MAD MAX, FURY Road is a visual masterpiece; it’s simply spectacular.
In a brown sand-drowned, post-apocalyptic, lifeless world, wild-eyed, heavily armed feral hordes, fed on breast milk and blood, drive vast surreal machines to the sound of thumping drums and heavy metal, in search of enemies of the state. The vast wasteland they all inhabit is a world that looks like the crazed spawn of Julie Tamor and Peter Jackson after a night of bad acid and wild delirium.
Every now and again, a movie comes along that puts a strong visual stamp, an imaginative leap, that helps stake out territory that will be the roadmap for generations of future imitators. Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner movies did this, as did Spielberg’s CGI leap forward with “Jurassic Park”, the slo-mo swirling bullet trails of “The Matrix”, Peter Jackson’s fantastic take on “The Lord of the Rings”, Ang Li’s “Life of Pi” etc.
George Miller (whose last major movies, would you believe, were “Happy Feet Two” and “Babe: Pig in the City”; he also did the original “Mad Max” back in 1979) has brought us a visual confection whose ‘real-ness’ makes the usual super-hero action flix look silly and artificial. In particular the recent “Avengers; Age of Ultron” really does seem to be little more than an animated, and respectful comic book when compared with this hyped up, adrenalin junkie extravaganza. Miller manages to convey the impression that all the action, all the exploding vehicles, all the whirling flying bodies is real; there’s no trace of the falseness you get from Marvel’s invincible super-heroes.
In his stoned dream of the future, there are three basic tribes: the dense faceless half starved, water-deprived masses (which sounds like LA by next month), a ruling class of whacko zombie-like blood-lusting men; and the women-folk: now reduced to the role of bovine milk suppliers or breeders for the men. Into this we find Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) who has just been chased down, captured and, lashed like a hood ornament to the front of one of the hundreds of war machines that bounce up and down the sandy dunes of the future, has become a blood-donor slave. And somewhere, out there, veering off her prescribed course is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a close cropped, one-armed division leader leading a small convoy of rebels who have recently rescued a group of (attractive, scantily clad breeders) and is speeding away in search of “the Green Place” (Gatsby’s “green light”?).
What little story there is concerns the alignment of Furiosa with Max and their explosive flight away from the evil masked despot, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe throws everything at them: various booby traps, exploding spears wielded by men on swaying poles, machine guns, kamakazi armoured rigs that explode on contact, in a relentless choreography of operatic death and destruction that never dies down for two heart racing hours. They’re driven on by what seems to be a troupe of Japanese drummers led by a prancing, hyperventilating, heavily amped guitarist, the Doof Warrior (one iOTA, an Australian singer/songwriter who made his name as Hedwig, he/she of the Agry inch).
It isn’t just Max that’s mad; it’s the whole damned lot of them, starting with Miller and his production wizards: Colin Gibson (“Babe”), production designer, John Seale (“Cold Mountain”, “The Tourist”), cinematographer, Shira Hockman (“Defiance”, “Hotel Rwanda”) and Jacinta Leong (“The Matrix”, “Star Wards, Episode III”) art directors, and Jenny Beavan (“The King’s Speech” and “Sherlock Homes”), costume designer.
And amidst all this kinetic overstimulation rises Charlize’s performance. As Imperator Furiosa, her eyes shine through a visage mainly smeared with oil slick and sand. She’s by turns fearlessly badass without becoming a cartoon and mournful without becoming maudlin. In all the noise and mayhem, she’s often a presence of stoic calm. Frankly if you wanted to put your trust in someone to rescue you, you’d give it to her well ahead of rough tough Mad Max.
This is probably the most feminist movie around
As Max, Tom Hardy is a muscled, macho, taciturn fighting machine with demons of the past he’s trying to face down. This is of course his movie but he pales into the background every time Chalize appears on the screen (mind you, for me, pretty much everyone pales into the background when Charlize appears on any screen). And as Miller plans (as he’s probably doing even now) his sequel to this world of madness and mania, let’s hope the Imperator Furiosa is still part of the action.