Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mad Max, or, There and Back Again

Mad Max: Fury Road: written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris; directed by George Miller; starring Tom Hardy (Max Rockatansky), Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa), Nicholas Hoult (Nux), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Immortan Joe), Zoe Kravitz (Toast the Knowing), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (The Splendid Angharad), Riley Keough (Capable), Abbey Lee (The Dag), and Courtney Eaton (Cheedo the Fragile) (2015): 

Gigantic in a way that the previous three Mad Max movies couldn't be because of budgetary restraints, Mad Max: Fury Road puts that money on the screen, and does an amazing number of things without CGI. When CGI does stroll in to dominate, it actually does so in a sublime way, as a dust super-storm that seems more true to Dune than anything that's ever been put on the screen as Dune.

A sort of soft reboot of the original Mad Max films, this one slots in after the original Mad Max, though some of Max's flashbacks suggest that the original film doesn't supply quite the same origin narrative for the series. Tom Hardy's Max, a former police officer, does have his familiar Interceptor from the first two movies, though. For awhile, anyway. 

Hardy is a much quieter presence than the young Mel Gibson, though at least some of that seems to be by design: Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa is the movie's hero, and a very compelling one. Max is along to learn to be heroic again.

Of the 110 story minutes of the film, about 80 involve various iterations of a car chase. Here in the post-apocalypse, the cars have been assembled from anything that works and engineered to be as dangerous to others as possible. Along the way, Miller throws in a visual homage to fellow Aussie Peter Weir's early film, The Cars That Ate Paris. And a nod to one of the iconic stunts in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And a guy playing a flame-throwing guitar while chained to the front of a truck. There's a lot going on.

The chase, or The Chase, or whatever you want to call it, is dizzying at times but fully comprehensible. Miller and his storyboard people, including comic-book writer/artist Brendan McCarthy, who's co-credited on the script, have figured out everything and where everything needs to go. And go it does. 

Is this a feminist film? Well, when compared to pretty much every other blockbuster movie of the last 25 years, yes. The main plot riffs on Boko Haram and its kidnapping of young girls to be brides, on arranged marriages and institutionalized rape, and on the utter cruddiness of many men with power. 

The main antagonist, Immortan Joe, is a wheezing blob of a dictator who needs to be poured and prodded into a suit that makes him look fearsome. He keeps young women to produce offspring in the reproductively challenged future. Imperator Furiosa, who has worked for Joe for years, has hatched a plan to get the women and herself to safety. Max finds himself along for the ride, acted upon for about the first 40 minutes of the movie before he finally starts to act. 

Visually impressive and kinetic as hell, Mad Max: Fury Road also offers some clever twists and some nicely observed flashes of characterization and world-building along the way. It's a great action movie that doesn't insult the eye or the brain. Highly recommended.

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