Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

We do not, strictly speaking, need another Mad Max movie, but we have one and what a pleasure it is. Fury Road is a superb piece of work, both for the kinetic energy of its action sequences and for the way it serves as a corrective to years of dull, male-centered action blockbusters. Director George Miller’s vision of a post-civilized world seems to have deepened in the thirty years since the last film in the series. Where Mel Gibson’s Max lived in a world where oil was the most valuable commodity, here Max (Tom Hardy) hangs on as a haunted man in a blasted out world where (as the portentous opening voice over tells us) the only object is to survive.. The world of Fury Road is ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a grotesque sort of human Jabba the Hutt who doles natural resources out to an increasingly desperate population. After Max is captured by Joe’s men the film proper begins with the introduction of Furiosa (Charlize Theron, giving the definitive female action badass perfomance). Furiosa’s job is to bring gasoline back from an outpost, but she decides to prick Joe in his one vulnerable spot by kidnapping the five young women who serve as Joe’s chance to conceive a male heir.

Furiosa wants to take the young women to “The Green Place”, where they will be out of Joe’s reach and have a chance to safely continue humanity. The bulk of Fury Road involves the women fleeing Joe’s army across barren landscape with Max along as an ally after escaping his duty as a “blood bag” to Joe’s man Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max and Furiosa don’t say much to each other, but why should they have to? We never know how Max’s feels about Furiosa’s agenda but what unites them is the simple objective of survival. Someone looking for a flaw in Fury Road might say that Max isn’t a character as much as a symbol of an outmoded value system. Hardy might be a little too private school for the role, but he’s physically right and there’s so much else going on that it doesn’t matter. The vehicles that most of the film takes place in spin, and clang, and crash like real objects in space, and we’re always clear on where all the key players are in the frame. In the years since the last Mad Max film George Miller directed films like Babe and Happy Feet, but he seems to have lost none of his feel for action.

As much as the cinematic elements of Fury Road deserve celebration, the film is first and most surprisingly a story about What We Do to Women. The five young women under Furiosa’s protection are played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton. Their names are worth listing because it’s important to know whose story Miller is telling. The film evokes a time when women were more than just baby machines, most notably with the introduction of a wonderful group of older women who join Max and Furiosa. (Melissa Jaffer is a standout as a sharpshooter) Anchoring it all is Charlize Theron, who has never been more of a physical presence than she is here and who has rarely been asked to keep such depth of emotion under the surface. Theron is without question the star of Fury Road and the last shot of the film suggests that her work isn’t finished. In its feminism and its stripping away of affectation, Fury Road is an action film for this moment to a shocking degree. In Charlize Theron, George Miller has found the right actor to make sure that the moment lives on.

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