Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

(dir. George Miller)

Warner Bros. Pictures

“If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

After 30 years, George Miller returns to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max and simply put, it is a wonder to behold. The atmosphere and style of the Mad Max franchise has been mined and imitated for decades in various films, television shows and video games, creating a look of sameness across these waste lands. But Fury Road allows Miller to usher in a new and distinct visual style, one that washes away the dull gray and brown color palate we’ve come associate with a world gone rot, and replaces it with bright bursts of color and operatic grandeur. There is beauty in George Miller’s wasteland, and I can promise you that no matter how many times you’ve seen fictionalized depictions of our world post-nuclear holocaust, you’ve never seen anything like Mad Max: Fury Road.

There’s no strict continuity between the latest Mad Max films and the earlier Mel Gibson-led franchise. It’s not necessary to have seen the previous trilogy (though they are certainly worth a watch) but I wouldn’t say Fury Road is a reboot. Rather, it positions Max as a legendary figure, an anti-hero archetype who can be readily placed in new stories, with little need for backstory. Fury Road finds Max, this time played by the always fantastic Tom Hardy, prisoner of the warlord Immortus Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max’s escape causes his path to cross with the rogue Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who is smuggling Joe’s breeding wives to the fabled “Green Place.”

Like the previous Mad Max films, Fury Road has a narrow narrative scope. It’s not a complicated story, and just as the previous films borrowed from the western genre, Fury Road feels borrowed from classic myths or fairy tales, which makes it the perfect story for Mad Max. But borrowed narrative elements aside, there’s an incredible amount of original world-building in the film. Every location, every costume, every vehicle is packed with detail and story. Truly, George Miller and production designer Colin Gibson have outdone themselves in every way. Even with few characters and little exposition there’s a lived in feeling to this cinematic world and a rich sense of history that makes the waste land seem palpable. You can almost smell the diesel-caked bodies and dust-ridden clothing. Yet there’s also something distinctly alien about the film, a sun-saturated color palate that washes over you like a fever dream. It’s a reminder that, yes, this is a film. So often our modern blockbusters seem overly-concerned with making fictional worlds seem real and grounded for audiences, but Fury Road goes the other way. It’s not interested in realism but art, and drawing attention to the handmade quality and care that went into this production.

To fully appreciate what a cinematic feat Fury Road is, there are two things that should be known. 1: Because the film relies more so on visuals than dialogue, the film was storyboarded before a screenplay was ever written. 2: 80% of the film was made using practical effects, and when you see it you’ll wonder how the hell that was even possible. Imagine Cirque Du Soleil atop of vehicles and thrust into an action film that's nearly a two-hour road chase. The stunt team and coordinators deserve all the praise in the world. If there was ever a film that could cause the Academy to wake up and create an award for Best Stunts, it’s this film. There haven’t been action scenes like these, and each one is a staggering shot of adrenaline. And worry not, the trailers have not spoiled the best scenes in the film. Not by a longshot. And all of this action is made all the more engaging by a fantastic score by Junkie XL. Clearly, a student of Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL’s booming percussionist score and guitar riffs amp up the film’s tension and make the quieter moments all the more alluring. Also responsible for this beauty is cinematographer John Seale who not only creates breathtaking overhead landscape shots, but also catches the glint of fire burning in each actor’s eyes.

Tom Hardy’s Max is just as short on words as the character was in The Road Warrior, but Hardy takes full advantage of the titular character’s madness. There always seemed to be some of that lawful cop left in Gibson’s Max, but Hardy’s is something devolved, an almost Cro-Magnon man who can barely remember what it’s like to speak to another human being. Hardy’s power is all in his eyes and he creates a character that seems just as dangerous as he is afraid of getting too close to anyone. But for being the titular character, Max exists somewhat in the background, a power tool to be harnessed by Theron’s most excellent Imperator Furiosa. Furiosa’s arc is parallel to Max’s, both are looking for redemption but only she has the audacity to hope. She's also incredibly badass and capable. Really the same can be said for all the female characters in the film. While the story may borrow from the “rescue the princesses from the tower” narrative, Immortus Joe’s wives each prove to be strong and fully realized characters in their own way (remember friends, “females are strong as hell.”) For a movie that’s constantly pushing forward from one action beat to the next, there’s a deft handle on character development in motion.

Almost without warning, 70-year old George Miller just revolutionized what action films are capable of. This is a watershed moment in action filmmaking that hasn’t been seen since The Matrix. And for those who grumble about summer blockbusters being too similar and don’t see Mad Max: Fury Road? You’ve lost your right to complain because George Miller just changed the game. I’ve seen this movie twice this weekend, and I can definitely say that with all the hundreds of movies I’ve seen, Mad Max: Fury Road is something else, an event-movie that needs to be seen on the big-screen. Because if you miss it, it’s the kind of movie you’ll want to buy a bigger TV for just to better appreciate the Blu-ray. “My world is fire and blood,” Max intones at the film’s beginning and Fury Road is fire, blood and so much more.

Grade: A+

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