Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

While each year seems to bring more rehashes and less original thoughts to the neighborhood multiplex, 2015 seems to be leaving less room than usual for brand new stories and characters.  Coming soon are new TERMINATOR, JURASSIC PARK, PEANUTS, and of course STAR WARS movies.  More remakes of films like POLTERGEIST and POINT BREAK.  And a calvalcade of Marvel Comics adaptations.  You could argue that even the films that are not based on old favorites are familiar sounding plotlines.  Same old story.  We bitch about it every year.  I admit that I do look forward to some of the new installments of well known franchises, hoping that, yes, some of the old magic will be created but also that a fresh perspective can enliven the proceedings.

This summer's MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is the fourth installment in the series, the last of which was released in 1985.  The previous movies were colorful, unique entertainments that introduced Mel Gibson to the world and had salient ecological messages wrapped in amazing art direction and breathtaking stunt work.  After a few abortive attempts to restart the series over the past decade plus, original director George Miller has roared back with one of the most intense motion pictures I think I've ever seen.  An absolutely relentless, supremely bad-ass punk rock two hours that leaves you feeling as if you too were dragged among a parade of ultra souped up vehicles screaming across the desert.

That really sums up this film.  Non-stop chase.  I thought the second movie, THE ROAD WARRIOR was crazy, but nothing like this. There are a few quieter, even reflective moments in FURY ROAD, but otherwise this is sixth gear insanity with a plethora of edits that leave viewers - at times - completely blindsided but for the most part I knew who was fighting who, and why.  I read that Miller played around with frame speeds, slowing it down when it was hard to catch what was happening, but also speeding it up when it was too obvious.

From this and other reviews, you might think that MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is just mindless action.  Red meat for the craving.  I found somewhat more, even if the character of Max (Tom Hardy) is not front and center this time out. The setting is still a post-apocalyptic future where warring factions covered in body paint and grotesque masks desperately scrounge for water and fuel (yet there always seems to be enough for all those chases).  Quick flashbacks again reveal Max's tragic losses of wife and child, the latter of whom often appears to him for encouragement and fortitude at key moments.

But this time the character of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) takes the wheel, quite literally, in her quest for gasoline and meanwhile freeing a quintet of (some pregnant) wives from the loathsome Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who hordes the aforementioned precious fluids from the unfortunate residents at The Citadel, a network of pipes and machinery that will delight any steampunk fans in the audience.  The chase is on.  Soon Joe and and his frightening band of psychopaths piloting muscle cars on steroids are in pursuit. Max, first a human hood ornament but later a reluctant aide, jumps in and becomes integral to the mix, though his driving, fighting, and marksmanship skills aren't what perhaps they used to be.  I found that to be a nice touch.   Amidst the wreckage, we learn a little about Furiosa's actual mission.  

"A little", and maybe not enough.  Miller and co-screenwriters have given food for thought but their script is a bit thin.  I found myself helping the story, filling in gaps.  Yes, there is female empowerment (also refreshing in such a brutal scenario) and even some feminism but I feel more scenes were needed to flesh this out.  The film could've used a wee bit more exposition for the ladies. I wanted to know more of their clan, their history. Maybe in the DVD release...? What info. we are given nonetheless gives the movie some gravitas. 

And Miller really makes the thing work.  A Western on hot wheels. A movie that pounds the hypnotic sands and salt flats of the landscape (beautiful work by DP John Seale) with heart stopping stunts and battles that thankfully have the barest of CGI - this is old school film making.  The director even recruited members of the Cirque du Soleil troupe for some of the acrobatics. I'd love to see the storyboards.  Every bit of mayhem was meticulously choreographed, and it knocked the wind out of me.  I was exhilarated and impressed by MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a film best taken like that of your favorite rock song.  Hell, one of those vehicles even sports a row of kettle pounders and on the grille, a guy wailing on a guitar that shoots fire out of its neck.

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