Sunday 17 May 2015

Mad Max - Fury Road

Furioser and Furiosa

Mad Max - Fury Road
2015  Australia/USA
Directed by George Miller 
UK cinema release print.

Okay, so the reason I just spent some time over the last few weeks watching the Mad Max Trilogy (reviewed here, here and here) was so that I could bring myself up to speed on the latest installment, Mad Max: Fury Road. Now there has been a lot of good word of mouth on this film with some people even suggesting that it’s similar to the cinema of Kurosawa in its execution and influence... well, it’s really not ‘Kurosawa good’ and I wish people wouldn’t evoke my favourite director every time they want to say they really quite like something.

On the other hand, this is certainly an okay film and, for the most part, it follows through in the spirit of the first two films of the original trilogy... so there’s that. Also, I needed to see this one in IMAX 3D... not because I was particularly bothered about seeing the spectacle on an extra large screen, but because there was no way I could pass up the chance to ask the person in the box office for a ticket to IMAX MAD MAX... it had to be done and it was worth the six quid extra on top of the Unlimited card to be able to say that phrase out loud to someone.

The film does, however, truly look quite spectacular, even using the cliched orange/blue colour scheme that the director plumped for in this one. And it’s full of action.... perhaps a little too much for many people’s tastes. I know one lady, for instance, who labelled it a kids movie due to the lack of both emotional content and story. Personally, I didn’t think the movie lacked a strong emotional element at all... and it had a heck of a lot more of that than in the original trilogy, especially in terms of the chemistry between Max, played in this one by popular actor Tom Hardy, and the new female action hero Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. It helps the ‘action movie shorthand’ if you have two really good actors doing these things, of course.

Yes, there is a lack of anything but the simplest mission objective of a plot but, although I can understand the irritation of that to some people, it’s certainly one of the strongest links between this and the first two movies... which also shared a common lack of vision when it came to the story telling, although not to the detriment of either film. If you read my review of the third movie, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, in fact, you’ll find I was citing the more complicated plotting as one of the reasons why that film didn’t really work too well in terms of spiritual continuity with the others. This new film is a lot more like Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior in terms of content...although the visual style is a world apart. I’ll get to that in a minute.

What we basically have in this film, and why it fits right into the Mad Max universe that Miller has created and maintained all these years, is the last 20 minutes or so of that second movie stretched out to make one, long car chase of a movie. There’s hardly any let up or pause between set pieces and this does make it a little more weaker as a film in some respects, than one or two of its predecessors. That being said, I got a real feel that this is where Miller wanted to take the Mad Max films all along and you have to remember that modern cinema has changed a lot in the intervening years since the original trilogy. Back in the day it was probably cinematic suicide to make one long movie which was just, basically, a big chase scene. These days, when action films just keep getting more and more over the top in their execution and with audiences demanding the kind of visual overload that goes with this style of presentation, I suspect the director finally felt like he could make the kind of movies that he always wanted to and...  in the way he wanted to. So...

The good
Well, the colours are fantastic, despite the aforementioned predominant hues... and it’s a real eye candy movie in terms of both the colours and the inventiveness of Miller’s post apocalyptic vision. There’s some beautiful lightning in a scene where Max, Furiosa and their cargo of beauties (I won’t bother to explain that, go see the film) are driving at night  and so everything is washed in blue light, even Max and Furiosa in the front two seats. In the back seats, however, the ladies who are accompanying them, have a lamp on and that creates a contrasting set of colours in the back seat of the vehicle... all pitched against the other colour scheme within the same frame. So that’s really good. And the surrealistic element of the landscapes and the kinds of Daliesque people who inhabit them are pretty interesting too.

Actually, I say it’s MIller’s post apocalyptic vision but one of the people who wrote it and drew concepts for it, back in the 1990s as it turns out... but still with his story and ideas being retained now due to production problems in the long road to... err... Fury Road, is comic book artist Brendan McCarthy. I used to read his work in popular British comic 2000AD and, although he didn’t create the comic book character I am about to cite, it has to be said that the look of the Charlize Theron character Imperator Furiosa does owe a visual debt to Mean Machine Angel from the Judge Dredd strip in the 1980s. In fact, the film is so action packed (at the expense of everything else) and colourful that I believe it would be fair to say the whole movie is infused with a comic book sensibility and so McCarthy’s involvement in the project does explain certain things, in that sense. In terms of design and colour, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad Max.

There’s a scene in this where Max has to give Furiosa a makeshift blood transfusion with a needle and so, at one point in the proceedings, it gets to a point which I can only describe as having a Fury With A Syringe On Top moment. Yay! I nearly used that for the title of this review but I didn't so, forgive me, I had to work it into the text somehow.

The Bad
Well, when I reviewed Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome I moaned that the cinematography in that one, utilising lots of camera movement, was out of keeping with the often static shot set ups of the original two films. Alas, this film embraces that kind of moving camera vibe to it all the way through... but I think I can forgive it somewhat because, for one thing, it’s more or less just one long action sequence and so moving camera is appropriate. Also, like I said, modern action cinema is a different beast to the celluloid milieu that Miller was filming in back in the 1970s and 1980s and, though I prefer that slower approach to film, I can’t fault Miller’s choice to go with what he’s done here.

The Ugly
Okay... so there’s been a lot of talk about where this film fits into the original chronology, with even George Miller citing it as a reboot. That being said, I think it’s obvious, to me anyway, that it’s a natural sequel to the third movie and takes place after that. More or less the same opening explanation (and footage) of the current state of the post-apocalyptic future our main hero finds himself in that graced the opening of the second movie, in most prints, is used here. But the character still has his leg brace due to wounds received in the first movie, he still has the iconic jacket with the left arm now stitched up where it was torn and he has long hair like he did in the third movie at the start of this one... so I reckon it’s just a natural sequel, The thing that did confuse me were the constant, dream-state flashbacks to people in his past, his family apparently, who didn’t look or sound anything like that in the original movie. So that’s kind of confusing.

All said and done, Miller carries on the films with what is, ostensibly, a wagon train Western that has various nasty bad guy elements representing the chasing Indians and Max, Furiosa and their crew as the good old cowboys of the piece. Junkie XL’s score is noisy but serviceable, even though it’s not in keeping with either of the composers who scored the original trilogy, and there’s also a character relationship between Max and a ‘bad guy turns good guy’ which holds a similar dynamic as that between Max and the Gyro Captain in the second movie... so that’s a nice bit of character building stylistic continuity for you, if you are looking out for that kind of stuff... and much more convincing than the cheap audio/visual echo of the music box from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, which has been almost half heartedly, it seemed to me, inserted into the film to check a box.

All in all, it’s not the best of the Mad Max movies (I’d rate it second or third best, although I can’t quite figure out my preferred order of that one just yet) but it’s certainly not a bad film and it’s way better than Mad Max: Bungee Jump Dome... so there’s that. I was certainly entertained by it a fair bit, even if I was a tad disappointed in the overwhelming emphasis on the spectacle of modern action cinema. However, I’m really glad it’s getting such rave, if somewhat baffling to me, reviews and I think it’s a nice pay off for Miller who really deserves this success. It’s certainly a film I’ll be revisiting again on Blu Ray in the next year or two and I think most people will be behind this one. And they’ll get no arguments from me.

Mad Max @ NUTS4R2
Mad Max
Mad Max 2 - The Road Warrior
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max: Fury Road

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