by Karina “Cinerina” Montgomery
Rating: Matinee with Snacks
Neither a reboot, nor an imagining, Mad Max Fury Road is a continuation of the post-apocalyptic intensity seeded by the original Mel Gibson films. Tom Hardy plays our titular, taciturn leading man, burdened by visions and guilt over the many whom his actions allowed to perish. He finds himself pulled into the desperate bid for freedom and redemption by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a high-ranking lieutenant of Immortan Joe (Hughe Keays-Byrne), a crazed skull-faced cult leader. Immortan Joe rules the Citadel, a settlement that is stratified both literally and figuratively: dusty, starving hordes; white-skinned Half-Life or War Boys in various states of disrepair who fight to martyr’s deaths; obese milk-making women slaves; foxy baby-making women slaves; and the deeply malformed elite who dole out mercy, water, promises of Valhalla, or death.
The world of this film is a barren hellscape (played by the Namib Desert), poisoned by man’s radioactive activities and scoured by rival gangs. Fuel is, as with the earlier films, simultaneously the most precious and the most squandered commodity. Fleets of incredible modified vehicles, bristling with skulls, bones, spikes, and other macho symbology, careen wildly through the ochre dust and glare, rust and skin peeling back as they lunge for sips of precious resources. None of this can describe the vivid imagery captured by the cinematographer, John Seale – and if you check out his filmography, you will be amused by what a departure this is from his best-known works. Director George Miller is the creator of all the Mad Max films, and the innovations in filmmaking of the intervening 30 years help him avoid succumbing to reliance on CG effects. You can truly feel the earth rumbling under the vehicles, taste the dust in your mouth, feel the heat of the flames on your peeling face. Knowing they just went out there and actually did nearly all of it for real is mind-blowing.
The vehicles and their riders are intricately amazing, roaring through the sand well beyond any sense of order or caution. Everything is balls-out, no hesitation or deceleration from start to finish. The War Boys (notably Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult) live fast, self-transfuse from kidnapped unfortunates (Max), and hope to ascend to Valhalla dying as warriors with a grill of chrome. Max is dragged along by Nux with the war party chasing Furiosa into the film’s chaotic ballet of death and metal.
With minimal dialogue and haphazard standalone world-building, we get a strong sense of this place and the characters’ narrative arcs as they collide in the dust. A silhouette spotted on the distant, heat-shimmery horizon immediately provokes terror and adrenaline. It’s surprisingly rich in story while remaining flush with action. We know without needing to be told (or shown, mercifully) what the Breeders have been through. We can guess at the afflictions that plague the War Boys and our desiccated planet. We didn’t come here for exposition. We came to ride down Fury Road.
I can’t do justice to the physical and visual wonder that is the intricate dance of vehicles, stuntmen, fire, environment, and speed. The driving is beyond fast, beyond furious. The dare-devilry is past all reason. Despite the crazed murderousness on every face, it’s not all that violent or gory at all. No words can plumb the depths of ferocity in Theron’s eyes as she pilots her insane war rig to the promised land. Even a grimacing guitar-playing mutant mounted on a wall of speakers and thundering drums should be absurd and instead reads as appropriately insane. Really, there are only two “chase scenes” (making the Transporter look like Herbie the Love Bug) but the movie feels perfectly paced. Analyzing the scope of this set work can’t distract you from the visceral thump of GO GO GO in your chest. You can’t stop and think, “Oh I wonder if they used a – “ while your heart knocks itself out of your rib cage. How all those stunt men aren’t actually in Valhalla now I cannot fathom.
If you want to enjoy some deeply confused and hysterical backlash about this film, you can, but I think you should just go see it and enjoy it as the stunning piece of cinema that it is.
- MPAA Rating R
- Release date 5/18/15
- Time in minutes 120
- Director George Miller
- Studio Warner Brothers
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