MAX TO THE MAX

Mad Max: Fury Road had a long road to cinemas, but holy crap was it ever worth it. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, director George Miller (who I’m pretty sure is a mad genius) had the idea for the film as far back as 1998. Quoting Wikipedia, “Miller conceived of a story where ‘violent marauders were fighting, not for oil or material goods, but for human beings’.”

Miller was almost set to start filming in the early 2000’s with Mel Gibson reprising the title role, but the project was shelved after terrorist attacks made safety an issue in the locations they were going to film in, and then of course there was Mel Gibson’s much-publicized breakdown that made him a toxic commodity in Hollywood.

Now, seventeen years after Miller had that idea, it’s finally here, and it’s awesome. I saw the film twice over the weekend, and it only took two viewings for the movie to skyrocket on to my all-time favorite movies list. Both times I saw it, I wanted it to start again as soon as it was over, and as I write this now, all I want to do is see it again.

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The movie is more of a reboot than a sequel, since it doesn’t directly follow the previous films. It follows the same basic continuity, but it stands on its own as an individual movie and it is not necessary to have seen the previous films in order to enjoy it (although that certainly helps).

The movie does take a page out of The Road Warrior’s book, however, in that it starts with badass opening narration, delivered this time by Max himself.

“My name is Max. My world is fire. And blood. I am the road warrior. I am the one haunted by the living and the dead. My world is reduced to a single instinct: survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me….or everyone else.”

Awesome. In addition to being spine-tinglingly badass, this narration serves a dual purpose: it sets up the world of the film for new viewers, and it’s a callback to the previous films that fans will pick up on.

From there, the movie goes full throttle as Max is promptly captured by fanatical followers of the cult leader/warlord Immortan Joe. Immortan Joe is a terrifying and imposing figure who wears a skull-like mask that also serves as a breathing apparatus. Joe’s hold over his tribe is secured by the fact that he controls the water supply.

Pretty much everything Joe says is shouted rather than spoken and he’s the classic sort of dictator/despot who lords his power over his underlings and tries to convince them that he’s looking out for them. “DO NOT BECOME ADDICTED TO WATER,” he says to his downtrodden people, “IT WILL TAKE HOLD OF YOU AND YOU WILL RESENT ITS ABSENCE.” He uses this as an excuse to avoid giving people very much of his precious water supply and makes it sound like he’s doing them a favor by relieving them of a potential addiction rather than what he’s actually doing, which is depriving them of a basic human need.

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One of his most trusted lieutenants, a woman known as Imperator Furiosa, is sent by Joe on a mission to a nearby place called Gas Town in order to bring back, you guessed it, gasoline. But on the way, she unexpectedly veers off course. Joe sees this from his citadel, and becomes suspicious. He goes to a vault he keeps tightly secured, and does not find what he is looking for. On the walls are painted the words “OUR CHILDREN WILL NOT BE WARLORDS” and “WE ARE NOT THINGS.”

It turns out that the vault was where Joe kept his “breeders,” five white-clad beauties he keeps as, you know, breeders, which is really creepy and disgusting. Joe has been betrayed by Imperator Furiosa, who has kidnapped the breeders and taken them with her. Actually, “kidnapped” isn’t really the right word, since it implies that they didn’t want to go with her. A more accurate way of putting it would be that she escaped with them. This enrages Joe, and he sends his entire army of chalk-white, fanatically loyal Warboys after her.

One of the Warboys is a young man named Nux. Nux is sick, and needs blood transfusions to survive. Chosen as his “blood bag” is none other than Max himself. So when Nux hops in his car to join the chase after Furiosa, Max unwillingly goes along with him, chained to the front of his vehicle as his mobile blood bag.

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I won’t give away anything else about the plot. As with the previous Mad Max movies, the plot is pretty barebones, but that doesn’t affect the quality of the movie. These movies aren’t really about the plot, they’re about the experience, and this movie is an experience like no other.

And they’re also about the action. Oh, so much action. Mad Max: Fury Road is quite possibly the best car chase movie ever made. The action is nonstop and intense. Picture the climactic chase from The Road Warrior. Now triple the number of vehicles and combatants. Add the enhancements that modern special effects and a nine-figure budget can provide. Now picture that for pretty much the entirety of a two-hour movie.

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Fury Road is the ultimate adrenaline rush. In terms of sheer nonstop visceral ferocity, the only movies I can think of that even come close are The Raid and the Raid 2, and maybe John Wick. Mad Max makes the Avengers look like a bunch of amateurs.

Part of what makes the movie such a treat to watch is that the majority of it was done practically. Look, generally I don’t have that much of a problem with CGI. I’m okay with using CGI to do things in movies that are impossible in real life. I’m fine with that, but movies these days can sometimes seem like CGI overload (as anyone who suffered through the most recent Transformers movie, for example, can attest to).

But everything in this movie was done for real, which means real people, real vehicles, real stunts, and real pyrotechnics. The fact that a bunch of fearless people actually went out into the middle of the desert and filmed all of this insane vehicular mayhem gives me hope for the future of mankind, not to mention the future of cinema.

Another great thing about the film’s many action sequences is that they’re easy to follow. One of the complaints that pop up a lot about modern action movies is that they’re shot and edited in such a way that it makes the action hard to follow, since things are happening so quickly and the camera moves around a lot it can be hard for the viewer to orient him- or herself in the scene.

But George Miller, on the other hand, is careful to avoid these potential issues. For one thing, the spatial relationships in the action sequences are very clearly defined, so the viewer always has a good sense of where things are in relation to each other. This is important during fast-paced, intense scenes with a lot of things happening at once, and a lot of characters in different places.

It makes the movie feel like a very connected, unified whole, and it makes the viewer feel like you’re getting the whole picture of what’s happening and that you’re not missing anything. The editing isn’t too fast and the camera doesn’t shake around constantly, so the action always flows smoothly.

And on top of all that, the film is visually stunning. The bleak desert vistas have a sort of stark beauty to them, enhanced by the fact that they’re real (the movie was filmed in Namibia). And I just love the movie’s production design. One of the things I love most about these movies is how good they are at suggesting things. Every element of this film tells its own story. Every piece of clothing that every character wears, every weapon they use, and every piece of every vehicle has its own story behind it.

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I also love how you can tell that some items the characters use are things that had their uses in the old world, but those uses have since become irrelevant and so people have found new uses for them. You know that metal thing people use to measure your foot whenever you go to get new shoes? I feel dumb that I don’t know what that’s called. Is it just called a scale? Man, now I feel stupid. Anyway, I noticed that one of those is used as a pedal in Furiosa’s cobbled-together semi truck. Since the concept of “going to the store to get new shoes” no longer exists in the Mad Max world, things have been repurposed.

Tom Hardy gives a solid performance as Max, and is a worthy successor to Mel Gibson. He growls all of his lines and there were a couple of times where I noticed a bit of his Bane voice slip through, but he’s a great actor and an appealing lead.

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But really, the movie belongs to Charlize Theron. She completely steals the movie as Imperator Furiosa, and is one of the best action heroines since Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. She’s just badass, and she gives the movie a lot of emotional weight. It’s really her story as much as, if not more than, Max’s. All of the film’s protagonists, except for Max (and Nux the Warboy, who eventually joins them), are women, which is pretty awesome.

If you are a fan of action movies, you need to see this movie ASAP. It’s a beautiful, brutal movie. It’s not for the faint-hearted, since it is VERY intense and there is some pretty disturbing imagery, but it’s not particularly bloody and never feels gratuitous or overwhelming. It is an absolute adrenaline rush and one of the most pulse-pounding exercises in expertly-crafted cinematic mayhem that you will ever see. It is unlike any other movie and is thrilling from start to finish.

Go see it. Now.

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