Review: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, A Tour De Force Masterpiece
How's this for hyperbole: George Miller is the Australian Spielberg. You've got a director with a wide diversity of films (from The Road Warrior to Babe to Happy Feet), all injected with an almost preternaturally gifted ability to have riveting action splashed on screen.
It's pleasing, then, that Mad Max: Fury Road is Miller's masterpiece. It's a tour-de-force film, an action romp par excellence. The montage elements are often breathtaking (literally) - I found myself staring, mouth agape, as moment after moment built into a phantasmagoria of crushing metal, billowing sand and flying bodies. Yet Fury Road isn't mere action porn - scratch the dusty surface and there's story here, albeit one that's deliciously archetypal.
This is a film ostensibly about a guy named Max, and, well, he's mad. Save for some extremely tenuous connections (including a model of vehicle and a prominent knee brace) this narrative has next to nothing tying it to the Gibsonian travails of the 80s. This isn't so much a reboot as a reinvention, a decidedly more raw and rampaging film that cuts to the core of what makes these type of films work.
For the film-nerdy there are allusions to Duel or even The Wages of Fear and/or Sorcerer abound (we've got a truck, and bad things are afoot), but the purest exemplar I can equate it to is the Mercedes transport that Indiana Jones beats up midway through Raiders of the Lost Ark. For audiences this was a fun bit in the middle of the film - guy on horseback jumps onto moving vehicle, a bunch of people are punched, and our hero holds on via a whip to the undercarriage.
Broken down as a sequence of shots for those that study this stuff it's one of the purest and most extraordinary moments in cinema history for this type of film. It's both homage to Stagecoach and the bone-crushing work of Yakima Canutt, while at the same time being absolutely essential in moving both character and plot forward.
Expand this Raiders slice of cinematic magic to feature length and you get Miller's take on a truck, a desert, and a swarm of people trying to stop it from moving forward. It's this exquisite simplicity - the desiccated desert sands, the truck door with the skeletal arm, the oodles of pimped out spikey hotrods on the chase - that transcends this almost comic-book absurdity into something resembling the operatic.
This isn't the story of Max - if anything it's the story of a group of women on the run, and he's there to add a bit of gruff. Really, however, it's the story of the chased and the chasers, as ancient and sublime as can be, something that connects deeply with our flight/response in autonomic ways. The kinetic scenes are a splash of colour and movement yet always brilliantly coherent. This is a sprint where you can tell every footfall, travelling along at such speed and intensity that one becomes winded.
Tom Hardy is fully channeling his Bane character, and this, I dare say, isn't a bad thing at all. It didn't take long for me to forget that Charlize Theron was playing her character, as she once again transforms herself into a compelling and strong lead, bringing fury to Furiosa that's palpable. You've got a wonderfully two dimensional baddie in Immortan Joe, yet with Nicholas Hoult's Nux there are actual shades of grey (with silver paint smeared atop).
This is a film a quarter century in the making, having gone through numerous iterations, casting changes and script revisions. It easily could have been a disaster, some nostalgia fest that traded a famous and fun name for a series of silly car crashes. Instead we're treated to one of the best action movies of this or any year, one with both (genuine) brains and (gender inclusive) balls. There's not a moment you miss Mel Gibson, not a frame or storyline that requires you to give two shits about what's come before.
This is buckle-up and hold the fuck on filmmaking in its purest form, yet beneath the spectacle there's actual character development and a streamlined yet effective narrative that's allegorical without being obnoxious or trite.
This is a modern film using all the latest digital photographic techniques but with a decidedly analogue fascination with real vehicles (and stunts) rampaging along. The film is bonkers, yet, but it's also compelling and sly, shaming the silly men-in-tights Comic book pablum that's occupying most of the Summer slate.
With a propelling score, some astonishingly beautiful locations captured in Namibia and South Africa, a slew of gritty characters and some of the best car chase sequences every captured for cinema, audiences have got from this fourth film in the series more than they could have ever expected. Fury Road is in the literal sense amazing, a wonderous blast of fun that's sure to warm the heart of even the most jaded anti-blockbuster audience member. Go see this film, and then go see it again... and again.
Mad Max: Fury Road may have been twenty five years in the making, but it was worth every second it took.