Mad M4X – Fury Road (2015)
Mirror, signal, maneuver is a safety mantra which should be remodeled as mangle, slaughter, and massacre in the hotly anticipated Mad M4X Fury Road, the incandescently awaited return to one of the 1980’s most memorable action SF franchises. Thundering over the horizon like a horde of devil possessed Ferrari’s this thirty years in the making return to the scorching badlands of Australia has blazed astonishing levels of anticipation, following a fleet of trailers which raised expectations to feverish levels of excitement. You know the circuit by now of course, as some unspecified catastrophe has caused society to collapse, and pure primitive survival rests on the acquisition and maintenance of increasingly dwindling resources – gasoline, water, food and in this latest installment, (ahem) unimpregnated vaginas. In this Ayn Rand anarchist hell-scape wanders the stoic samurai Max Rockatansky, Tom Hardy admirably fulfilling the octane oozing breeches of Mel Gibson’s breakthrough role, although director George Miller has a very canny ace up his sleeve with this one – this is less a Mad Max picture than a film in which Mad Max appears, as Charlize Theron’s wonderfully monikered Imperator Furiosa is the real star of this blistering blitzkrieg which boils under an unforgiving sun.
Am I the world’s biggest Mad Max fan? No, but as a huge fan of dystopian SF and well crafted action carnage I was thoroughly looking forward to this, so I’m relived to report that Fury Road delivers the goods with a corybantic inventiveness on just about every level. The second Mad Max film is one of the greatest action films ever made, I think we can all agree on that in terms of sheer chutzpah, creative havoc and practical execution, with enough pathos and panting excitement to fuel a dozen Burning Man festival narcotic budgets. Fury Road equals and maybe surpasses that movies resonant cult movie intoxication, although I think another pass is required to properly assess its achievements as I’m still in something of a daze from this afternoon’s initial test drive. Like Scorsese effortlessly showing the kids how you make a devilishly fast, degrading vision of modern debauchery in Wolf Of Wall Street the 70-year-old George Miller knocks Michael Bay’s exploding dick in the dirt, with a jaw-dropping spectacle that houses more genuine cardiac inducing thrills in one second of footage than the entire Transformers (an easy target but here we are) franchise combined. This is a two-hour chase movie with a smattering of linking pauses for breath, before the engines roar and we’re off on another onslaught into this wonderfully detailed and imagined future world.
Perhaps most rewarding is the subtext spinning among the retinal and aural assault, this is a movie which accelerates past the Bechtel Test curve into the canyons of feminist action masterpiece, I mean anything which has these total fucktards whining for attention has to be applauded. The very fact that women are a tradable commodity is a political statement which the SF setting neatly secretes, and crucially Furiosa is an equal in agency and ability to the titular Max, even equipped with a phallic castration which is never explained or referenced – a mechanical arm. The entire plot is engineered around her mission to secretly transport a harem of the villains multiple wives from his patriarchal oppression to an Eden allegorical ‘green land’, with fertility symbols and themes aligned with Millers exquisite testosterone direction. With the physical dexterity of his Cirque du Soleil performers he balances coverage and cuts between space, reaction and effect, hopefully obliterating that chaos cinema paradigm which has obsessed action movie mechanics for far too long. Co-writer UK comic artist Brendan McCarthy is the other scientist giggling under the chassis, it’s his frenzied imagination which clutters the screen with a rich and textured vision of a world gone wild, one reason alone which will demand repeated viewings to soak in his lunatic cognition. The leeching of resources has shifted to Mephistophelian levels in Fury Road, with albino drones scuttling over the environment empowered by the hemoglobin nourishment of their captured vassals, when they’re not huffing chrome amyl nitrate dispensers that is. Yup, like I said, this is Pretty. Fucking. Mental.
The commitment to practical effects works absolute adrenalized dividends, with a genuine heft and weight to the insane stunt work, quite frankly it’s a miracle that no-one was hurt and that $150 million budget must have caused as much consternation among the Warner Brothers brass as the nuclear level warning Health & Safety assessments. When people are dispatched under the wheels of indiscriminate crushing vehicles or impaled on improvised melee weapons there is a genuine urgency and threat to proceedings, and I frequently found myself muttering ‘wow’ as I mentally ducked under the 3D debris hurtling from the screen. The film was shot in the acrid climate of Namibia with hundreds of crew members battling the elements and environment for months on end, and one can only imagine that like the Apocalypse Now shoot the crew and principals went slowly insane due to the deranged imaginations roaring through the African wastelands. I also loved the art design reminiscent of Lynch’s Dune, the depraved & degraded industrial decay of the film, not just the tints and filters of John Seale’s chromatic cinematography (Miller coaxed him out of retirement to shoot this and what a finale to a terrific career) but the shift of gears through locations and set-pieces, the violent tactics required to commander a moving battletruck through a phalanx of explosives, manpower, and sheer suicidal determination.
Who remembers Car Wars eh? Just thought I’d throw that in here for some of you old school tabletop RPG renegades. I realize this review is all over the place but that’s my breathless reaction, I was expecting and praying for something special which was mostly fulfilled. I do have some minor gripes however, contrarian that I can be. The opening was a little rushed and you don’t get much of an idea of Max’s back story or his psychologically sparring hallucinations, the shifting allegiances of Nicholas Hoult’s Nux character was roadkill in the back mirror of the detonating narrative, and the various tribes of competing combatants aren’t particularly well delineated, but as I said another viewing might dispel these minor concerns. Quite apart from the sheer, rollercoaster spectacle I just loved the thought and consideration that Miller and his team has blessed upon this sparse and chaotic microcosm, reckoning that in a social vacuum vehicles would become fetishized and worshipped likes religious relics, as medieval ideologies would emerge from the rubble of a post cataclysm environment to give some illusory function to the daily grind of survival. Also, just to add to the jaded, disgruntled chorus of movie fans exhausted with CGI holography and the effortless dismantling of pixelated goons a return to the sheer, grime soaked physicality of cinema is a refreshing bend in the road, arriving hard on the heels of Age Of Ultron the gauntlet has well and truly been hurled down for the next Mission Impossible and Jurassic Park episodes, not to mention a certain space opera revival which we’re all excited to see. Filmmakers of my generation such as Richard Kelly and Ti West have been pontificating on Twitter that Fury Road is the greatest action movie since Terminator II, although I think they may have forgotten the ground breaking nature of the first Matrix movie I partially agree, and it’s certainly among the best action movies of the millennium. A lovely day indeed;