Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Film Review: Mad Max. Fury Road (2015)

Nuclear holocausts have been a staple of discouraging cinema for decades, yet somehow they just seem so… fun.  The thought experiment of what would arise from the ashes of Mutually Assured Destruction has preoccupied filmmakers since only a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet the apocalypticaphilia continues to perpetually reinvent itself.

More of an alternate reality offshoot than a sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road reinvents the franchise with Max (Tom Hardy) being captured by the War Boys – the neo-steam punk army of local tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) – and taken back to The Citadel to be used as a “blood bag” for the sickly driver Nix (Nicholas Hoult). 

Meanwhile, loyal lieutenant Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has re-routed a routine gasoline mission in the armored War-Rig, into becoming a maverick escape for Joe’s five specially selected breeding ‘wives’.  On hearing of the betrayal, Joe sends the War Boys – including Max strapped to his Nux’s car for blood transfusion – after the truck and his prized childbearing wives. 

After Furiosa escapes the army in a sandstorm, the only War Boy insane enough to follow is Nux, which inevitably leads to Max’s chance to overpower him and (reluctantly) join Furiosa in her bid for freedom for the women to the utopian ‘Green Place’.

Although awarded the eponymy of the title, Max is not really the protagonist of Fury Road – Furiosa is the character (literally) driving the narrative forward.  Her craving for freedom for her fellow women, and then her inevitable lust for revenge, dominates the plot of the film.  Max is really just a convenient catalyst to revitalize the franchise.  Having said that, Hardy plays the role with a riveting, aloof anger.

The imagery of the berserk War Boys in full loaded march across the apocalyptic desert outback is surely one of the most impressive cinematic sights of 2015.  The combination of John Seale’s cinematography and Colin Gibson’s production design creates arresting chase sequences unlike any action set pieces concocted by Marvel et al.  (Apparently, editor Margaret Sixel had 480hours of footage from a dozen cameras to try and reduce to two...) The swarm of modified sand buggies and insane marauders, with their very own in-house blind heavy metal maniac playing his guitar atop a fortified lorry, is relentless and breathtaking.

The onslaught of barbed metal, smoke, burning rubber, flames and weaponry make Fury Road one of the most visually brutal films of the decade – not because of violence and gore but because of the ugly intensity of the industrial iconography.  This plus the barbarity of the War Boys create a simply hypnotic dystopia.  The original Mad Max (1979) was also set in a morose dystopia, but at least they have the remnants of a highway patrol…

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