Friday, May 22, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

  It's a rare thing in this day and age to see a movie so unconcerned with the ever-popular franchise mentality that it can serve as a sequel, reboot, and re-imagining all in one. It doesn't need the Mel Gibson movies to function, it truly is it's own machine. Of course, if you're already a fan, you'll find even more to appreciate- but it's not necessary. In fact, given how the Mad Max movies evolve so drastically with each sequel, I suppose it should surprise no one that Fury Road continues that trend. It takes the feeling you get during the action scenes of The Road Warrior, and makes that last for a full two hours. Buckle up.

  I knew this movie was crazy. Word of mouth from friends, friends of friends, and critics I trust all told me that this movie was insane. I thought I knew what I was in for, but I was unprepared. I made the mistake of going to see this movie after a long hard day at work. I was tired, and ready to unwind with a fun movie. While the movie is definitely fun, it's also not a movie that lets you relax. Ever.  It aggressively etches it's name into the pantheon of great car chase movies with copious amounts of blood, sweat, and burning chrome. It's truly a non-stop thrill ride. It's not just a fast paced movie, it only has one setting: go.

  Even in the few brief quiet moments we get as a reprieve from the chaos, things are still in motion. Quite literally. Once the characters get on their way, the movie doesn't stop and neither do they. At least not until a very specific point towards the end. Speaking of the characters though, they are incredibly vibrant and alive, but they're also incredibly basic. They have the kind of clear cut motivation that fueled most if not all 80's action movies. Max himself is played with a simple yet gruff intensity by Tom Hardy. The character is actually an outsider in his own movie. (Kinda just like in The Road Warrior) He's just a catalyst because we already know his story. So despite this being a full-on, balls-to-bone, Mad Max movie, he's simply the vehicle upon which another story is being told.

  Of course, he still the main character and has important choices to make, weighing survival and self-preservation against things like morals and his own humanity. He ends up helping a group of concubines who have escaped from the power-mad overlord, Immortan Joe, on their journey to 'the green place'. Lots of people have called the movie 'feminist', and while I'm certainly fine with it being labeled that- I don't think it's anything wholly unusual. It's just a really engaging story. A group of strong women fighting for their freedom from a sexist and evil oppressor is just damn good cinema.

  I can produce a list of movies with similar themes as long as my arm, the difference is Fury Road is just made better. It's not made on the cheap, and it's not beholden to some niche DTV nudity-laden sub-genre of yesteryear. Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe's lieutenants who betrays him, helping the women escape. She earns her place alongside famous film heroines like Ellen Ripley, Princess Leia, and Sarah Connor. She's an emotional character with guts and a really cool look to her. I've heard rumors that more Mad Max movies might be on the way, and if they are, I sincerely hope she's a part of them. She's great.

  I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Nicholas Hoult's fantastic performance as Nux, a crazy foot soldier of Immortan Joe's who ends up becoming as essential to the story as Max himself. The details of when and how are incredibly clever, and I won't give away anything more about it because I hope you go see the movie yourself. The whole cast is fantastic and the costume design is beyond cool. All of it gels together to really create villains you despise and heroes you grow to love. I know I'm forgetting to mention a few key actors, but everyone brought their A-game. It was all great.

  But really, without a doubt the star of the movie is the action. There's no argument about it, the action scenes are mind-blowingly creative and insane. It's hard to believe that CGI was only used sparingly, but at the same time it's obvious. Things hit with an explosive punch that makes it feel all that much more real. Each action scene has as many human elements as a car has mechanical. There's always at least several dozen cars blazing across the screen with people being launched through the air and all kinds of vehicular combat on display. It was almost overwhelming. But somehow series mainstay, director George Miller manages to craft an order out of the chaos and carnage. It's elegant in it's complexity, and thankfully we're never left in the dust- so to speak.

  The movie is probably the most basic, simple, straightforward movie you'll see all year. It's more about themes and emotions than it is about story and plot. It doesn't need that much.  If you're lost in the who's-this and who's-that of the latest comic book extravaganza, Fury Road is the antidote. It does so much more, with so much less- and still manages to bring to life a unique and visually stunning world. It's designs are so interesting and eye-catching that I wished we could've spent even more time there just touring some of the places in the movie.

  From Immortan Joe's gargantuan hideout in the side of a mountain, to a strange and eerie swampland with it's creepy stilt-walking inhabitants- there's always an interesting setting or set-piece in the movie to keep you that much more engaged. The visuals, the designs, and the choreography are all top notch, to say nothing of the direction, the acting, and the writing. It's all aces. I only have two gripes, I wish the movie was longer, that it had more build-up and that we got more dialog from Max himself. Those are personal gripes though, I don't necessarily believe them to be flaws of the movie itself, which functions exceptionally well as is. It is a lean, mean, fuel-injected thrill machine that lives up to every ounce of potential it has. I can safely consider it essential summer viewing.

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