MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Prepare your eyeballs, eardrums and psyche for more than a mere pummeling… get ready to have them shredded!
I'm a life-long devotee of George Miller's Australian Mad Max trilogy, especially the mythology of the original and The Road Warrior sequel, its 3rd installment (Beyond Thunderdome) had its moments, but never really felt like a legitimate part of the series (the hardcore approach of the previous ones toned down, almost making it family viewing… Tina Turner as the villain, and her hit title pop song?!). With Fury Road it's back on form - in overdrive!
Around the time of the first Mad Max release in 1979, I got to see it for the first time during school holidays at the drive-in (at around 10 years old). It was a brand new Western with cars and motorcycles in stead of horses, the leather clad sheriff taking on an entire gang (who killed his family). Even though it was censored in some parts, it made an indelible impression on my brothers and I, and with its (even better) follow-up The Road Warrior, remains in my cult favourites.
And of course Max's V8 Interceptor car! (that makes an appearance in Fury Road). As a kid this was just the pure embodiment of power. We had the movie poster and eventually after many rentals at the video store bought it on VHS (the original one with its Aussie soundtrack of course, not the American dubbed version).
Fury Road is set in a gritty, brutal post-apocalyptic wasteland (so well established in the second chapter of the series), the world has fallen into anarchy with all resources short, especially petrol and water. Survivors have been divided into tribal factions, killing to stay alive. And those who wield enough force, rule. In Mad Max the head bad guy was the unforgettable Toecutter, in the Road Warrior it was the legendary Lord Humungus, in Thunderdome, the less convincing Auntie Entity, and here, Immortan Joe. Stuff like this simply thrills me - Hugh Keays Byrne who marvelously portrayed the bike gang leader Toecutter returns to take the role of lead villain Immortan Joe here in Fury Road!
With mountain peaks in the desert converted to his own fortress where he breeds an army of psychotic warriors, like dictators and land owners of the dark ages, he holds all the resources and controls the (peasant) population stuck in the barren dust fields by allowing them limited access to water in this arid landscape. But, his godlike authority is challenged when an assertive woman driver, Imperator Furiosa attempts to flee with a group of beautiful girls during a convoy, Joe's top breeders (also like the unforgiving animal kingdom, the alpha male monopolizes his position as sole procreator).
After a quick intro to set the scene of this fucked-up world, Max is captured and ends up on another fateful collision course, reluctantly teaming up with Furiosa, all Joe's dogs of war on their trail. The result is an explosive ride of metal crunching intensity, psychotic characters, speed, fire, and death!
The visual chaos and absolute relentless barrage you witness as these flawed and hardboiled characters fight for survival in a race for their lives (and dignity), is an invigorating blast, and almost flawlessly executed. The energy on the screen radiates into the audience and blast out the back of your head.
Letting the man who completely changed the game with automobile chaos since the first low budget Mad Max movie over 35 years ago loose with a ridiculous budget and means to fulfill his vision without restriction, the four wheel mayhem is off the chart, making the TV-ad slick posing and posturing of the over-stylized Fast & Furious movies look flat and frivolous!
Enhancing this sensory experience is the soundtrack. I lost touch with the musical career of Junkie XL aka Tom Holkenborg (dropping off my radar after his first breakthrough '97 album Saturday Teenage Kick and Elvis remix), but saw a Facebook re-post about his Fury Road involvement. What he did here was create an epic orchestral / industrial percussive eruption that contributes greatly in grabbing you by the head and scraping your face along the flaking asphalt at top speed. I love a good blend of electronic and organic music, and Junkie XL certainly has it down, hitting hard - but having phenomenal visuals to work with certainly helps!
The intense sound effects & -design together with the musical score accompaniment in Fury Road is sometimes so overwhelming that you struggle to grab mid-action dialogue. But as with the previous installments, the basic premise of fighting the enemy to survive is what it boils down to, and the established world with its hierarchy, norms and brutal culture (you happened to walk in on) reveals itself visually.
While I'm hoping you're itching to see this, without bringing things down, there are some cringe-inducing and silly bits (like the guitar guy strapped to the front of a truck stacked with drummers to urge on the attack), but that's hardly a reason to skip this movie(!). And the child flashbacks serve their purpose, but feel forced.
Another issue some have been concerned about is the damage that 6 months of shooting has rendered the Namibian desert ecosystem… But when you look at joy riders doing this without reparation, does the tens of millions of dollars pumped into the Namibian economy, job creation and taxes by the production balance out? Will the government put some of these earnings into rehab of the area? I guess time will tell.
Then some morons insecure with their own manhood had been complaining that this is a blatant feminist movie… shame, poor dickheads! So what if it is? Aren't women brutalized enough in movies on a daily basis? The fact that your shriveled nuts get threatened by a movie where a strong female character takes direct action to bring an end to forceful sex slavery, is quite embarrassing, and it's baffling that some idiots actually came out saying what they did. (And having this female character portrayed by our South African born Charlize Theron calls for added pride)
As expected, Tom Hardy handles himself well as Max, with the minimal dialog (just like The Road Warrior) as a supporting (yet intense) character - without him, they could not succeed. Yet, I couldn't help but think they should've had Mel Gibson reprise his role… If Harrison Ford can still be Indiana Jones and Han Solo in his 60s / 70s…! However, Mel was originally attached many years back, but I guess he's burned more than his share of a few bridges…
As I'm writing this I realize, did this new Max have his limp (from the gunshot damage he received in the ambush by Bubba Zanetti in the first movie?!) Details, details!
Fury Road was naturally made so viewers who hadn't seen the first three movies can get into it as a standalone flick - most 20- & 30-somethings not born when the first trilogy came out! I was gobsmacked to hear Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show (with Charlize Theron as guest the week of Fury Road's release) say that he'd never seen the original - That's like saying you've never seen Citizen Kane!… Okay, maybe Eraserhead or E.T. (If you haven't seen any of these, best you get cracking!)
Naturally this had to be enhanced for 3D, but while a few moments were effective, as a whole I would've preferred watching it in 2D and rather have a brighter picture.
On my way to the screening I joked in my anticipation that I hope Fury Road will be more Toecutter and Lord Humungus than Babe and Happy Feet… That said, these movies (all director by Miller) may seem polar opposites, but at the heart they all deal with an underdog / reluctant hero who rises to the occasion to save the day, the core of most movie storytelling (and I did enjoy the latter two movies that seem like kids' flicks on the surface, but harbour far more than usual mainstream Disney fare).
6 / A
5 - Blistering
4 - Hot
3 - Smolder
2 - Room Temperature
1 - Fizzled
0 - Extinguished