Max relied on Gibson’s natural charm. Max Rockatansky is not a hero. He’s not a savior. He’s not even particularly nice. His life has been horrible and he has been shattered time and again. He’s not going anywhere, he’s just going. We’re not supposed to identify with him. There is a massive difference between Mel Gibson’s Max and Tom Hardy’s. As I said – Gibson had his inherent charm and likeability, as well as three movies and three more decades worth of identification with Max in my head. Even though The Road Warrior was one of the first Mel Gibson movies I ever saw (when I was far too young to be seeing it), in the decades that followed I couldn’t help but merge Gibson’s other characters and performances into my perception of his Max. I just like the guy (insane real-life rantings notwithstanding).

Tom Hardy does not have the same cache of personality. RocknRolla, Bronson, and The Dark Knight Rises are the films I most consciously identify Hardy with, though I saw him in many more before really recognizing him as a talent. That’s not a knock on him – my brain is just slow to build familiarity. In two of those three movies Hardy was playing an already established character, so it was about his portrayal more than it was what he brought to a character on a personal level. It wasn’t Martin Riggs, Gene Ryack, or Rick Jarmin – all heavily Gibson-infused characters.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have enough of an impression of Hardy himself for it to have bled into his portrayal of Max. So Fury Road presents, essentially, the most pure representation of Max Rockatansky I’ve seen since I first saw The Road Warrior in the early eighties. And Max is not a likeable guy. It was a weird adjustment to make. He’s our portal into this world, but not in the normal empathetic way. The closest I really came to identifying with his character was when he was desperately trying to escape from the War Boys at the beginning of the movie because they’re tattooing him against his will and are about to brand him and they’re all creepy freaks and of course you want to get away from them. 
 
Max is cold, distant, and haunted and it seems that self-preservation is the largest part of his being. And that’s a little off-putting for a good portion of the movie.

But that’s okay, because this movie isn’t about Max. This movie is about Charlize Theron’s character, Imperator Furiosa.

(Actually this movie is about insane people driving at insane speeds through a desolate and beautiful desert and blowing things up almost constantly, but if I had to pick a protagonist it would be Furiosa)

Imperator Furiosa is a high-ranking individual in the horde of the hideous mutant king Immortan Joe (played by the same dude that was Toecutter in the first movie, though this is a different character). We don’t know how Joe came to power or how he built this empire with plenty of water, gas, and food that he barely rations out to his destitute, impoverished subjects. It doesn’t matter. With nary a word about it we understand that this is a harsh, nightmarish world with little joy to be had and that Immortan Joe is a monster that has made himself into a god.

The warrior class – War Boys – worship Joe and have only one desire – to enter the gates of Valhalla in the most volatile and violent way possible. Again, nobody tells us this story. We see it as the narrative plays out. Fury Road does not talk down to us. 
 
While there is a large and colorful cast of characters, our main players are Max, Furiosa, a War Boy called Nux, and Immortan Joe’s five runaway wives. 
 
Max is Max. Obviously by the end of the movie he has taken on more of a heroic role, but I’d be surprised if you couldn’t fit all of Tom Hardy’s lines onto a single page.

Furiosa is a woman seeking redemption. She’s rescuing the five wives from lives of servitude, rape, and ceaseless breeding. She is tough and unstoppable.

The wives are far from the helpless cattle you might expect from such a narrative. Each has strength and personality and a certain disarming cynicism that was refreshing in a weird way. They project a family vibe and immediately come off as more than your standard damsels in distress.

Then there’s Nux, who has perhaps the most traditional character arc and who is played brilliantly by Nicholas Hoult. The transition from revolting monster to heroic martyr is amazing and one that would have been worthy of its own feature under any other circumstances.

But that simply isn’t enough for the mad visionary George Miller. Oh, no – he has cars to blow up, mutants to impale, and landscapes to scorch, all in ways that you’ve never seen on screen and won’t believe until you do.

The visuals of Mad Max: Fury Road will likely never again be equaled. I know that’s a bold statement and might even sound preposterous with Hollywood churning out massive blockbusters like Age of Ultron, Godzilla, and Pacific Rim every summer. Fury Road has a visceral, carnal, human element that no other big action movie can boast. The scream of metal, the crunch of bone, the tearing asunder of scorched flesh – all of these things are in your face and being thrown about the screen like so much bloody, fiery laundry. All of these complex, terrifying sequences are happening in the real world. The most insane cars and trucks you’ve ever seen in your life, driven by demons and covered in destruction, all race through a hard world with such intensity that you can’t help but feel a real tension. 
 
I’m no poet. I want words that match the harsh beauty of what I experienced last Thursday night and I don’t have them. That’s just not how I roll. All I can say is that this movie deserves to have you experience it. Don’t put it off – make time. It rewards every second of your time and every dollar out of your wallet. I’m not saying that other movies aren’t worthwhile, but Mad Max: Fury Road combines art and mayhem in a way that has enriched and inspired me, as well as given me hope for the future of cinema. If things like this can still happen, even just once a decade, then a little bit of that adventurous spark that existed before the rule of the bottom line is still out there.

Please go and see this movie and support that which is awesome.

Oh – two more things before I go:
  1. I want toys. Badly. I want vehicles – Hot Wheels size, GI Joe size, whatever. I want them all, especially the crazy fucking tank from the Bullet Farm:


  2. I also want action figures. Not Hot Toys. Hot Toys are beautiful, but they're bullshit as toys because nobody can afford them. Ideally a line of GI Joe-sized figures that could interact with vehicles, but I'd take twelfth scale figures from NECA.






3 comments:

  1. I love your description of Max, because that is very similar to how I described him to my wife when I tried to get her to watch the Road Warrior with me. I do not really see Mel Gibson's charm in Max, to be honest, I always just saw the character as a survivor, not a hero, who may do heroic things when they advance his own objectives or preservation.
    I think Tom Hardy did a great job as the character, and I look forward to more Mad Max movies with him in the role.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the movie. I loved it, and want to see it again. It was a great Mad Max movie, and probably the best of the series so far.
    Before seeing it, I had plenty of concerns that this was a pointless movie, only made to cash-in on a popular name. Leaving the movie, I am so happy George Miller wanted to go back to that world, and can't wait for the next one.

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    1. I can't stop thinking about Fury Road. Unfortunately I haven't been able to see it again yet, but maybe this week. It deserves another viewing.

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    2. I saw it a second time Saturday night. The first time I saw it, was in a somewhat dinky theater on a Thursday afternoon. I needed to see it the way it was intended, so I drove 30 minutes to see it in a huge theater that was Dolby 7.1 certified. It was still great a second time, and the larger venue made a difference (neither times was in 3D). When you see it again, listen carefully to his opening dialogue, because he gives more of a backstory than I realized the first time seeing it.

      Also, I listened to the Fury Road portion of your podcast this afternoon. I'm with you, I don't really care if the movies follow some sort of overall timeline or continuity, I am totally fine with them being stand alone stories about a guy in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

      That said, I was trying to figure out how the movies fit together in an overall timeline and continuity, and how 'Mad Max' does not really have many examples of an apocalyptic event. However, I think the first movie is still a post-apocalyptic film, because if I remember correctly there are highway warning signs about radiation and danger out in the wasteland.

      Let's assume Fury Road is chronologically the last film, and in that, Max is at most in his late 30s. Let's say its been 15-20 years since he was a cop and his family was killed. Joe did not set up his civilization, get all these young kids to buy into this cult-like belief, in just 15-20 years. You guys were saying 45 years, I don't know if you got that from some material, or just made the number up. I think Furiosa said she was gone for a little over 19 years (7000 days), but before she was taken she was in a tribe of "many mothers" that already had their own beliefs and way of speaking, and if she grew up in a "green place" which she recognized as special and unique, then at least 20 years ago things around them were f-ed up.

      So, my theory is that Max happened to be a cop in the last standing semblance of society, which was a lone area surrounded by a ruined world. The great war, bombs, whatever, occurred years earlier, maybe even before he was born, but he was lucky enough to be in this area. It was on it's way down, but the people there were trying their best to keep things running the way they were before, and they stayed out of the wastelands.

      Between the time of 'Mad Max' and 'The Road Warrior' things have gotten worse, and the wastelands have encroached and engulfed Max's home (which he left at the end of the first movie). Anyway, that's my theory of how the first movie can still make sense, because we were witnessing the happenings in this little oasis of civilization, while crazy crap like the Citadel were being built out in the distance.

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