Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max:Fury Road (2015)

Directed by: George Miller
Runtimes: 2hrs
4.5/5*

George Miller, the man who popularized the post apocalyptic setting with his 1980's Mad Max films, returns to show today's dystopian future crowd how it's done. He uses the opportunity to prove the virtues of practical effects to a generation of filmmakers whose films feature an excessive amount of CGI and green screen. The visuals are spectacular from start to finish. And the action is sure to be the standard by which all vehicle sequences are measured in the future. The creativity behind the vehicles and the weapons in this world are the works of a clever mind. They range from standard firearms, to explosive throwing spears, to musical vehicles with questionable practicality.

It opens with Max standing alone next to his iconic interceptor eating a two headed lizard that passed close enough to snatch. Soon after, he's being chased down by a pack of crazies from the Citadel. After quickly overturning his car, they take him prisoner. The fact that he's a universal donor is likely the only thing that keeps him alive (a fact that comes into play later on). He ends up a human blood bag for one of Immortan Joe's sickly feral warriors named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). However, once Max breaks free of captivity, we wonder why Nux no longer seems to need a blood bag, but I'm not sure that's a nit worth picking.

Unlike previous Mad Max films, Max doesn't really play the role of road warrior here, he's a victim of circumstance as much as anyone else. He's the every-man we can identify with. His background is only shown in vague flashbacks. We know that his wife and child were killed, and he's been on his own ever since. But Miller doesn't try to retread well known ground, or redefine what's already in place. Max is still something of a vigilante, driving his former police interceptor, looking, or perhaps stumbling upon causes to get involved in. But he's been captured, and his only escape is working together with other escapees. 

Fury Road does what good fantasy films should, it creates a unique world, and implants issues of the day within its story. These issues involve fights over essential resources (oil and water), and women's revolt in a male dominated world. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, a veteran villain of past Mad Max films) controls the Citadel because he controls the water. He keeps his feral warriors doing his bidding with tales of the glory and rebirth they'll receive in Valhalla if they give their lives on his behalf. He also has a harem of wives with whom he attempts to conceive children, and uses to stock pile jars of milk.  

Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a skilled driver, warrior and favorite of the people, sets out with the war rig, a giant weaponized tanker truck, on a supply run for Immortan Joe. An exchange of water, for oil with the neighboring Gastown. However, this time she commandeers the rig with a different mission in mind. Inside she's smuggled Immortan Joe's wives (one of whom is pregnant) in the hopes of delivering them to safety in her home town many miles away. The rest of the film is a long chase sequence, once word of Furiosa's betrayal makes its way back to Immortan Joe.

It's a twisted barbaric world, whose insanity is caused by the desperation for basic human needs. Early on Max wonders if everyone around him is crazy or if it's just him, and the question of who destroyed the world is brought up multiple times. The answer, as we know, is wars fought over resources that lead to a post apocalyptic world in which humanity continues to fight over the same resources.

For a world in which resources are scarce, there seems to be an excessive use of these resources. From the girls in the war rig using up water to wash themselves from head to toe, to the caravan of men chasing them across the barren desert, including the aforementioned vehicle purely for musical entertainment (featuring men playing giant drums on the back, and a mutant guitarist on the front shredding a fire spewing guitar).

It's minimalist in dialogue, and excessive in just about everything else. However, where in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, that might have been a bad thing, here it's appropriate to the setting, and Miller's touch keeps things mostly believable. For instance, the excessive amount of dirt and dust in the air should clog an engine, especially when they're purposely kicking up dirt to blind pursuers, however, we're given close up shots of shutters that keep the dirt out, before opening once the dust has settled a bit. It's finer details such as this, that give us a sense of the thought and care put into Miller's vision.

He also doesn't rely on over edited sequences of close ups and quick cutting to deliver his action. His practical effects allow for wider shots that allow greater field of vision during the many tense action sequences. It allows us a greater sense of awe at the technical achievement accomplished, and a greater understanding to where all this action is going.

Once Max breaks free of his captivity as Nux's blood bag, to join the women on the war rig, the transition from non-trusting enemies out for their own good, to partners in crime is handled as delicately as possible given the circumstances. Trust is formed over a will to survive, and an acceptance of the fact that their group might just be the only non-crazy people surrounded by hoards of blood thirsty animals. 

When it comes down to it, our understanding of these characters and their motivations begin as the simple will to survive, but this gives way to a fight for grander ideals. Miller creates depth in their circumstances, and ultimately what they fight for. We almost expect Max's visions of his dead family to become something more significant, but they only remind us why he's alone, and why he's mad. About the only negative thing I could say is that Max at times feels like a side character in his own film. Furiosa is every bit as important, if not more so than Max himself. Yet, perhaps that's partly the point. It's a story of redemption, and revolution. Where Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior saw Max looking after a feral child (no doubt a reminder of his lost child), Fury Road allows him to support a group of women. Its redemption for those he failed to save, and Furiosa is as integral to that cause as Max.

Miller comes back to the film scene in a time where his practical effects, and visceral world of maniacs feels needed to push genre films forward in the wake of increasingly generic dystopian future franchises. It's a welcome film that reminds us of what great action films can be. It's stunning effects are a high point for sci-fi action films. The intricately detailed post apocalyptic world will go on to inspire yet more future generations of filmmakers and storytellers. Let's just hope Miller, and Hardy have a couple more Mad Max films in the works.