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May 18 2015

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Michael C hereto review my most anticipated film of the summer.Isn't it wonderful when anticipation and quality go together?

With each passing Summer the concept of the Event Movie gets a little more cheapened,a little more downgraded.Like eyes adjusting to darkness,we see weightless CG blurs collide with other weightless CG blurs and deem it good enough.That is until a film like George Miller'sMad Max: Fury Roadcomes along to rip the curtains down and let the light flood in.No,that image is not strong enough.Fury Roadtears through the multiplex like a great cleansing fire,leaving the great herd of lesser,timid blockbusters scattering to escape its path.

It may seem an odd declaration to make about a franchise reboot,itself the third sequel in a series dormant since 1985'sBeyond Thunderdome.But Miller proves that any project can attain greatness with the right spirit of reckless ambition.The prevailing mentality is that an established brand is an excuse to play it safe,to scrub a rehash of the original story down to a neutered PG-13 so as not to risk alienating a single ticket buyer on Earth.George Miller goes full tilt in the opposite direction,embracing the franchise' twisted id...

Fury Roadfinds the zenith of the previous films' balls-to-the-wall insanity and uses that as its starting point.And if that happens to be too weird for a large swath of potential ticket buyers so be it.Miller is content to thrill those willing to hang on for the ride.Fury Roadwill surely be the only blockbuster this summer to feature a wasteland goon casually twirling an umbilical cord,and god bless it in all its fucked-up,grease-smeared glory.

Where to begin in praising the other-worldly quality of the action sequences?George Miller's direction of large forces in motion has a clarity that would make Buster Keaton proud.The weightlessness that infects modern action films like a cancer is absent,replaced by a visceral sense of constant,unforgiving gravity.Fury Road'sediting can match the pace of the most frenetic action movie,but unlike most of the current breed it doesn't sacrifice coherence for energy.LikeCity of GodorMoulin Rouge,its cutting is like a state of hyper-awareness,seeing multiple views simultaneously,never losing track of the relative spatial relations of the players.It also has the elasticity to stretch out and slow down,losing none of the urgency for those (rare) moments when bodies are not in motion.

Above all else,it is startling just how damnbeautifulit all is.Already an Oscar winner for lush deserts ofThe English Patient,cinematographer John Seale pushes that vision into the surreal,giving us a dried out hellscape that is both breathtaking and alien.The only times the action risks losing the audience's attention are those moments when one is overwhelmed with the painterly majesty of it all.

Tom Hardy might be the one stepping into Mel Gibson's scorched boots in the title role,butFury Road'sbalance actually tips in favor of co-lead Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa,a fearsome renegade driver thrust into a tense cooperation with Max.Hardy is an oasis of steady cool and is terrifically expressive in what borders on a silent performance,but it's Theron whose rage radiates off the screen.To put it into terms this fuel-obsessed franchise can understand,Theron's burning anger is the lifeblood that powersFury Road.It's a display of badassery on the level of Linda Hamilton inT2or Uma Thurman inKill Bill.

Here I am seven paragraphs in and haven't even begun to describe the plot.There is scarcely any reason to.We get all we need to in the first frames.Apocalyptic wasteland.Lone anti-hero.Breathless chase.The need to articulate a cumbersome mythology is the first thingMad Maxjettisons in its attempt to reach new cinematic speed records.We follow the action with unusual intensity because we are not passively watching movement,but trying to catch up to a story already underway.Given that the plot is assembled on the fly,it's a surprisingly sturdy construction.Fury Roaddevelops roughly a dozen main characters,maps out clear stakes,and,against all odds,manages invest us emotionally in its gallery of grotesques to the point where its final emotional beats are quite moving.

Among the many waysFury Roadshames lesser action films,top of the list is its wealth of strong female characters.Not that all the women are uniformly as badass as Theron's character.They are allowed the same range of individuality as the men,one of those things that should not be a cause for special celebration,but totally is.One gets the welcome impression that the screenplay depicts a range of three-dimensional female characters not out of some politically correct calculation but because the writers could not conceive of writing them any other way.It's the best kind of statement: the kind doesn't appear to be a statement at all.

If I'm going overboard in my praise it is because I think there is something heroic in the amount of respect for the audience George Miller shows here.So many films feel like they set their ambitions at "good enough to get your ticket money and no better".Now here is George Miller to say audiences deserve riches in return for their ticket money.The spirit ofFury Roadcan be best captured in the bonkers character of a guitarist that travels everywhere the malevolent hordes go,shredding a double-headed flame-throwing guitar while standing atop a vehicle moving at breakneck speed.You wouldn't think a deformed warlord and his loyal death cult would keep a musician on the payroll,but that'sFury Roadin a nutshell.Everyone's going that extra mile.


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Reader Comments (14)

Looking forward to this!And,similar to Ex Machina,who wants to bet that this will be better than most of the films that end up getting nominated for best picture?Forget about winning!The genre bias against action films is staggering - a good but standard biopic with a good lead performance and a decent oscar campaign will be nominated over an amazing or innovative action film everytime.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Yup.It's incredible in virtually every way.An astonishing vision of monster truck rally on acid.It's certainly too outre to reach the sort of zeitgeist crossover success that,say,Terminator 2 or The Matrix had,but as you say for people who are with it it'll prove to be a defining film much like The Road Warrior is,but bigger.

It's just such an exciting film.I'm so glad it's so good.It puts every other action movie of the last,gosh,I can't even tell you how many years to shame.I'm almost annoyed it's come out so soon in the American summer because it's nigh on impossible for anything to come after it to exist in its shadow.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn: Probably won't be as big as The Matrix or T2 at theatres,but it'll have way more staying power than Avatar and will certainly sell HUGE on DVD with recommendations from friends.
Anonny: Unless they go back to a five wide system,I wouldn't count this out yet.The last time we got an action movie that serious people recognized as being on this level?That was The Dark Knight,which got 8 nominations,meaning it was painfully easy to identify as 6th place.I'd expect a similar situation for this one,then.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia -- except that Batman is the one superhero the Academy has always taken seriously -- remember those 3 nominations for Batman Forever (1995) of all things?-- so I wouldn't expect this to be an AMPAS hit.In fact,I'm currently assuming zero nominations though it's obviously one of the best films of the year.and technically ravishing at that.

I'm not even sure it can pull off a visual effects nomination because,like Ex Machina,its visual effects excellence is in how perfectly it realizes its world and effects (like Charlize's arm) without ever going "OOOH,LOOK VISUAL EFFECTS"as most nominees in that category do.

Glenn -- yeah,I like Age of Ultron more than most but whenever a super skilled action director arrives (like Miller or any time James Cameron makes a movie) suddenly you realize how few directors are actually mega-gifted in that arena and everything else immediately looks kinda lackluster next to it.There are certainly many directors who are competent in the department,unlike the problem with say musicals,where too few even know where to [put a camera,but a true special inspiration in that department?Depressingly rare.

May 17,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I really think George Miller has a chance to nominate the Oscar next year!

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterKwan

I think it could EASILY pull off nominations for Sound Mixing,Sound Editing,Cinematography,Film Editing,Visual Effects and Makeup & Hairstyling.Art Direction (will they honor the design of those outrageous vehicles?) and Costume Design (by Jenny Beavan!!!!) are possible.Original Score is deserving but will the Music branch nominate JunkieXL?Well,they did nominate Arcade Fire so I guess it's possible.Picture,Director,Adapted Screenplay and Actress are deserving but right now,a pipe dream.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

What are other recent action films are on this level?Off the top of my head I'd say Brad Bird's work on Ghost Protocol and certain moments from Drive deserve comparison.

Of course they aren't on the sustained level as this,but what is?

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

And that he integrates that guitar player into the score and into the climax of the action.Other films would make it a one-off joke.Nothing in this movie is a one-off,each new element builds on the last an is brought back and recontextualized in inventive ways.The last act is almost like the Clue endings: "this is how it could have happened."

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris Fredda

What other recent action movies are on this level?

The Raid 2 comes to kind,though I think Milller surpasses that one too.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

A lot of reviews have said modern action films are incoherent but I think they have gotten more coherent in the last few years.The super fast,shaky cam style Paul Greengrass made popular is less common.Just compare Skyfall to Quantum of Solace or Dark Knight Rises to Batman Begins.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

I saw this one over the weekend and so far,I think it is the best movie of the year.I even created my own hashtag on Twitter to give the film some kind of buzz.#SendMadMax2TheOscars.亚博主页If you guys are on Twitter,I encourage you folks to tweet this hashtag so we can make it happen.

May 17,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

They showed a trailer for JURASSIC WORLD in front of it and the effects look *appalling*.I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot of "but it's not Mad Max: Fury Road"this summer.

May 18,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

This film is a great reason to create the Best Stunt Work Oscar.Astounding,lived in,real world feeling,work.

May 18,2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

This was such a brilliant film.Up there with T2,Aliens,Die Hard,Crouching Tiger,Red Cliff,and The Raid 2 as one of the best action movies ever made.I'm sure I'm missing a few others,but this is a new classic and significantly raises the bar for all other blockbusters and action movies to come.

Now,I don't think anyone will dare try to match it,but I hope that audiences around the country wake up and see what they could get with their money's worth if they stopped showing up at every lame superhero movie that opens!

May 19,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

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