Sunday, May 17, 2015

'Mad Max: Fury Road' review

Mad Max: Fury Road is being handled with a great deal of hyperbole in Hollywood. Ever since it was shown to critics in early May, it has been hailed as an instant classic masterpiece that doubles as one of the greatest action films of all time. It boasts a stellar 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes and is standing at 89 on Metacritic, a number that beats out universally acclaimed blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Inception. When a film has that much buzz behind it, there's inevitably the potential for some disappointment. I walked into Mad Max ready to experience a cinematic masterwork, and for the most part, director George Miller delivered. Despite some of the absurd reactions to the film, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Fury Road is the most artistic Hollywood blockbuster ever made. This is a film that a major studio spent hundreds of millions of dollars on, and yet it features an extremely minimal amount of dialogue and a simple storyline that is mostly told through a series of practical effects-driven action scenes. This is unlike any other film you'll see this year and whether or not you fall in love with Mad Max: Fury Road like most of us have, everyone should see it to experience the light and sound sensation that Miller has put together.

As the camera fades in, we see Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) stands on a cliff, staring at the desert wasteland below him. He stomps on a lizard and eats it before jumping in his car to try to escape the clutches of a miserable group known as the War Boys. They capture Max, torture him and use him for his blood to supply the other soldiers. The War Boys work for Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an overweight, maniacal dictator who controls the world below him. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) also works for Immortan Joe, but this time, she has a different plan when she heads out to retrieve gasoline for him.

Furiosa takes five women with her, all of whom are set to either make fresh milk for his troops or babies for the despicable Immortan. Furiosa's intent is to set them free, but Joe isn't so keen on that idea. The two collide paths down Fury Road, a nightmarish hell that mixes scorching deserts, dangerous canyons and beautiful night landscapes. Eventually, Max and Furiosa cross paths and decide to work together to stop Immortan and redeem their past mistakes.

Ever since I first heard about the concept for Fury Road last summer, I was intrigued by this film. The reviews only added fuel to the fire, but the idea of a major action film that consists of little dialogue, one major chase scene and a story that develops the characters along the way is infinitely appealing. And I gotta say, Miller pulled it off. An electrifying, radically unusual and unique action film, Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling emotional roller-coaster that moves at a lightning pace and never lets up.

"When I used to go to the cinema as a kid, I used to love that feeling of walking out of the cinema and feeling like you'd been on a ride and that you want to go back on the ride."- George Miller

This quote from Miller is Fury Road in its purest essence. This is a movie that is not concerned with overwhelming exposition. It doesn't care about complicated story mechanics. Most dialogue is non-essential. Fury Road is an engaging and enjoyable character study at times, but for the most part, this is just one big, outrageous, insane roller-coaster ride. The music, the stunts, the characters, the pacing- everything about Fury Road is daring, inventive and thrillingly realized.

And the best part about it is that it doesn't feel like standard action territory. Miller isn't designing his movie to go from Action Scene A to Action Scene B (something that Furious 7 suffered from). His movie is one giant action scene with little bits of character and dialogue that move the film forward. It's such a drastically different format from most action films and the movie is more artfully done than most blockbusters. There are no witty exchanges between characters, no comic relief. Miller doesn't pander to his audience. He delivers a breathlessly fast action film that works on so many levels.

It's sometimes hard to remember that Fury Road is a major studio blockbuster because there are so many flourishes that you would find in an indie movie. There are many long, operatic passages that feature no dialogue and it's clear that Miller wants to use the language of motion and action to tell his story. That's not something that you usually see in Hollywood pictures, which is part of what makes Fury Road so appealing. The story isn't complex. It doesn't worry about unnecessary world-building (although Miller does a fabulous job of setting up the Mad Max universe). It's a story about two guilt-ridden loners who travel across a barren wasteland in the hopes of finding redemption while a group of maniacal tyrants follow their every move. Not complicated, but it doesn't need to be. The storyline provides a solid arc for our characters and allows for us to enjoy the pure spectacle that Miller has put together.

And to call Fury Road a spectacle is an understatement. This is a Hollywood epic set on the grandest, weirdest scale possible. On first viewing, I was amazed, thrilled, perplexed and overwhelmed by what I was seeing on screen. Miller has filmed and structured some of the most exciting action scenes in recent memory and it's all set to the brilliant score by Junkie XL. This is an action lover's fever dream.

Mad Max: Fury Road clocks in at a compact 120 minutes (the film feels much shorter than that) and I would say that a good 80 minutes of that is purely devoted to big, spectacular action sequences. This is a film that is constantly barreling forward to the next action setpiece to the point where all of them start to blend together. And at this point, I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a flaw of the film. The action can get a little redundant after a while, but the film definitely isn't staged like Furious 7, where the action scenes are clearly defined and you are positive that the danger is over, which is not a good thing. With Mad Max, the film is always an adrenaline-fueled rush, even in the quiet moments.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are the stars of the film, and they make for a formidable duo. Hardy is confined to a mask again for a good chunk of the runtime, and at other times, he communicates mostly with simple sentences or grunts. And yet, Hardy still manages to deliver an effective performance. He's a talented actor and this is one of his most impressive feats yet. Nothing about Max is spelled out and the audience has to figure out a lot about him on their own. And by the end, I truly did care about Max and I felt uplifted by his triumph. And Theron is even more impressive, turning in a damaged and soulful performance. Furiosa will go down with Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley in the Hall of Fame of awesome female action heroes and much of that credit can go to Theron.

With Mad Max: Fury Road, I've heard the word "classic" thrown around a lot. When a film is as highly praised as Fury Road has been so far, that term will inevitably come into play at some point. But what makes this movie a classic and could it actually be considered one of the greatest action movies of all time in the future? I think that the answer there is yes. Fury Road has issues. It's not a perfect film. But Die Hard has issues. Terminator 2 has issues. Heck, even Star Wars has problems that we neglect all the time. But all four of the movies that I've mentioned have one thing in common- an ambitious, overwhelming vision. Fury Road is a movie so different from anything that I've seen in recent years that it's hard to put it into words. It's a movie so thrilling that I get excited even talking about it. That's the sign of a true future classic.

Mad Max: Fury Road will not be for everyone. I'm very curious to see how general audiences will react. Even though this movie delivers action scenes in droves, it goes away from the conventions of the modern action movie and that could turn some people away from it. But I feel like this is a movie that people need to see no matter what. Fury Road is one of the few films I've seen in recent memory when I watched it and went "wow, that was truly epic." I got a little bit of that with The Dark Knight and Interstellar, but even those films felt somewhat digitally constructed. While I watched Fury Road, my mind was drawing comparisons to Lawrence of Arabia, 2001 and Star Wars. If that ever happens to you when you're watching a movie, you know you've seen something special.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.1/10)

Image Credits: Mad Max Movie, YouTube, Schmoes Know, LA Times, Film School Rejects, Ain't It Cool News

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