Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Vroom Vroom, Boom Boom – Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Smoke-spewing, diesel-gulping engines spit flame into the desert air and propel the world of Mad Max into perpetual motion: so it has always been, and so it is now with director George Miller’s triumphant return to the saga he invented as an independent Australian filmmaker in the late ‘70s, his dreams dominated by dust and oil and blood. With a budget that far surpasses his original efforts (and the cast to back it up) Fury Road is the realization of that dark dream – an orgy of insanity and fun. Buckle up: it’s a wild ride.

The steel frames of classic automobiles are sliced, diced, and stacked into twisted roaring nightmares that bristle with spikes and mounted weapons. Fanatical wastelanders hang off the sides and bellow obscene challenges, swinging back and forth on wobbling pikes, ready to fling themselves at their enemies. Cars crunch, smash, flip, and go boom in more fantastic ways than I can describe – and nearly all of it real. Miller boasts that ninety percent of Fury Road’s special effects are practical, and there’s no reason to disbelieve him: apart from one sequence featuring a world-swallowing CGI sandstorm, the film’s exhilarating chases are bone-crunchingly, jaw-droppingly real. Stunt work this comprehensive – not to mention impressive – is so rare these days, and it’s a genuine thrill to watch these daredevil setpieces explode from the screen. Good thing too, because Fury Road is essentially one giant chase, and your attention doesn’t waver for an instant.

Once again, Miller returns to the sun-soaked Outback of the apocalypse, where water is scarce and fuel (or, in their corrupted end-of-the-world Ozzie twang, “guzzoline”) is scarcer, and both are more precious than human life. “Mad” Max Rockatansky (a bulky, unhinged, gravel-voiced Tom Hardy, in the role originated by Mel Gibson) is a man reduced by trauma and loss “to a single instinct: survive.” Fury Road opens with Max being chased down and captured by the underlings of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a masked warlord hoarding precious resources and promising eternal glory to his cult followers, the chalk-white War Boys, of which Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is a jabbering, zealous member. Nux, like many of his fellow indoctrinates, is dying of an unspecified plague that raises pustules on the skin, and so Max – a universal donor – is strung up by his side to act as his personal life-giving “blood bag.” But one of Joe’s lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, still beautiful despite a buzzed cranium, a robotic arm, and a constant sheen of sweat and grime), steals his War Rig to spirit his prized “breeders” – beautiful young girls with names like Capable, The Splendid Angharad, and Toast the Knowing – to a sanctuary that she may or may not have imagined. The War Boys spring into action, and Nux must bring his blood bag along for the ride, so Max is swept up into the spectacular chase that lasts for the remainder of Fury Road’s runtime.

If the ferocity and tangible thrill of the film’s stunt work, both automotive and combative, isn’t enough to arrest your eye, Miller’s sumptuous production design surely will. Fury Road is like a slideshow of indelible imagery, from the ridiculous (like the scarred War Boy hung from a frame of giant speakers, blasting flames and electric guitar chords from his platform on the grill of a racing truck) to the poignant (like the Breeders, casting off their chastity belts, starkly white and beautiful against the harsh orange dunes). The interiors and exteriors of the film’s many vehicles are rich with detail, from their strangely primitive armament to the secret devices hidden in their slapdash bodywork (and all of them totally unique, a reflection of the fractured individual minds that soldered them together like so many wheeled Frankenstein monsters). Three viewings wouldn’t be enough to gather all the visual information blasted forth from the screen like cinematic buckshot – nor to exhaust the visceral excitement of the near-constant action, broken up only by small scenes with surprising emotional strength, led mostly by Theron’s fierce and indomitable Furiosa.

Nicholas Hoult and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.
It was a bold move on Miller’s part to relegate Max to spectator status, being along for the ride more often than behind the wheel, but it’s a choice that pays narrative dividends. Appropriate, too, that The Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler was apparently tapped for script supervision; Furiosa’s quest to save her female wards from an oppressive male force – embodied both by the film’s legions of bald-headed fanatics and the disgusting patriarch who commands them – is as close as we’ll likely get to a feminist summer blockbuster. And, as others have noted, Theron’s performance, full of the savagery and tenderness of a mother protecting her brood, invites comparison to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley – a feminist action icon if ever there was one. But this angle, for good or ill, gives Fury Road more narrative muscle than its brain-dead peers. It’s certainly a far cry from Age of Ultron, which, despite Joss Whedon’s best intentions, never manages to make good on its gender-based quandary. In Miller’s world, women are a prize to be fought over – but one that can, and do, fight back.

Fury Road is a live wire, a jolt of electric fun shot through a summer lineup promising mostly remakes, sequels, and studio-led drudgery. George Miller ends his hiatus at the helm of forgettable animated family fare with two quick shots to the cranium, and roars back to life in the genre that he helped create. This is not one to miss – action flicks this true to their brutal, supremely-entertaining instincts are few and far between.

– Justin Cummings is a writer, blogger, playwright, and graduate of Queen's University's English Language & Literature program. He has been an avid film buff, gamer, and industry commentator since his childhood cinema first installed an arcade. He is currently helping to make awesome games at Ubisoft Toronto, and continues to pursue a career in professional criticism.   

1 comment:

  1. Must have been a lot of fun making those bizarre vehicles.