Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - Dir. George Miller

After over a decade in development hell, George Miller has finally brought his vision of the Fury Road to the big screen in all of its exhilarating and rambunctious glory.
Imperator Furiosa leads a breakout from The Citadel and its leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who sets out in pursuit with his army of War-Boys. On board Furiosa’s War Rig are the Five Wives, Immortan Joe’s most prized possessions whom he hopes will deliver him a worthy heir. Reckless War-Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is at the head of the chasing pack with a captive Max Rockatansky along for the ride.

The setup at the Citadel is kept to a minimum, but is packed with fascinating detail that informs later developments, before we are launched onto the fury road amidst the lengthy chase across the apocalyptic wasteland (a.k.a. Namibia) that makes up the rest of the film. This level of detail is also present in the design of the vehicles and particularly the War-Boys, who are based on Japanese kamikaze pilots but undeniable links can be made with 21st century extremists. It’s all a bit bonkers and indeed mad but it’s played out with complete sincerity; this world of chrome spray and engine engravings is normal to them, which is what makes it so crazy to us.
Miller conceived and designed Mad Max: Fury Road as a chase movie and it is during the action sequences that the film is at its most comfortable (the film was storyboarded before it was scripted). The plot is deliberately minimal so as to reduce the need for dialogue; when characters speak, it’s because they have to and not because they need to establish or explain something. The action sequences are magnificently realised and filled with a sense of physicality that has been missing from a majority of recent blockbuster releases. There’s still plenty of (occasionally obvious) CGI and digital trickery involved to bring the set pieces to life and so I’ll stop short of calling it revolutionary, but it is another example of how computers and digital technology are best used to enhance practical techniques instead of replacing them completely.

These visceral action sequences demand physical and determined performances from his cast, led by Tom Hardy as the titular Max and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. Much has been made of Furiosa and the extent of her role, leading to many calling Fury Road a “feminist action film”. She is fierce, determined and undoubtedly central to film’s story and Theron’s performance can stand alongside her very best. However, I don’t quite buy into the idea of Max being a supporting character to Furiosa; both are as integral to the story as each other. Hardy and Theron are co-leads and the evolving relationship between their characters (from antagonistic to reluctant co-operation to supportive) is at the very core of the movie. Max’s arc is perhaps more internal but Hardy manages to convey the wild-eyed insanity largely through movement and gestures; his tendency for odd accents also works well here as his few utterances sound like the mutterings of a mad man. So yes, Fury Road is a feminist action movie in that the character of Furiosa is as equally rich and engaging as Max, but to downplay the importance of Max (and, in the case of some reviews, to reduce the discussion of Hardy to “fine”) does Miller and the film a disservice.

Nicholas Hoult is great too as War-boy Nux, brilliantly handling the transformation from reckless warrior to something approaching a human being; his presence sadly fades away slightly towards the end. The five wives never fully rise above their Macguffin origins and attempts to flesh out their characters feel a little undercooked; only Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s The Splendid Angharad feels integral to the story. The film too begins to run out of steam (or should that be gasoline and oil) in the final stages after the characters make a particular decision. The final chase is never less than exciting but for a film that felt vibrant and unpredictable in the beginning, it feels inevitable and almost perfunctory as the story plays out exactly as the characters discussed it would do. In isolation, the final chase is the most impressive sequence, combining vehicular stunts with hand to hand fights with almost every character involved in some way; in its place in the film, it doesn’t feel distinctive enough.

Ultimately, these are minor quibbles that in no way stop Mad Max: Fury Road from delivering an invigorating roller-coaster ride. It may not be the outright zenith of cinema that many have claimed it to be, but it remains the blockbuster to beat this summer.

Mad Max: Fury Road was released in cinemas on 14th May 2015.

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