Mister Cinecal

Mister Cinecal

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road is an Action Masterpiece

It has been 30 years since George Miller last directed an action film. It shouldn't have been that long, but an improbable chain of events throughout the '00s prevented his return to the genre sooner. Everything from the Twin Towers' collapse and the Iraq War to Mel Gibson's career descent delayed the fourth Mad Max throughout the decade, while the 2007 Writer's Strike, the success of The Dark Knight and even the Australian government denying Warner Bros a sufficient tax rebate eventually led to Miller's Justice League film being shelved altogether. Now, finally, we have Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that almost functions as an offhand response to the blockbusters heavyweights that emerged while Miller's efforts failed to get off the ground. It refutes Nolan's seriousness and literal-mindedness, Marvel's excess. It makes a mockery of Michael Bay's incomprehensibility and Zack Snyder's high-mindedness and laughable so-called feminism. Now some of their films are terrible, and some of them are great. But Fury Road is More. Fury Road is Mad. Fury Road is a Masterpiece.

The plot is simple and secondary. The world is fecked. The desperation of resource-wasting, violent men has led to a nuclear wasteland where men have become even more desperate, resource-wasting and violent. Tom Hardy's Max becomes involved by happenstance in the conflict of others, as is typical for the character. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has gone rogue on brutal, water-hoarding warlord Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played antagonist of the original Mad Max), escorting his harem of 'Breeders', who no longer wish to be property, across the desert to the hallowed 'green place' in a weaponised big-rig. Immortan Joe and a legion of his ardent followers set off in pursuit, with Max caught up in it all. Also in the mix is Nicholas Hoult, playing Nux, a scrappy terrier of a character who's had a particularly hearty swig of Immortan Joe's kool-aid (or water I suppose) who wants to prove himself to his leader and/or die trying, only to take a turn. Some people want to get from A to B, some people want to stop them. Simple, but in a satisfying way, like knocking down a row of dominoes.

At the start of the week I asked who Mad Max was but I didn't answer, because in truth who he is isn't really important . Hardy plays Max a little gruffer and more unhinged than Gibson, but there isn't a lot of depth to the character because there doesn't need to be. Max is like the Man With No Name or Samurai Jack, the appeal of the character comes not from depth but from adaptability, put them in a basic story and watch them do their thing. And it's worth emphasising that just because there isn't a lot of plot, that doesn't mean that the story is bad. The story here is all about the determination of women and how they approach survival in contrast to men. It's been described as a feminist film, but it does this not through a big mission statement but simply in treating women as actual people. Furiosa is a compelling character with a personal arc, given a weary humanity by Theron, who doesn't defer to the male protagonist like so many "strong women" characters in genre fiction do but instead makes him a capable sidekick by proxy. And if you look at Rosie Huntington-Whitely, the Victoria's Secret model who plays one of the runaway concubines, compare how she is used visually here to previous acting roles. In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the camera was most focused on her posterior as she climbed some stairs. Here, the camera focuses on her pregnant stomach acting as a shield to others, her lightly blooded leg, grazed in defiance to a man. In a film without a lot of talking, the pictures tell a thousand words, which is why it's such a treat that a fantastic visual storyteller like Miller is behind the camera.

The action of Fury Road, 90% practical effects and stunts, is not just entertaining to watch, it's beautiful. Since Mad Max's great action scenes have always worked by telling mini stories in themselves, it's fitting that the series culminate in what is essentially one long action scene, with quieter moments paced throughout less for character development and more about providing the audience with a chance to catch their breath. The whole film has a real rhythm to it.  When a car crashes, it's a crescendo. When our heroes' truck isn't moving and they discuss hope and redemption, its lacuna. The movement is intricate, logical and clear and that applies whether it involves leaping from cars to trucks, chainsaws in tow or a simple dust-up between Max and Furiosa while Max is tethered to Nicholas Hoult. Watching men held up on sticks above one car be dipped into another, pick somebody up and bend back the way they came flows so well, it belongs on the Oddly Satisfying subreddit. Rather than building to yet another CGI city destruction, the film spreads exhilarating action throughout, every scene providing excitement, imagination and variety.

 With a huge budget, the striking location of the Namibian desert and the assistance of cinematographer John Seale (out of retirement for this one) and the designs of British comic artist Brendan McCarthy, the insanity of Miller's vision is the most fully-realised it has ever been, a world that is truly 'mad', with spikes everywhere, vehicles that are just several other vehicles smashed together and the glory that is the FLAMETHROWER GUITAR, which becomes even more incredible every time it appears. The big apology for silly shit like Transformers is that they're movies you're meant to "turn your brain off" for, but why ever would you want to do such a thing? It doesn't let the endorphins in. Leave your brain switched on for Fury Road, keep your senses alert, reward your brain with the colours of the desert, the cacophony of crashes and the visual spectacle that pings stuntman after stuntman across the screen. It's a painting, a symphony and an epic poem all rolled up into one and then shot out of a cannon. Go see it. Then go see it again.

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