Friday, May 15, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: A Bruttally Brilliant Western On Wheels

Now playing at multiplexes everywhere:

(Dir. George Miller, 2015)

Believe the hype. The return of the iconic post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max to the big screen is a brutally brilliant blast - an exhilarating experience that majorly ups the action epic ante for this summer movie season.

After a 30-year absence, series creator George Miller re-ignites the franchise with this fourth entry that while connected to the original trilogy’s spirit, and over-the-top tone, it doesn’t feel like yet another re-boot, remake, or sequel. No, MAX MAX: FURY ROAD feels like a reclaiming of the genre it helped create.

Tom Hardy is a good fit in the role originally played by Mel Gibson of Australian badass Max Rockatansky, who we first meet as he is captured by the War Boys, the white-painted minions of the movie’s tyrannical villain, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Incidentally, Keays-Byrne is the only actor here who appeared in the original 1979 MAD MAX.

Then the movie’s real protagonist bursts on the scene: Charlie Theron with a shaved head covered in grease-smeared war paint, and a CGI-ed mechanical arm, as Imperator Furiosa, Furiosa has rescued Immortan Joe’s five wives , his young, pretty “prized breeders” (all played by supermodels), and is driving them to freedom in her big ass “War Rig,” a heavily armored tanker truck.

Immortan Joe and his War Boy army take off after them, including the sickly Nux (Nicholas Hoult of ABOUT A BOY and X-MEN fame putting in his most scarily invested acting yet) who straps Max to the front of his 5-Door Chevy Coupé outfitted as a war machine (like all the vehicles are in this savage world) so he can continue to use him as a blood bag.

A chaotically compelling chase through a massive sand storm ensues, which allows for Max to escape from Nux, and finally be able to remove the metal grill that’s been locked on his face for a third of the film. After some initial friction, Max joins Furiosa and her bevy of breeder beauties on their journey to what they refer to as “the Green Place.”

Despite some downtime in the blue darkness of nightfall, the movie is essentially an ginormously overblown chase sequence through the infinite, blindingly bright orange desert, but that so isn’t a complaint. Its pace and focus never falters, nor does the explosive impact of its violent visuals.

Wonderfully the 
“western on wheels” that Miller promised, MAD MAD: FURY ROAD is an insanely entertaining experience that tops itself over and over. It’s an orgy of fire-breathing cars, pole-swingers, chainsaws, steampunk thugs, and gas fire explosions all given a heavy metal soundtrack by a masked musician with a flame-throwing electric guitar atop a vehicle piled with amplifiers. Try finding anything like that in another summer blockbuster this year, or any other year mind you.

I haven’t seen any of the MAD MAX movies in nearly three decades, but they were such cable staples when I was a kid in the ‘80s that I recall their crudely exciting ethos quite well. Here, Miller’s fourth entry does better than just to recall the series’ spirit; it re-instates its power with an updated yet still vitally raw vision.

As I said before, Hardy makes a good Mad Max, but Theron's movie stealing part as Furiosa often makes it seem like she's the real road warrior, and our title character is just along for the ride. Theron's tour de force performance not only proves her Oscar win for MONSTER was no fluke, it establishes her as a serious action star who could do what fellow actresses, Scarlet Johansson and Angelina Jolie, have so far been unable to do - i.e. front a quality franchise. Here's hoping that happens with Miller's proposed MAD MAX: FURIOSA sequel set for 2017.

So as much as I enjoyed AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is, so far, the biggest, and the best would be blockbuster this season. I'm looking forward to seeing it a second time, and having my senses get assaulted all over again.

More later...

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