MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
The critical passion Mad Max: Fury Road has elicited is a bit puzzling to me. It's not like I thought the praise the film isn't exactly warranted. However, for me, I think it is more confusion over the idea that while this is a good action film, Mad Max: Fury Road is suppose to be some sort of turning point in cinema that some of my fellow critics appear to think. I'm not prepared to go THAT far, but I will say that Fury Road is a very well-made film and a worthy member of the Mad Max franchise.
I'm not that familiar with the world of Mad Max, having seen only Mad Max and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. To be honest I enjoyed both films, but it's been a while since I saw Mad Max that I cannot tell you much about it. I also thought Beyond Thunderdome was actually pretty good (and yes, I LIKE We Don't Need Another Hero and make no apologies for both it and Auntie Entity). Fury Road is if nothing else, intensely action-packed, rarely letting up from the wild action (sometimes visually stunning) and one that gives people exactly what they want: intensity, far-out characters, and even a hint of hope in this dystopian nightmare.
The plot is pretty straightforward: the mysterious figure we know as Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a drifter, striving to survive in the post-apocalyptic world and haunted by the deaths of his wife and child (the latter who comes to him in visions, which inevitably cause him to shield his eyes with his hand). He is captured by the War Boys, a group of albino half-life beings who serve Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a brutal dictator of The Citadel, one of the few places on Earth that has water (which he controls). He sends his loyal lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to Gas Town for trade, along with her own men as escort.
Loyal lieutenant proves anything but, as Furiosa takes a detour from Fury Road with her men loyal to her. Immortan Joe is enraged that Furiosa has turned traitor, and he begins a mad pursuit of her, incapable of understanding why she's gone rogue. He brings the War Boys with him, and despite being in weak strength one of them, Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is determined to go for his moment of glory. To aid in his recovery, he brings his universal blood bag...that being Max.
The pursuit is on for Furiosa, and in the ensuing chaos of the chase (and her escape into a violent storm), Max eventually comes upon them. He's not interested in any of this, just in getting out and getting his car. He discovers Furiosa has taken flight with Immortan Joe's brides, one of them pregnant. They are making an escape to Furiosa's homeland, The Green Place, and she and Max make an uneasy alliance. Nux, who has survived the brutal fight, finds them and at first becomes determined to win glory for himself and his Immortan Beloved, but soon realizes that he has failed in his mission. Eventually he too joins them, only he has fallen in love with one of the brides.
Immortan Joe, however, will not be denied, and Furiosa finds that The Green Place has become a barren wasteland too when she finds her people, now all women. These elders still carry among them seeds from when the world was still beautiful and dream of restoring the world to its once-lush origin, but where? Max, despite himself, knows where there IS water and green pastures...back at Immortan Joe's stronghold. With that, the disparate group now goes back to face Immortan Joe in an epic battle where there are great sacrifices, but in the end, a wounded Furiosa returns to The Citadel with Immortan Joe's corpse, and while she and the Brides now have triumphed, Max walks away from all this.
Essentially, Fury Road is a chase film where these two sides face off. Like I said, the story is pretty straightforward, but credit should be given to director George Miller, who returns to the Mad Max universe he created with a powerful, madcap and unrelenting epic. The action rarely lets up as this unhinged group of War Boys and their overlords carry on the mad chase for the Brides and Furiosa.
As a side note, is it just me, or is this a variation on the story of The Trojan War?
Fury Road is visually stunning, with breathtaking sights (the blue-bathed landscape of the formerly Green Place is among the most beautiful scenes in the film), and if anything else, Fury Road is a beautiful-looking film.
As someone not immersed in the Mad Max universe, I think the greatness of Fury Road is that it has a language that is unique to itself without being so opaque that you don't understand it. Clearly, the War Boys' dreams of reaching Valhalla makes it their definition of a war-gloried Heaven, but Nux's request to 'witness him' is understandable to mean to recognize his glorious death in battle.
As for these action sequences, they are thoroughly spectacular, leaving one almost exhausted by the intensity of the mad chase. Fury Road is also not afraid to be brutal with the characters: seeing one of the Brides fall to her death is brutal, and graphic enough to show the horror of it without dwelling on its brutality.
In terms of performance I actually am going to dissent slightly when it comes to Tom Hardy. Ever since The Dark Knight Rises I have never been able to embrace Hardy as a true actor. Action star, probably (though a perennially surly one, I wonder if he's done a film where he's smiled in unabashed joy since), but actor...I'm still not quite convinced. At times, I found the way he held up his hands to block the image of the child a bit hilarious, but for the most part Hardy does his taciturn persona to full effect.
Bless Hoult for pushing himself as an actor as the intense, unhinged Nux. He made that transition from unquestioning warrior to compassionate figure believable and true. In a way, he went from half-life to full-life and I thought he did an excellent job.
However, for me the best performance was Theron as Imperator Furiosa, this woman who could no longer ignore the misery of the Brides. She isn't nice because she cannot afford to be, but in her longing for The Green Place, the despair of having her Paradise Lost, and her fierceness and fierce determination to survive, Theron does an incredible job.
The pacing was almost breakneck, the score by Junkie XL fantastic, and John Seale's cinematography as I've mentioned simply astonishing.
Now, while Mad Max: Fury Road is a great film, the BEST PICTURE of 2015...a bridge too far for me. I will say I will knock it down a bit because I really couldn't figure the purpose of The People Eater or when/how he joined forces with Immortan Joe, and sometimes I didn't know who was who. That's a minor point really, but one nonetheless.
On the whole, Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that gives the fans of the franchise what it wants, and those of us who aren't as deep into this world won't be entirely lost and can appreciate the action and visuals. If nothing else, Mad Max: Fury Road is an intense film that rarely lets up and has intelligence behind the action.