Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Returning to his creation for the first time since 1985, director George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road is highly-stylized insanity that is easily one of the most visually-stunning movies of 2015 so far. More engaging than fun, Miller delivers something akin to an action art film rather than summer popcorn movie. And, despite Tom Hardy getting top billing, it's one hell of a star vehicle for Charlize Theron who proves to any doubters out there that a woman can indeed be the lead character in a big-budget action adventure.

Taking place an indeterminate amount of time following the events of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Max (Hardy) is captured by a cult known as the War Boys, led by the bizarre Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who decide to put the wanderer to use as a universal blood donor. A series of events involving Imperator Furiosa (Theron) stealing Joe's most precious cargo loaded up in one of the warlord's war rigs provide the opportunity for Max's escape and an uneasy partnership with Furiosa and Joes concubines (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoƫ Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton) as the small group attempts to stay alive in harsh desert with enemies in every direction and a mad man's army chomping at their heels.

Miller takes no shortcuts and makes no compromises in seeing his vision unleashed on-screen. As a film the movie doesn't offer much in the way of plot, dialogue, or character development. Fury Road is, despite its trappings, a simple chase film set against the desolate landscape of a dystopian future. What it does offer is a singular vision driven almost to excess and punctuated by a menagerie of odd characters and near-constant suspense.

Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't stop to explain or lay out basic ideas, ideology, characters' past histories (other than Max's visions which I could have done without), or tie any of that to larger events. Instead Miller throws the audience into the deep end of the pool from the opening credits. The only time the film does slow down to catch its breath is where the film falters as the frank discussion while driving through the desolate, yet beautiful, landscape feels shoehorned in like so many cookie-cutter action films are want to do.

Once the film began in earnest I never thought of Mel Gibson. Hardy inhabits the role and makes it his own. Easing the pressure on him tremendously is Theron who is the real star of the film despite saying only a handful of more words than the mubling Max for a large portion of movie. In fact you could, and I will, argue that Theron's eyes alone (along with the odd steampunk style of the movie) carry the film for the first 45 minutes. As demanding as the physical aspects of her character are it's what the actress brings to the role that allows a simple glance or stare to fill in large stretches of nothing but the whines of engines, explosions, and death.

That isn't to say the movie isn't without its issues. Miller's style gets a bit out of control at times (there's even a scene that conjures images from creatures from The Dark Crystal which is completely unnecessary). The ending is also problematic as, after two-hours of build-up the film closes in anti-climactic fashion that may wrap up the story and open the door for another sequel but doesn't feel all that worthy of the vision Miller explores so ferociously.

And despite how much I can admire aspects of filmmaking that went into the movie Mad Max: Fury Road isn't as much fun as you'd expect from an action-heavy chase film. I'm certainly glad I was able to witness the film on the big screen, but it doesn't offer much from a nontechnical point of view to return to anytime soon, if ever. Miller succeeds in crafting a terrific cinematic experience but as a film the style overwhelms the story and the journey ultimately doesn't lead anywhere all that interesting. I'd certainly recommend it, but I have a feeling it may be a long time before I would choose to sit through it again.

No comments: