Friday, November 20, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

A couple of weeks ago a group of my guy friends got together with the express purpose of watching an over the top action movie. We ended up watching Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) which was in theaters in the spring earlier this year. I have never seen a Mad Max movie before and only had marginal interest in seeing them ever. Fury Road was insane, over the top, and completely amazing! Not only that, but it's possibly the cleanest R-rated move I've ever seen.
Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress, the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the dictator's five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with a loner and former captive of Immortan Joe, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), and one of Joe's religious zealot "War Boys," Nux (Nicholas Hoult) . Fortified in the massive armored truck, the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.
There are three Mad Max movies out there already, all of which star a young Mel Gibson. Originally, Gibson was intended to reprise the titular role. Fury Road's director, George Miller, ended up recasting the role because of controversies surrounding Gibson and because he really wanted Max to remain at a younger age. Tom Hardy took on the role and he was great. Granted, I don't know how his portrayal of the character compares to Mel Gibson's; I haven't seen the old Mad Max movies. Hardy was fantastic in The Dark Knight Rises and Inception, and he is still a dramatic force to be reckoned with here. Fury Road harkens back to the original films, usually in the form of Max's hallucinating about people he was unable to save. It is also a complete story on its own that doesn't rely on the assumption that you've seen the previous movies that were originally released over a quarter of a century ago. That's good, because a lot of people have been born in the last 30 years and not all movie attendees have seen the Mad Max movie. This introduces the world setting and character to a new audience. Fury Road wasn't an attempt to rekindle interest in the original films, but I certainly want to see them now!
This is a Mad Max movie; it features the titular character and the iconic post-apocalyptic world setting he inhabits. But oddly, Max himself isn't what the story revolves around. I'd argue that even though Max is the first character we're introduced to, Furiosa is the main character. It's her story, it's her adventure, it's her quest. Max is picked up and kind of tags along in the interest of their mutual survival and as a means of Furiosa achieving her quest to free Immortan Joe's wives from abuse and to find a safe place to call home. Max is mostly present only because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fury Road doesn't hint at a sequel, though there is probably enough material to make a couple. If that were to be done, I could see Furiosa eventually taking the helm of the stories set in the Mad Max universe because she is so remarkably interesting and such a highly compelling character. Max was great and all, but I'd be up for seeing more of Furiosa.
Surely you have seen Indiana Jones. Remember that crazy car chase where Indy falls down the front of a moving car, slides underneath said car to the back, climbs into the back and takes out the driver? It's a fantastic scene and highly enjoyable. Mad Max: Fury Road is basically two hours of that kind of scene. There is tons of over the top crazy action and it is relentless! Scene after scene of high stakes action, with just barely enough downtime to catch your breath before the next one starts. The stunts are nothing shy of incredible. People are constantly jumping from vehicle to vehicle, firing guns, things are exploding, enemies are defeated, allies are wounded or lost, vehicles spew fire and smoke as they accelerate, storms encroach upon the chaos, and it is absolutely fun! There's even some guy strapped to the top of a vehicle who inexplicably plays an electric guitar that also inexplicably shoots flames. Why? Who cares!? It's awesome! The stunts were unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and 90% of the special effects and stunts were practical; no CGI used for most of the whole movie. Due to the intensity of the stunts used in the movie, 150 stunt performers were used which included Cirque du Soleil performers and Olympic athletes. There are insane vehicles and cars used in the movie which defy reason, all of which were fully functional, again no CGI here.  This truly is a cinema spectacle to behold.
Fury Road was lauded as a pro-feminist film, though I'm not sure I agree with that entirely. Yes, it was fantastic to see a "women taking the reins" sort of movie. It features some women who choose to live without men, eventually fighting those men they chose to live away from. It highlights most men as villains complicit in the manufacturing of women designed to be breeders (none of this is depicted; only spoken about, or rather shouted about over the sound of cars and trucks racing at 90 mph). To be perfectly honest, the women (other than Furiosa) were not a big part of the movie and neither were their acting chops. The wives were a plot device that got some bits of dialogue. The wives' characters hardly had enough material to incorporate deeper issues. I still loved Furiosa, but I can't imagine women anywhere feeling empowered as feminists watching this movie. It's entertaining, absolutely, and it has a surprising amount of narrative heft, but Fury Road is basically a two-hour car chase and doesn't really tackle issues of feminism.
Fury Road might be the cleanest R-rated movies I've ever seen. It's "rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images." There is no sex scenes and little nudity (I'm sure I've seen worse in PG-13 movies). The action is very intense, but the violence is not gory nor visually explicit; anything notably gruesome takes place off camera, or in a few cases shows us just enough to get the gist of what has happened without dwelling on how grotesque it probably was. Furthermore, while this seems the perfect situation for it, I don't recall hearing a single word of profanity. There is talk of things that of a mature nature, but it's never shown. For example, the wives are basically sex slaves, treated as objects, abused, and intended for breeding purposes, but none of that is ever shown. It is more or less deserving of an R-rating, but Fury Road lies in the gray area between R and PG-13.
Mad Max: Fury Road was positively amazing. It's like a relentless two-hour assault on both the eardrums and the eyeballs. The structure is solid and even, at no point does it feel repetitive or drawn out. The supporting cast lacks refinement and depth, but Max and Furiosa are great characters that you can't help but be drawn to. The story is simple, but it's the action that is the backbone of this movie; it's simply fascinating. I'd love to see Tom Hardy continue in the Mad Max franchise, but more than that, I'd like to see Charlize Theron as Furiosa move it forward. I love good, strong, female protagonists, and Furiosa is great! All of the insane, over the top action sequences are positively incredible. This has got to earn awards for stunt work, and if none exists one should be made for the express purpose of giving it to this film. This is like action as art. I highly recommend seeing Mad Max: Fury Road. It's also worth owning if you enjoy action films at all.

Are you a fan of the old Mad Max films? What did you think of Mel Gibson being replaced by Tom Hardy? Comment below and let me know!

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