Thursday, 28 May 2015

Film Review | Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Summer has officially started - and in what better form than a two-hour carnage of a car chase.

I saw Age of Ultron last week which I assumed would give me that summer blockbuster rush like I had when the first Avengers came out - but it didn't. Not at all. In all honesty, it's gotten to the point with Marvel now that the only film I remotely care about/adore in its canon is Guardians of the Galaxy - because it didn't feel like a Marvel movie. It's become the same routine of a bunch of origin stories and sequels leading up to the 'big film' - whereas Guardians were the big film. It set its own standard right off the bat, which made my summer last year.

Anyway, enough of Marvel. What we have here isn't just the best film of this summer. Not just the best film of 2015. Not even the best film of this decade. I can honestly say that Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action film to ever grace the cinematic screen since 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Mad Max: Fury Road is directed by George Miller and stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne. Fury Road is the fourth installment of Miller's Mad Max franchise, 30 years' successor to the last film in the series - Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

Fury Road is set in a future nuclear fallout/apocalyptic wasteland in which civilization has collapsed. Resulting in everyday commodities such as gasoline and water becoming scarce and towns such as Citadel, Gas Town (both of which house water and gasoline respectively) and Bullet Town keeping certain commodities to themselves. Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself captured by the War Boys - a cult lead by Citadel's leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max eventually escapes with one of the War Boys in tow - Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who drives off course in an armoured War Rig - to originally collect gasoline - with Joe's five wives on board to save them from captivity under Joe and the War Boys.

Miller manages to encapsulate the best pacing throughout this entire movie that I haven't seen in a long time. For me, I have to be really engaged with a film. Especially if it's a film that lasts two or more hours because I tend to zone out if it can't hold my attention for that period. Which I guess is film's subtle way of telling me that I have a short attention span. 

Fury Road was so fast paced, which lent itself to most of the film is a car chase. Which I don't think I've ever seen been done in film before. There were times watching it where it would dawn on me that I'd just spent the last half hour watching vehicle after vehicle chasing each other across the barren wastelands of a desert. But it was so fast paced to the point that when the film slowed to certain sequences - such as the desolate desert and when Furiosa believes she's near her hometown - I sat there thinking c'mon, get back to the chase. The first hour of the film gives you so much adrenaline, along with the last 20 minutes that it leads to these sequences dragging on for a little too long at times. But the action before or after make up for it.  

The pace had nothing on the visuals. Just the opening shot of Fury Road had me completely flawed. The combination of the saturated tones of the colour corrector and the sheer amount of space surrounding Max had me flawed. It's similar to how Paul Thomas Anderson uses certain tones of colour in Inherent Vice not only to lend to the time that the story is set in but to give you a sense of what it feels like for the characters to be there. The rich, saturated tones of oranges, blues and reds lent to you literally feel the heat of the wasteland throughout the film. And it's not just the day shots, but the night shots as well that were cast with an ethereal, ice blue contrasting not only to the colours that were previously on screen but the temperature of the wasteland at night for the characters. 

From a logistical standpoint, I have been praying for a film to come out in recent years that finally got rid of the reliance on CGI. Miller makes the film seem so much more authentic without the overbearing power of post-production imagery and shooting on location stunts with real vehicles and skilled stunt men and women. Just think back to Terminator 2 with the T-1000 and a number of practical effects that went into creating the liquid metal formations whenever the cyborg was damaged. What I felt watching that in action is exactly the same way I felt watching the mind-blowing stunts unfold on screen, it just leaves you sitting there wondering how the hell they did half of the stunts, explosions and everything else. I watched an interview with George Miller on VICE recently where he stated the only use of green screen was the toxic dust storm, removing wires from actors and changing the colour of the sky. How many directors put that much effort into these sorts of films nowadays. Not a lot.

It wasn't just the stunts that were complex, but the costumes too. Max still had the style of Gibson's portrayal in the first three films, Furiosa felt like the ultimate road warrior with the shaven head smothered in black grease and the War Boys were downright menacing. But it was Immortan Joe's costume that blew me away entirely. It's disturbing on so many levels, especially at the beginning when he's getting adorned in the plastic shelling but it worked so seamlessly. Especially the mask accompanied with the manic hair. It's such an iconic costume, up there with the likes of The Joker and Darth Vader.

But it was Charlize Theron as Furiosa that stole the show. A lot of people seem to be up in arms about how Furiosa seems to drive the narrative more than Max, which it does in a way but in the first three films, Max is always getting caught up in other people's problems, which he ends up doing in this film.

We're finally given a believable female character in the form of Furiosa. I was talking to someone about Taylor Swift's new video Bad Blood the other day and how it annoys me to such a great length that why is it that for women to be considered badass do we still have to be adorned in tight leather outfits, and still use things like handbags or compact mirrors as weapons and wear heels. Where are the Sarah Connor's and the Ellen Ripley's, why can't we have more of those sorts of women to look up to? That's who I looked up to as a kid and I feel a lot better for it. Which is why I am so relieved that Fury Road now adds Furiosa to that list, as she's able to be extremely badass without being overtly sexualized. Even the five wives that she's saving who ultimately end up helping to save her seem to be introduced in a sexualized manner with the clothing that they wear in the opening scene. But they lose that straight away when Max meets them, not only through them defending each other from Max, but also the loss of the chastity belts. It's never implied what they were 'owned' for other than for breeding purposes, but you can guess from that signifier. 

It's comforting to see such a male dominated universe to be female centric this time around, but that doesn't take away from the stellar performance that Tom Hardy gives in the form of Max. This is the best recast of a film that I've seen in a long time. He still manages to harness that Gibson-esce front, but you can see Hardy's sheer acting prowess through how little dialog Max has in this film. Instead, Hardy makes this work through his talent in conveying Max's emotions through facial and body expressions. You honestly wouldn't have needed the little dialog that he had, which is why Hardy's acting works so well. Especially toward the beginning when he's strapped to the front of the War Boys vehicle whilst he's imprisoned, it ends up being one of Hardy's best performances to date. He doesn't say anything, but you can clearly see his distress and fear at the obstacles coming his way just through his eyes. It's the only thing we have to anchor ourselves to as an audience as the majority of his face is covered up by a mask, and Hardy does so brilliantly.

Fury Road is one of those movies that I can see is a case study in Film Studies in the future. It has so much to offer and analyze, it's a gift. This film is a must-see even if you haven't seen or are not that familiar with the Mad Max franchise. I can tell you that you will be extremely familiar with it once you finish it. You'll want to watch the previous three immediately. I know I want to. Again.  

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