Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (Release Date: 5-15-2015)

        Even in a world where sequels and reboots rule the multiplex, it's still somewhat baffling that was ever made. Arriving in theaters a solid three decades after the most recent installment in the franchise, FR appeals to our collective cultural nostalgia for a slew of pictures that mean absolutely nothing to the young movie-goers who power the box office, and was budgeted at a whopping 150 million smackers. The collective gross of the three previous films: 68.6 mil (yeah, I know, that's not adjusted to inflation... just work with me here). Suffice to say, director George Miller's scrappy Australian action trilogy was not the only reason this new edition saw the (green) light of day. First, there's hollywood's wholesale re-appropriation of B-movie aesthetic, taking a previously scoffed-at corner of the film world, and enabling the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (among many, many, many others) to apply both gloss and self-awareness to the blood-streaked pallet. Then there's the The Fast and the Furious franchise, whose perpetual revenue growth has taught tinsel-town one very important lesson: real cars and real stunt-work make for real fun. Given context, the bank-rolling higher-ups had ample reason to dust off this old property, and hope for Vin Diesel Unchained to torch the box office. Now that we've firmly established Fury Road's fiscal legitimacy, let's explore if this ever should have happened in the first place.

        Set an unknowable number of years after the events of the first three films, the newest Mad Max finds its titular hero (played here, for the first time, by Tom Hardy) in the most familiar of circumstances; alone, void of purpose, and desperately hungry for two-headed lizards. Perhaps a bit rusty from an unprecedented 30 years of paid leave, Max is captured by the War Boys, a collection of animalistic rough-riders led by their own personal demigod Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, veteran of the original Mad Max/famed ice cream enthusiast). Our protagonist becomes the slave of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a young religious lunatic hell-bent on accomplishing Joe's mission: capture and return both former trusted ally Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and the mysterious cargo she carries in her recently gone-rogue tanker truck. All other plot machinations can be heard in the roaring of engines, and the crunching of steel.

(*urg... please allow me a second to mount my High Horse... urg*)

       Ah, that's better. The 'action movie' is a broke entity of late, leaning too heavily on computer generated imagery, and mitigating the consequences of their omnipresent large-scale violence in the process. Fury Road lives to destroy this trend through pure force of will, following in the foot steps of the aforementioned Furious flicks in its stand against the over-use of artifice. The film makes frequent exceptions to its anti-CGI manifesto (including an awe-inspiring sand-storm sequence), but is ever-weary to balance them with the folding of real metal, and the burning of true gasoline. Say what you will about the legions of effects artists that power almost all of today's mega-hits; there's something inherently cinematic and satisfying about watching a real car turn from hamburger into hot dog right before your eyes. The sensation speaks for itself.

        As much as I'd love to give further tithings to the Church of Hardy, it's not my man Tom's efforts that make this movie so special. Nor is it Theron's, despite giving life to an emotive, combative, bad-ass heroine for the ages; the film belongs to writer/director George Miller, and the astounding work of his behind-the-camera talent. That's right, George Miller, the same guy who directed Babe: Pig in the City and the two-part computer-animated odyssey of singing, dancing penguins that was Happy Feet and its sequel. Just when the 70-year-old filmmaker seemed to be lost in an endlessly swirling whirlpool of sap, Fury Road rages to life, surely the most fast-paced, maniacally-imagined, and breathtakingly realized action blockbuster in quite some time. His boundless, sadistic whimsy fuels much of the proceedings in a quite overt manner, which is why I feel compelled to highlight the running mates that made his nightmare come true.

        Fury Road is a quintessential 'Must Be Seen On The Big Screen' experience, thanks in no small part to John Seale's sun-soaked cinematography, never less than beautifully brutal, or strikingly visceral. His camera captures the desolate, blisteringly-orange wasteland with the same aplomb as it does the grueling, hellish citadel over which Immortan Joe presides, brought to stomach-turning life by production designer Colin Gibson. As spectacular as the sets and costumes might be, the main appeal here is the action, pummeling eye-balls and forcing hands to grip armrests as Junkie XL's overpowering score rolls right over you with the merciless certitude of a cement roller. Every technician in sight is on their A-game, which is perhaps why it's editors Jason Ballantine and Margaret Sixel, acting as our tour guides through this endless ocean of awesome, whose contribution stands out the most. Their pace is relentless, sweeping you up in yet another jaw-dropping moment before you're even done processing the last, all without sacrificing cohesion on either a narrative or physical level. Shots rattle off in rapid-fire succession, most lasting a couple seconds or less, and yet Ballantine and Sixel make sure that you always know who is where, and what they're doing. In a summer season recently bombarded with the likes of Transformers and any number of Marvel flicks, Fury Road's innate sense of spacial reasoning is not only impressive, it's largely unparalleled. If their names aren't called on Oscar nomination morning, there's simply no justice left in this world.

        If you're wondering why my effusive praise for the new Mad Max has been largely focused on the technical side of things, it's because my affections are as well. Fury Road's story is both solid and streamlined, appealing to real emotions without caking on saccharine romances or convoluted plot twists, but those who view George Miller's latest as some sort of feminist statement simply saw this one through an entirely different set of eyes than my own. I suppose it's there if you squint, but you can keep your eyes wide open and not miss the fact that much of the supposed intellectual feminist push comes from fashion models dressed in flowing white robes. Not every film with strong female characters should be seen as harboring an agenda (though a few morons will undoubtably argue otherwise), and just because Fury Road fits in a few obvious digs at patriarchy and the resilience of females under duress doesn't mean it's boldly subverting Blockbuster expectations, nor force-feeding us a message for that matter. Each character's actions make sense in context, and while looking at this or any other form of pop art in the light of altering social consciousness, Fury Road doesn't need a million internet think-pieces to just be a kick-ass two hours at the flicks. The story arch, and the players within it, are at least serviceable, and often great, but it's Miller and that endless cavalcade of names you read during the credits that actually reach the sublime. Their immense collective talents work to create the purest form of what every flick is trying to conjure, yet so few actually reach: Movie Magic.

Grade: A

No comments:

Post a Comment