May 18, 2015

Movie Review: Mad Max - Fury Road

Sometimes movies can be difficult to review. No matter how much you like or dislike it, or how many thoughts you have about it, it can be difficult to form them into a coherent piece. I also feel like, in this case, I am caught between a rock and a hard place. If I come out singing its praises, I do not want to be looked at as another voice in the echo chamber or someone feeding the hype machine. Conversely, if I come out and speak negatively, I do not want to be seen as someone being contrary for the sake of being a contrarian. The problem is that in the case of Mad Max: Fury Road, I do love it and it may be a little difficult to keep the exuberance out of it.

Mad Max: Fury Road sees writer/director George Miller return to the character and franchise he created way back in the late '70's, the series that helped turn Mel Gibson into an international star. He has revived the franchise with a new story, a new cast, and an even bigger vision of post-apocalyptic action. It is an extraordinary feast for the eyes, a non-stop fury of action. Here is the kicker, despite the two hours of near non-stop adrenaline, Miller manages to create empathy, give his characters personality, and make the audience interested in their fate and involved in their plight.

This is a movie that is action and explosions first, story and character second. It is something that works exceptionally well for the piece. We are dropped right into the middle of the action and we are off to the races. The tale uses Max as both his own character and as a plot device. He exists in and around the plot helping to push it forward. Much like the story and plot exist in and around the action. This is not a movie that hand holds you through its story. While it dazzles with the action, it tantalizes with its tale around the edges.

I do not really want to give any of the story bits, but it is straightforward, understandable and pretty excellently executed. Over the course of the movie, you get to know a number of characters, their personalities, and understand the bad guy and what he wants. All the while, you are put in the shoes of the title character. You are with a man who suffers the tortures of his past, of people he could not help, on the outside looking in, a participant in their story (not unlike The Road Warrior). Perhaps seeing in them what he saw in his family, he adopts these refugees as his own, a vehicle for his own redemption.

The movie is all about action, but it has strong elements of hope and redemption. I love how it tells its stories through looks, untold details, unrelated lines of dialogue, and just by force of action. There is a purity to it, a hero's journey told in a strikingly in your face fashion, in terms of the hero actions, and forcing involvement in terms of feeling for the journey. It is not an action movie for everyone, but it is one for me. The elements come together in this beautiful fashion that is dang near perfect. Distracted by action while character and story play around the edge. Mislead you by not having the title character by the star, but be an integral part of pushing everything forward.

Beyond the action, the performances are pretty solid too. Tom Hardy does a great job stepping into the role made famous by Gibson more than thirty years ago. He brings a gruff, world weariness to the role. His take is the strong silent type, someone tortured by his past who has decided to remain outside of the new societies, preferring being alone, perhaps fearing potential failure (suggested by the flashes of his past). He doesn't say much, doesn't need to, and I am convinced this is Max. He is a great fit who knows how to bury himself in the character.

The rest of the cast is pretty great as well. Charlize Theron is Imperator Furiosa, a warrior with a likewise damaged past. She has done much she is not proud of and is seeking redemption. Theron is a very good actress who is able to bring this hardened character to life, while still retaining a vulnerability. She is not defined by either element, but becomes a whole because of it. Her wards are a group of young women, the brides of our villain. They could easily have been props, but it is fascinating to watch their development, each with their own personality.

Then there is the big bad, Immortan Joe. This guy is a real nasty piece of work, ruling his citadel with an iron fist, rationing supplies, and keeping concubines locked in a vault. He will stop at nothing to get back his “property.” The funny thing, is that he is also a complete character, something a bit unexpected. Don't get me wrong, he is not someone to be liked, but he is more than a prop. It is also interesting to note he is played by Hugh Keayes Byrne, who played Toecutter, the villain in the original Mad Max.

I think it is safe to say that George Miller has not lost a beat in the Mad Max universe. Bringing an over the top, yet very human, film to the big screen. A nicely crafted post-apocalyptic universe where practical effects rule. Oh yes, they built all those cars and then went and blew them all up. The format seems very similar to the early films, as well. Max was the wild card that pushed everything forward. Sure, Mad Max was about Max, but after that, the tortured shell of a man sort of fell into the stories. Max, force of nature.

The more I think about the movie, the more I like it. Will it hold up with future viewings? One can hope, but this first one was spectacular. It is sort of the gift that keeps on giving. Mad Max: Fury Road is pretty much everything I wanted it to be.

Highly Recommended.

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