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MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

OVERVIEW:

Behold the return of our cinema overlord, George Miller, as he has finally returned to live action filmmaking. It’s been 30 years since he has delved into his Mad Max world and this film is a long time coming. Originally supposed to star Mel Gibson in the early 2000s, it hit production bumps and was stalled. Cut to 2010 and Tom Hardy is cast as the grizzled warrior Max and it then took 5 years to get the film finished. It took hundreds of days to shoot and even longer to finish in post production. In Miller’s journey through the desert he has brought back (and I say this with absolute sincerity and with no trace of hyperbole) one of the greatest action movies ever made. This belongs on the top of action Mount Rushmore with Die Hard, T2 and The Matrix. George Miller just redefined the action movie, again.

The film opens with a Tom Hardy grizzled voiceover and from the first frame there’s an iconic mythos attached. It’s immediately apparent that you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker in his element. The wonderful bright color palette, framing, and kinetic editing grabs a hold of you and delightedly chokes you into submission. There were a dozen times where I forgot to breathe and my jaw was on the floor. Almost every modern blockbuster has paper-thin characters, road mapped plots, lazily directed 2nd unit action, and overdone CGI special effects (Im looking at you Furious 7 and Age of Ultron). Fury Road puts nearly every blockbuster of the century to shame, save 5 or so. I feel this tweet sums up the beauty and awe of the film:

“There is dirt in MAD MAX that is more beautiful than anything I’ve seen in a theater in over a decade.      

Dirt.”

George Miller more or less created the apocalyptic action film and he has returned to show everyone how much we’ve been missing. He’s injected so much blood, petrol, sand, and dirt that we’ll never look at the genre again without being reminded of Fury Road. Quite literally he’s etched out a new cinematic language by using lower frame rates (less that 24fps) and fast kinetic editing techniques that have never been melded together. When used together they create a surreal effect of motion yet we’re able to understand everything going on in the frame. A large amount of the film is practical effects and Miller merges state of the art CGI to make them even more stunning. We will tell our kids about when we got to see Mad Max: Fury Road. 

REVIEW:

In this installment we’re years into the future from The Road Warrior. Max is a mythic figure that aimlessly roams the wasteland and carries the ghosts of those that he could not save. Tom Hardy embodies and honors the stoic cowboy figure that Gibson created, and while the casting change is a bit distracting, enough time has passed and Hardy’s charismatic suave style makes it work.

Everyone still wants gasoline, or rather guzzoline as they call it, to power their war vehicles. While wandering the long John Ford desert landscapes, Max is captured and brought to the citadel, a giant kingdom full of men covered in white paint, known as “war boys,” men half alive that need blood to survive. Max gives blood and is kept prisoner to Nux, played deliriously brilliant by Nicholas Hoult, and like all the other war boys they serve their master, IMMORTAN JOE.

He’s their giant warlord master that needs a breathing device to live, and echoes the great villain Darth Vader. With homages to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis we’re keyed in to the social hierarchy immediately. Joe’s voice is reminiscent of Tom Hardy’s Bane with his thundering power and shakespearean declarations. Quickly the film’s world will consume you and we begin to live in it with the characters and the environment. Details are everything and Miller’s twisted and glorious vision covers every inch of the film with purpose. I feel extremely lucky to witness an auteur working on his biggest canvas ever with the most detail and exuberance he’s ever displayed. This is world building at its fuckin finest.

Immortan Joe’s inferior is Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in what is her greatest performance since Monster. As the film opens, Furiosa is leading a convoy from Immortan Joe’s citadel to the oil refinery in Gastown but she deviates off course. Furiosa has kidnapped Joe’s “breeders,” women that he keeps locked away so that he can breed with them and raise the men to be warriors. Furiosa’s plan is to take them to “the green place,” a world far from the terror and misogyny that rules these scorched desert hellscapesImmortan Joe sends his army of war boys after Furiosa. As Max is still attached to Nux they tread into the desert like an army of rockin roll warriors. Quite literally actually. There is a guy that plays a guitar that shoots fire the entire time. The entire film is a sustained symphony and action ballet spectacle of the highest scale and quality that you can imagine. As an adventure through dust and dirt I’m reminded mostly of Raiders of the Lost Ark in both tone and mythic adventure storytelling.

It’s not just the visceral action that makes this an instant classic (though even that would be enough); it’s how Miller is able to build his themes, story, ideas, characters, and a giant operatic action bonanza together as one cohesive work without having his characters discuss it. The action set pieces merge all of these elements together into a single cinematic force. Character’s decisions reverberate into the visceral action, themes, and movement of the story so we become emotionally invested in this opera of redemption. Fury Road is nearly silent cinema in which the action tells us everything. I can’t stress enough how utterly incredible that feat is. Akira Kurosawa and Alfred Hitchcock would be proud.

Miller’s mad, mad, mad, mad world takes the logical next step into madness. As the films have gone on the worlds have treaded deeper into their primal roots, which is what makes this the MOST MAD MAXY movie ever. The humans here are less human and more creatures of circumstance that are given one purpose or they’re left without reason in the nihilistic wasteland. All that’s left for humans is to survive.

By going into the future the film confronts mankind’s past as well as our modern cultural issues. Fury Road plunges forward head on and attacks current social and cultural issues fearlessly. The film smashes the patriarchy and goes full on girl power while our mythic hero Max tries to make his way through it! He’s a surrogate for the audience essentially.

Miller both deconstructs masculinity while contrasting it with femininity. Throughout, the patriarchy and matriarchy battle! I can’t wait to read some knowledgable pieces about the gender dynamics at play here. It’s wonderful that the most testosterone fueled film ever are (and this is) has a feminist message about the damning corruption that patriarchies have held throughout history.

Max is now a man that’s isolated from the outside world. His past haunts him and he’s now a fighting machine meant only to survive. It’s a nice thematic tie that he is running from his past while the film’s plot has him, Furiosa, and the five wives literally and figuratively running from a monstrous power. Max is indeed an action hero reminiscent of Indiana Jones, but Miller smartly subverts the titular “action hero” character. Max has a mask on his face half of the film — much like how Jake Gittes’ bandage in Chinatown suggests the character is not the classic noir hero we’re familiar with. It is Theron’s badass Furiosa that is the key character. She’s the only person that provides hope in this barren world and Theron brings an intense drive, fueling the entire film. The film subverts every single sexist action trope you’ve ever seen. By doing so it becomes the most original and innovative pure action film since The Matrix.

For all of its vision and creativity, this is definitely a HOLLYWOOD movie. We love the hero. The villain does evil things. There are chases and fist fights. We root and cheer. Miller has embraced conventions/archetypes in action cinema but has executed them in ways that are new. He’s stripped away the elements that are extra weight on this ride of pure cinema. Gone is exposition, one liners, and unnecessary dialogue between characters. This allows the actors to give more nuanced and physical performances. A stare or movement from Hardy or Theron says more than any piece of dialogue ever could.

I fear that the conditioning of modern mainstream movies will cause moviegoers that aren’t familiar with other forms of cinema to not understand the greatness here. I’m thinking of the people that need everything explained to them and need a clear basic plot to follow. It’s alarming how many people are completely oblivious to cinematic language.

As good as the performances and stunts are, it’s George Miller who’s the real star. The pacing, sound design, camera movements, and score create an expressionistic and purely cinematic experience. “Creamy,” he calls it. He’s created a mosaic of movement that’s built on contrast and rhythm to annihilate the senses of the viewer. In the action, Miller executes cause and effect to perfection, and once you see how much action happens in this, you’ll be stunned that a human was able to direct this. As Immortan Joe’s freaks play drums and electric guitar on their fast paced journey you’ll think you’re in a weird fever dream. Junkie XL’s powerful rocking score immerses us into this dying world, and if we’re all about to die then why not go out with some Rock ‘N’ Roll. It made me want to get up and jump into the screen and battle.

From the beginning you will see the greatest stunts ever put to film. This is a Buster Keaton film tripping balls (I don’t know what that is like but it sounds right) with some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever constructed. Miller’s embrace of old techniques is mesmerizing to see executed with new technology but there are a few points where the backdrops have too much CGI. There’s also one 3D shot towards the end that is a blemish on what is otherwise a near-perfect film. The sequences are drugged with energy, humor, sadness, and anguish. The only bit that briefly drags is the third act’s plot realignment, but it’s quickly given a quiet flavor that counters the adrenaline rush of the past 90 minutes and refuels for the finale.

Inexplicably the film never derails and Miller ends it with fireworks. The geography and spacing of action is the stuff of legend. He hits the pedal on this roller coaster when needed and pulls back exactly when we need some fresh air. The climax is one for the ages and left me cheering.

Miller’s genius is that he’s able to corral these elements while telling a story that’s subtle, full of depth, and an emotional one full of redemption. For less seasoned moviegoers they may become lost in the current of manic action, but there is a beautiful and subtle story about redemption pulled together through the set pieces, stares, body language, and iconographies. Dialogue and plot are sparse and only used when needed and to add to the whole grand vision. Simply put, this is pure cinema. Image and sound merge to create an expressionistic work of art than can only be experienced. A film for the ages. As my favorite critic Bilge Ebiri said, this is “the sistine chapel of action filmmaking.” 

EXHIBIT A:

In today’s cinema landscape we see so much of the same. Action films are lazy and mediocre. Studios make boring men the leads of films and don’t often give women a chance to be action stars. It’s a landscape that takes the safe route, and with few great rewards. Marvel inexplicably doesn’t even have a female superhero movie yet! This film has hit the zeitgeist at the perfect time. 70 year old George Miller shatters all of this with his wildly original and reimagining of his own creation. It’s creative ambition and powerful message about women is one that’s much needed in this movie climate.

Fury Road is a landmark film for it’s daring ambition, originality, technical achievements and subversion of Hollywood norms. This is a film about redemption and revolution told through visuals and sound. The slower frame rates meshed with the quick kinetic editing creates a mosaic of movement that propulsively builds momentum and leaves the viewer immobilized. He’s created a vibrant world where men have become brainwashed by their leaders and only know to destroy, while the women are the last pieces of hope in the hellish landscape. So, twitter basically.

Miller’s masterpiece is a reminder for films to push boundaries and that big studio films can be art. To use character’s we care for to channel the action rather than the other way around. He has effectively created a new cinematic language here and completely changed the action genre. It’s also proof that movies don’t need to pander to the lowest common denominator of filmgoers. The direction is so immersive that as I got home I finally realized why I had felt such a strong emotional and visceral experience. I felt apart of the movie and was with the characters on this mad roller coaster of visceral action and emotion. I was reminded of why I love movies so much. That’s what cinema can be; a trip inside someone else’s mind, which at its best is one of the most intimate and powerful experience’s we can have. Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly that, and George Miller’s mind is one of the greatest film has ever offered. An operatic, adventurous experience of pure guzzoline cinema, and one the best action movies ever made.

Grade: A+

 

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