For perhaps the first time in 2015, audiences will actually have to decide between two good movies being released the same week. Of course, considering one of them is Pitch Perfect 2, and the other is Mad Max: Fury Road, there may be different demographics at play.
You can go find my review of Anna Kendrick and her fellow Barden Bellas elsewhere but this review is about the return of Max Rockatansky (with Tom Hardy stepping into Mel Gibson’s shoes). It’s been thirty years since we went Beyond Thunderdome (“Master Blaster runs Bartertown!”) and while it’s been a long, delayed effort, the result that director George Miller has been able to craft is nothing short of spectacular (and much more in line with the first two films in the series).
Keep in mind this is not a reboot. Miller brings us right back into Max’s post-apocalyptic hellscape without some long, drawn out exposition and without any overt redaction of previous events. While you should have already seen those earlier films, all you need to know here is that Max used to enforce law and order, long after society fell to pieces. The death of his wife and child drove him to live his life out alone in the desert wasteland, scrounging for gas and water while fending off the attacks of would-be warlords and their henchmen.
What Miller does so beautifully about that back story is give it to us in Fury Road via haunting visions and hallucinations experienced by Max. It’s all pretty much given in the first minute or two of calm build-up, right before Max is off barreling through the desert attempting to outrun a horde of baddies. From there on out, it’s practically a non-stop thrill ride.
I won’t get into the plot too much, honestly it’s rather formulaic and not too surprising considering the genre (Ozploitation, which is one of my personal favorites). But the action … Great Googly Moogly … the action. It’s INSANE. And I mean that in a good way. You see, for all you young folk out there, before the days of fancy computers practically composing every shot, there used to be these things called stunts. And these stunts meant putting real people in real danger in order to get amazing footage.
Miller knows how to do this better than almost anyone (seriously, go back and watch at least The Road Warrior). The large majority of the action is practical, and CGI only really come into play to add color and weather effects to the Namibian desert where filming took place, and for digitally erasing most of one of Charlize Theron’s arms (she starts off without it, so this is no spoiler).
By doing things practically, and shooting things not only in sequence but from a distance, the action is intense, visceral, and astounding. (OMG, you mean this isn’t a ridiculous assortment of fast cuts that only serve to confuse the audience as to what’s happening? Suck it, Michael Bay. ) Really, the biggest question I have is how in the hell do you get insurance to do all of this in today’s litigious society?!? I’m fairly certain AAA or Geico would have laughed at the notion of insuring any of these vehicles, let alone the people inside.
Snarkiness aside, what takes place over the course of two hours in Fury Road is something audiences haven’t really seen in a long time. Not only is the action simply stunning, the look and design of the characters is as well. If the make-up team isn’t nominated for awards at the end of the year, I’m calling shenanigans. Likewise, the production design of what few sets there are, and the composition of the many, many vehicles, turn the overall effort into a treasure trove of visual delights (though some are a bit twisted … in a good way).
I may have some problems with the pacing of the last thirty minutes as there’s a definite moment when it almost feels like the credits could roll and I would have been fully satiated, but that feeling quickly washes away once the action kicks back into full gear. And really, the movie is practically one long chase sequence. Much in the same way Gravity gave very few moments of respite for Miss Congeniality to tumble back onto terra firma, Fury Road simply asks us to strap in, marvel at the breathtaking visuals, and cringe at the heart-racing action.
While I hope we never actually have to live in a world like Max’s, I’m so very, very happy we get to visit that world on-screen and should sequels spring forth (Hardy has signed on for three more), I can’t wait to see what Miller has in store. The bar has been set very high but this is like a refreshing counterprogramming to all the family friendly superhero fare that will dominate cinemas for at least the next five years. And something tells me we’re going to need properties like this simply to keep the movie going experience from becoming nothing more than a competent paint-by-numbers exercise.
Now go get out there and watch this movie. Mad Max: Fury Road is the reason you go to theaters, even with that 70-inch curved OLED screen in your man cave. Action and imagery like this demands the biggest and best presentation you can find. Anything less and you’re only hurting yourself.
MPAA rating: R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.
Running time: 2 hours
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