Review: Mad Max: Fury Road


In the modern era of the blockbuster, there are few franchises that can lay claim to cinema as their point of genesis. The majority of these big budgeted, multi-film narratives are based on preexisting properties with endless content to draw upon for inspiration. Nearly every brand name franchise out there is based off a book, comic book, or even a theme park attraction. The fact that risk averse studios seem to be increasingly dependent on looking to other mediums for ideas speaks to the drought of original cinema on large scale. However, there are a few pockets of brilliance nestled among the derivatives. The Mad Max franchise was a staple of 1980’s action cinema, and a wholly original series coming from the mind of one man. Thirty years later, George Miller has returned to the desolate wasteland he originated, and Mad Max: Fury Road delivers cinema at its most elemental.

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) has a deep and dark past, littered with tragedy and violence. Alas, the only way he can look is forward. An apocalyptic catastrophe of unnamed scale has fried the Earth into oblivion, and water and oil are the only viable currency for the humans that remain. Max finds himself on the run from a tribal group of motor heads whose leader is the crazed Immortan Joe (Hugh-Keays Byrne), a despotic figure who imposes his will on a local mass of humanity. His underlings go about his bidding collecting resources and fighting rival gangs, and Max becomes one of their many prisoners. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is a chief driver of a tanker that collects oil for Joe, but has opted to stray from her traditional route on her latest run. Joe quickly discovers that his prized breeding wives have escaped with Furiosa and goes after her with his hoard of minions, with Max in tow. What follows is an equally throttling and bizarre experience, as unusual and singular a blockbuster that any studio has ever released.

Max may be the title character of this film, but in truth his role serves more of a supporting function. Three decades on, picking up the baton from a screen icon like Mel Gibson is no easy feat, but Tom Hardy slips into Max quite comfortably. Hardy has a knack for showing his characters constantly thinking and reacting, providing an inner life for them even when not speaking, thus making him an ideal successor. Max’s personal arc in this film is a somewhat minor one, but Hardy makes the most of every moment, whether in action or in moments of solace. Indeed, Max’s purpose in this film is subservient to Furiosa, as it is her personal story that provides the human core in the surrounding action hurricane. Theron proves herself a more than able heroine, whether going head to head or tire to tire. She and the refugee wives might have used a bit more character individualization and texture, but its still quite energizing to see them largely front and center in a male dominant environment. The remainder of the cast is as flat out weird as has ever been assembled for a studio blockbuster. An eclectic gaggle of people of all shapes and sizes populate the screen, so as to assure us that indeed, there are no truly sane souls left on Earth.

The marketing of Fury Road made quite the claim in hailing George Miller as a “mastermind,” which is as grandiose a title as one could think to bestow on any profession. Miller certainly deserves credit for conceiving of this post apocalyptic world, but the way in which he visualizes it in cinematic form is what makes the acclaim completely justified. In a time where so many blockbusters are built around zinging dialogue and familiar, tedious action beats, Mad Max: Fury Road values the marriage of image and sound above all. There are only a few necessary lines of expository dialogue, and the rest is visual storytelling on par with silent cinema. Miller even has some fun in playing with film speeds in certain sequences, ramping up certain shots, and judiciously employing slow motion at key narrative junctures. Whether it’s Max standing alone before the vast desert, or a horde of War Boys rushing towards the frame, directory of photography John Seale captures endless iconic imagery. The film does take a significant turn before its final act that changes the ramifications of all that preceded it, but the thundering power of its climax simply cannot be denied. In fact, every action scene of Fury Road is a genuine masterclass of editorial and sound design. There is such a wealth of visual and aural information to take in, yet none of it feels repetitious or confusing, largely thanks to the wide open environments that give Miller the space to execute practical effects. Throw in Tom Holkenborg’s alternately percussive and operatic score, and Miller’s vision of Max’s insane world becomes fully realized. By film’s end, it’s evident nobody could have concocted and executed Mad Max: Fury Road like Miller did, and action cinema, indeed all of cinema is better for it.


~ by romancinema on May 15, 2015.

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