Sunday 24 May 2015

Amazing stunts and eye-popping visuals make Mad Max: Fury Road the year’s first must-see blockbuster


Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Running time: 120 mins

The first Mad Max film since 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome (all together now: “We don’t need another heeerrrooo…”) is, essentially, a two-hour chase, albeit a visually stunning, incredibly imaginative one, with jaw-dropping stunt work and some impressive world building. It only has two settings – very fast and very loud – going all the way up to 11 from the get go… and staying there.

In an oil-depleted, radiation-ruined future dystopia, Hardy is Max Rockatansky, the tough but taciturn Road Warrior character originally played by Mel Gibson all those years ago. He is captured by the War Boys, soldiers loyal to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne – Toecutter in 1979’s first film), a fearsome warlord who “owns” the local water supply and uses that fact to keep his downtrodden subjects fearful and supine.

Max escapes and makes common cause with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed badass who has betrayed Joe, stolen his gargantuan “war rig” and struck out for the “Green Place”, a land of plenty that supposedly exists somewhere beyond the rad-ravaged wasteland. To enrage him further, Furiosa has liberated Joe’s five “wives” – one of whom is heavily pregnant with his child. He – and a bizarre army of ne’er do wells – gives chase.

Those who know their British comic-books will immediately recognise Brendan McCarthy’s twisted imagination at play in every frame here. Whether he was drawing Spider-Man, Judge Dredd, Paradax or Freakwave, the movie’s co-writer and chief visionary always had an uncanny ability to bring the weird in a way few other artists could match. That sensibility looms large in Fury Road, creating a world that you wouldn’t want to visit but one that is beautifully-realised and easy to believe in. You can practically feel the desert heat on your face and the sand and dirt under your fingernails.

The trucks, cars, motorbikes and armoured vehicles on display are particularly impressive, all battered black chrome, steel porcupine spikes and multiple, oil-dripping exhausts – the old Wacky Races cartoon show reimagined by the Marquis de Sade. Meanwhile, Immortan Joe and his men – big on leather, skulls and scarification – look like the moshpit at a GWAR gig. Joe’s mad convoy even includes synchronised drummers and a guitarist complete with an instrument that shoots flames out of its neck.

If the visuals are impressive, the stunt work is even better. The most thrilling sequence sees the war rig under siege from assailants on long poles attached to fast-moving vehicles. These so-called “Pole Cats” swoop down to attack or carry off their victims, while Max, Nux and their team-mates try desperately to fight them off and outrun them. It is ridiculously exciting and head-spinningly OTT; probably the best blockbuster action scene I’ve witnessed in a very long time. How Miller will go about upping the ante for Mad Max 5 is anyone’s guess.

CGI is kept to a minimum but when it is used it is used expertly. There’s a scene early on when Furiosa steers the war rig into a colossal sand storm quickly followed by their pursuers. Once inside, we see the maelstrom in all its nightmarish, psychedelic glory as numerous vehicles are pulverised by the brutal winds and lightning, hapless passengers smashed, bashed and hurled through the air like rag dolls. Another bravura segment.

Much has been made of the fact Theron’s Furiosa, rather than Max, is actually the film’s main character, to which the only right and proper reaction is surely so what? The Mad Max franchise was always more about the world than the man – teetering on the brink of apocalypse in 1979’s debut, gone fully to hell by the time Thunderdome rolled around six years later. Max – a fairly generic badass/avenger made more interesting than he really was by Mel Gibson’s intensity and charisma – was never the highlight of these films. So the idea a fairly limited character has had to shove over and cede someone else the limelight isn’t one that should worry anyone… anyone sane that is.

If there is anything more worthless and depressing in 2015 than all this “men’s rights” nonsense I’ve yet to see it. It isn’t even as if there aren’t precedents for main characters being little more than co-stars in their own films. Wesley Snipes was upstaged by Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biels’ Night Stalkers in Blade Trinity, while Michael Keaton was pretty much a guest star in Batman Returns as Tim Burton concentrated on Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and The Penguin (Danny DeVito). When Godzilla only appeared for 11 minutes in last year’s Gareth Edwards-directed blockbuster I don’t remember any “Big Lizard” rights groups sobbing into their neck beards about it.

To hear some of these “menanist” mentalists go on, you’d think Fury Road starred Andrea Dworkin and boasted a script based on Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto. So let’s get some perspective here. Like a thousand other action-adventure films, it features goodies and baddies. The only difference is that, for once, the vast majority of the goodies are women (except Max, and Nux, the War Boy played by Nicholas Hoult) and most of the bad guys are… well, guys. Yes, there’s a patriarchal element to Immortan Joe’s Citadel society (conventionally attractive women are used for breeding purposes, while others are “milked” to provide sustenance), but women’s bodies aren’t the only things Joe seeks to control. Like most dictators he also regulates resources (water, oil), access and information, and the underclass he lords it over is made up of both men and women. So, while Fury Road is certainly a movie with sound feminist credentials, it’s hardly Thelma and Louise.

Besides Furiosa is a terrific character – a kind of post-apocalyptic Ellen Ripley. Brave, resourceful and a true survivor, she clearly has a fascinating backstory that I hope Miller, McCarthy and Co delve into in future instalments.

Hardy is a solid, charismatic action hero who has Max's thousand-yard stare down pat. But I prefer him in smaller, low-key films – Locke and The Drop being two recent examples – where he is gifted the time and space to really delve into whichever character he is playing. He isn’t given that luxury here or even a lot to do, apart from run from and fight off War Boys while suffering painful flashbacks to the death of a young girl (his daughter?). He’s rocking a very strange, almost Bane-esque, accent, too.

Two hours is an awful long time to sustain a cat and mouse chase but director Miller – whose credits since Thunderdome have included The Witches of Eastwick, Babe: Pig in the City and the two Happy Feet movies – just about gets away with it. The 70-year-old keeps those blood-pumping set-pieces coming thick and fast, while making sure our protagonists never loiter in one place for long. It’s exuberant, hi-octane and completely barking bloody mad. Yes, the actual plot errs on the thin side but that simplicity is perhaps something to cherish after the overstuffed antics of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Unlike Joss Whedon’s unwieldy sequel, Fury Road’s sturm und drang never once becomes a sturm und drag.

Rating: WWWW

Mad Max: Fury Road is in cinemas now


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

No comments:

Post a Comment