Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

"The men - who are they?"
-The women in Mad Max: Fury Road-
"Max. My name is Max. That's my name."
-Max, reminding us in the end that this is actually his film-

He's not brilliant, prolific Ridley Scott. But he is Australian director George fucking Miller. You have to put the emphasis on fucking because that is the kind of jaw-dropping vehicular action on screen for Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) on full display from the mind of George fucking Miller. Okay, enough profanity. But this is like an electric car lovers nightmare! Those Smart cars wouldn't have a prayer.

Seriously though, the creation of Mad Max and it's associative mythology is nothing short of a masterstroke of pure genius, a brilliant creation that seems to tap into man's fears of the future. The idea of Mad Max, a representation of man facing the unknown, a symbol of survival turned out to be a brilliant moment from the mind of Miller something akin to the creation of the light bulb or the microwave. In film, the idea of Mad Max, born of that beautiful Miller mind, has remained something of an iconic, magical moment that has endured and stood the test of time.

Following three unforgettable films, arguably one of cinema's best trilogies, Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Mad Max, Mel Gibson's embodiment of that character and George Miller went to sleep for a time. *// At age 70 George Miller returns thirty years after Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome to reawaken the hero firing on all cylinders mentally and physically with more springs in his step than a tricked out Mad Max vehicle.

How do men like George Miller and Ridley Scott do it? These geniuses have more piss and vinegar than a lazy teenager.

Who knew Mad Max would become the legend it is today? Who knew this franchise would be the powerhouse it remains? It's living proof that vision and passion matter.

Miller has had an interesting career. It certainly lacks the abundance of classic films that have been left in the wake of someone like Ridley Scott, yet Miller's Mad Max series remains as fertile, energized and vital as anything made by Scott. The series ranks up there with the likes of Alien. Miller has just made his mark with one visionary character and universe, but what a character he is and what a world it is.

Apart from Babe (1995) and Happy Feet (2006), two fine films, Miller notably directed the recreated segment, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). He directed The Witches Of Eastwick (1987). He was a producer on two excellent films, The Year My Voice Broke (1987; Noah Taylor's breakout) and Dead Calm (1989). But generally speaking, and while I adore the film Babe, can you believe the man behind Mad Max is the same man who directed two films about a pig and a penguin? Four if you include the sequels? I mean it's just bloody stunning and phenomenal really.

My hero worship for Miller will end here.

What about the film? What were my overall impressions? Mad Max: Fury Road, to use a clichéd expression, is not your daddy's Mad Max. It's really not. I was there. Nevertheless, it's still amazing and spectacular, high octane, rip-roaring apocalyptic road stuff of the tallest order, maybe even more than the originals in that way. But Mad Max: Fury Road felt a little different to me. And that can be a fine thing. It was clearly a new Mad Max for a new generation and one that fully embraces its female population in that group.

Word on the street, a minor blip, is that Men's activist groups have taken issue with the film. I found that fascinating not because of why but because I just had no idea there were men's activist groups out there. There are gay rights groups, women's movements, the ACLU, LGBT activists and the list goes on, but a man's group. Wow, where have I been? They have a group for everything don't they?

But yes Mad Max: Fury Road is Miller taking the series into a brand new direction with a strong female component and message that is indeed underscored through a band of certified hotties (no offense but they were) protected by Max and a red hot (performance) by Charlize Theron as Furiosa. Despite all the evidence (perhaps the film's title) Mad Max is the title character, Charlize Theron's character really sort of hijacks the film from Max a bit. It's very much her film. I don't want to say the Max factor is a non-factor, but at times I was yearning for a bit more manly Max. Furiosa is a terrific character, but it's not Mad Furiosa, but then it is Furiosa's Road, so maybe. It's very much a shared film.

Hardy is a great Mad Max. I enjoyed him in the role, but if I'm to be completely honest Mel Gibson will always be the best. Gibson was a stronger presence on the screen (I was secretly hoping to see him for a cameo). He was a star even before he became the star he would be. He had charisma to spare and Gibson owned the role creating the ultimate Mad Max. That honor is secured in my opinion. That's not to say Hardy's psychologically tortured Max wasn't solid in the part or that I wouldn't want to see him return. But Gibson is simply the best Mad Max on record for me. Ironically, it seemed he really went mad for the Martin Briggs role in Lethal Weapon more than the Max character. I guess that's the irony of Mad Max. But the character always seemed less about being mad than about potentially going mad as a result of the loss and suffering. It was about a man on the edge. As Max points out to Furiosa in the film in one of his shining moments, "If you can fix what's broken you'll go insane."

Max is a character graced with very little dialogue and Gibson's physical presence in the part was truly magic on the screen. Hardy comes close to it and certainly looks the part.

I saw this film with my daughter and to be honest I was quite envious of her. She loved the film and she had no baggage in her mind weighing this film in juxtaposition against three certified Gibson classics. That's a nice place to be for a film like Mad Max: Fury Road. There wasn't a constant compare and contrast for her to contend with emotionally or mentally. That's the hard part for us old timers. I mean it's tough when you've witnessed the best in Gibson in action. We make every effort to take in a work of art, absorb it and accept on its own terms, but it is difficult not to exclude information you already have. You're human. You can't erase it from memory. It impacts your perception and view of things.

For Miller's new Mad Max: Fury Road in the new world there is indeed a strong message here with regard to women and the future. For starters, the women are kept chaste by metallic teeth covering their female genitals. There's even a moment where Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (ugh) is about to give birth as bullet shells rain down upon her pregnant belly. This is clearly the future. The image reinforces the theme of reproductive rights and the fact life-affirming women are forced to give birth into a violent, male-dominated world run roughshod by radicals and sycophants. This is a frightening reality today. The future is essentially now.

Female empowerment is underscored with moments of gun-toting, bomb throwing, head-butting females that kick ass across the outback. Just like Ripley, these girls can play the game and win and lead. It's not a new message. It's been around, but rarely has it been quite as pronounced as it is here in Mad Max: Fury Road. Films like Sucker Punch (2011) similarly offer the idea of women matching men toe to toe and overcoming their male overlords. Other films like A Handmaid's Tale (1990) and others films offer depictions of male dominance. Mad Max: Fury Road, like all of the Mad Max films, is less steeped in fantasy and offers a harsh potential future for man and womankind. It's a gritty and sobering depiction of what's at stake in a world ruled by chaos (and men). Such a depiction was inverted a bit for Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Barter town ruled by female powerhouse Auntie Entity. But in the world of Mad Max where civilization has been destroyed there are no exact rules and Mad Max: Fury Road offers a glimpse of another outcome in another section of the barren wasteland.

So Max gets a bit of the short shrift in this film, but only slightly. The one and only Mad Max feels slightly second fiddle here. The feminine component to the film is indeed a powerful one. The idea of the human race subjugating its females is nearly as potent as the car chases themselves. It's also a message women will likely respond to especially in 2015.

On a more positive note of reflection in both Max and Furiosa's story, the two lead protagonists essentially merge the idea of men and women ultimately needing and desiring one another. We can't go it alone. The two sexes are not nor should they be mutually exclusive as some might believe. Together, a man and woman, the characters of Max and Furiosa find redemption, hope and life ultimately together. It's amazing when men and women form alliances what can be achieved and how quickly they are willing to do it (following a good smack down). But men and women are at their best working together. And together Max and Furiosa do have something to fix and redeem themselves. Just as Max warned, handling personal pain speaks directly to our mental stability.

The women too believe in a "tomorrow-morrow land" like the children of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in "the green place." But like many of these fictions these things are representations of hope and symbolize our own efforts to survive.

But beyond the subtext and messaging prevent Mad Max: Fury Road must be experienced on a big screen. This film is certainly an all-out, balls to the wall actioner with two significant road sequences. It lacks some of the quieter moments of the earlier Max films instead deferring to much sound and fury for two hours.

But the insanity is vibrantly choreographed and staged with oranges, reds and blues. The use of color is positively popping to the eye. Each and every scene is chock full of information and filled with human oddities, weirdoes and live action mecha colliding in a swirl of truly gorgeous destruction emphasized by that edge of Aussie weird.

Even if I hadn't seen Mad Max: Fury Road, the trailer essentially works as a slam dunk tease for the kind of experience you will enjoy on the big screen. Even if Miller never made another Mad Max film, his trilogy and everything he imagines culminates and explodes on screen in this magnificently thrilling reboot which puts every single idea and visual on screen in two glorious, pulse-pounding hours.

Will it have the kind of repeat power that the previous films had for me? We'll see. The silent, dark subtext felt deeper to me in those earlier films. I'm not sure I felt the same way here in that regard but it absolutely leaves an impression.

Hardy noted his dialogue could fit on one page. Miller stays true to character in this way. Max is a physical specimen. He has charisma and presence and guides us through the sheer power of physical performance. Gibson was a gem in this manner, but Hardy is an equally strong casting choice. Tina Turner once sang We Don't Need Another Hero, but whether it's in the post-apocalypse or today, we need heroes like Max more than ever.

If you visit this site you know I don't normally swear for emphasis, but Mad Max: Fury Road deserves all the emphasis it gets and so does George Miller for this high quality effort. The film and director deliver car after exploding car, truck after exploding truck, vehicle combinations and attacks you never dreamed of and that massive War Rig in a carnival of road mayhem that is brought to life by a bulk of practical visual effects! That aspect and promise of Mad Max: Fury Road is very fucking awesome!

You'd think Miller might have missed a beat in thirty years, but with the return of Mad Max: Fury Road it's clear Miller is right at home on that road firing those cylinders. Not only hasn't he lost his touch, but he brings with the ferocious fourth entry new ideas and yet another new direction. It's as if knowing Miller had the weight of years at his back from studio to fan support he was able to realize a vision he always wanted with no obstructions and no limitations. Letting loose with the pedal to the metal, may long live the Mad Max franchise.

I was there in a theatre relatively well-attended by a mix of men and women - some women entirely on their own. I surprised my daughter. I got her in that seat and she was not aware of the film she was going to see. She was attempting to determine our selection by the attendees in the house. Alas, the high volume of female attendants had kept her from determining she was about to see her very first Mad Max film.

These are our two tickets and you'll notice some red pen mark as I furiously wrote down thoughts and ideas on a little Rite Aid note pad in the darkened theatre. I managed to write on myself also. I think I may have even stabbed myself with the Pilot pen. My daughter was very amused and decided taking pictures of me doing my pre-blogging ritual was great material for her and her friends. She really has no appreciation for just how cool I am.


le0pard13 said...

Isn't this great? Loved it, and will be taking the whole family to see this weekend! Fine write-up, G. One of my favorites of the year!

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks M
Yes, it is. Maybe I'm desensitized but for Rated R it's not too bad despite the carnage and destruction. That sounds kind of funny but true.

I really surprised my daughter she had no idea but she really enjoyed it.

I had her thinking Age Of Adeline, Avengers or Furious 7.

I've never surprised anyone. I wouldn't even let her look at the movie sign because I didn't want her to probe and guess. She's a smart one.