Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Make no mistake, this is HER movie.
"Masterpiece" doesn't even begin to describe it.

When extremely enthusiastic buzz for Mad Max: Fury Road started leaking after its first press screenings last weekend, I didn't give those early whispers much weight. As a rule, I try not to pay attention to other film reviews before I write my own so as to not have my opinion clouded, and in this case, if I'm being honest, I had already figured there was going to be a strong George-Miller-fanboy element that would need to be factored in to account for all of the glowing reviews coming from mostly (95%, I calculated) male critics.

I had also figured that affection for the existing Mad Max films would bleed over into this reboot of sorts (with Miller back in the director's chair and Tom Hardy taking over Mel Gibson's role as "Mad" Max Rockatansky). Here's the part where I admit to having never seen any of those movies. What can I say? I was an 11-year-old girl obsessed with Madonna and The Goonies when the third film (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) came out, and for whatever reason just never felt motivated to rent the trilogy in the decades since. They seemed like testosterone-fueled "guy movies" to me. And my general dislike of Mel Gibson didn't help.

I considered catching up before seeing Fury Road, but ultimately didn't. My reasoning: in addition to most other critics being male, nearly all of them have seen the original trilogy, so maybe it would be more interesting if I reported from a totally different perspective.

But as it turns out, my gender and complete lack of familiarity with George Miller's previous films didn't even matter in the end. I'm here to assure you that you don't need to know anything about the other Mad Max installments to have your mind completely blown by Fury Road. I walked out of the theater contemplating that it might just be the best film I've ever seen, ever. (Not my favorite, but the best. There's a difference.)

That's attractive
From Fury Road's very first moments, I was hooked. There stood poor Max, totally alone in the vast desert of post-apocalyptic Australia, hearing voices and hallucinating. He has been on the run for years, trying to survive in a cruel world that is nothing but sand for as far as the eye can see, while also failing to shake off disturbing visions of his family members and loved ones blaming him for their deaths.

Soon he has bigger things to worry about, though, because he gets captured by a gang of War Boys—brainwashed, chalk-covered, wild-eyed members of a feral army that worships King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in 1979's Mad Max). After a heart-pounding escape-attempt sequence that, in retrospect, serves as a remarkably tame appetizer for what's to come, Max finds himself strung upside down and serving as a blood donor for a weakened War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

We are introduced to Immortan Joe as he showers his starving, filthy and tumored masses with a stingy taste of the drinking water he's been pumping up from the earth and hoarding. But soon after this display of arrogance and power, he discovers that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)—who was supposed to be leading a crew of War Boys on a fuel run—has stolen Joe's five (!) wives and gone rogue. The wheezy, masked ruler promises glory to whomever brings Furiosa to justice, so Nux decides he needs to strap his blood bank (Max) to the front of a vehicle and join the chase.

Cool guys JUMP away from explosions
And it really is a chase. "It" being the majority of the two-hour film. It is a chase that puts to shame all other cinematic chases. All of them. It is a chase that will leave you astounded by its relentlessness, its creativity and its beauty. I've simply never seen anything like it—many parts of the Joe vs. Furiosa land race reminded me of acrobatic and carefully choreographed Cirque du Soleil performances, but even that description doesn't really do it. (Maybe because those performances usually lack spearings, stabbings, rammings and explosions.)

From the increased frame-rate that makes everything appear jumpy and hyper-real, to the electric-guitar and drum-heavy score (by Junkie XL) that's cleverly embedded into the action, to the glorious wide shots of the desert chase courtesy of cinematographer John Seale—you can't help but wonder how in the hell Miller pulled this off, especially when there doesn't seem to be that much obvious CGI. Fury Road raises the bar so high I can't imagine it being met for years to come. Let's just say it reinforced my belief that superhero movies have been taking the easy and expected way out for quite a while now. No action movie I can remember holds a candle to Fury Road. No action movie I can remember should even be classified as an action movie now that Fury Road exists. It's a game-changer.

Those eyes thought
Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris wrote the screenplay, which is very light on dialogue. I suppose that could've been a problem if Hardy and Theron weren't masters at conveying such a range of thoughts and emotions through their expressions. And truth be told, it kind of bugged me when any characters did speak; the slang and accents and levels of sanity varied so drastically among them, it started to shatter the illusion that this awful world was real. I also thought it was kind of odd that Max looked so normal compared to all of the freaks around him. Shame on me for assuming the distant dystopian future could never abide a few good-looking dudes.

Much ado has been made about the film's feminist or female empowerment themes, but I didn't walk out of the theater with any such thoughts in my head. The person who's had enough of Immortan Joe's bullshit happens to be female, and she also happens to kick ass. A lot of the people who end up helping her happen to be ass-kicking females as well. But to me this isn't a story of men versus women or men effing up the world and women having to save it, it's a story of how a small group of people with not much more than their convictions and determination might possibly change things. It's a story about hope. It just takes a while to realize that after you've been holding your breath in amazement for two hours.


dolce said...

And that review is why I will be paying to see this movie. Thanks E!

dolce said...

And your review is why I will be paying money to see this movie! Thanks!

Matt Winberry said...

I finally saw tjis tonight. Simply amazing. Also, I knew I could count on you to write a great review. :-)