Friday, May 15, 2015

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

It wasn't that long ago I predicted this would fall somewhere around 45% on the Tomatometer, based on the amount of time that's passed between Beyond Thunderdome and this, as well as the ominous mid-May release date. I assume I don't need to tell you the film's more than doubled that with 98%. That's got to be some kind of record: I can't think of another R-rated 3rd sequel to a sci-fi movie which is that universally respected.

The film is, of course, pretty great. A sort of heavy metal return to classic epic filmmaking. A nuanced blend of a cartoonish setting that inexplicably retains more weight and substance than any recent film I can think of. A movie that trusts its leads to build complex characters through quiet reflection while cars blow up and bodies fly.

A film franchise named for and built around a male power fantasy that turns its attention to a female lead and makes us wonder whether Max was even real.

It's about damn time Theron got a chance to headline a science-fiction action movie that wasn't Aeon Flux. Given solid material, she demonstrates that she's in the absolute top-tier of this generation's action stars. Somebody get her a goddamn comic book franchise or something stat. She is badass in this thing, and yet she retains her humanity.

Hardy was pretty good as a stand in for Gibson, though the character's instability felt more forced. Structurally, his role was almost comic-relief, though that's a misleading description tonally. He was more a catalyst than agent, an innovative direction that served the film well.

The remainder of the human cast was comprised of a fascinating and bizarre assortment of mutants, sociopaths, and fanatics. They had some serious competition from the vehicles, though, which deserve equal billing.

Structurally, the film's plot was more constrained. Really, you're watching a sequence that would have taken maybe twenty minutes of an earlier Mad Max movie stretched into two hours. It never once felt long, though: the decompression allowed them to explore the world's depth rather than its breadth. The film never dwells on the religious, political, or cultural ideas it raises, but wisely weaves these throughout the run time. By the time the end credits roll, you have a broad sense of how these people live and what it means, but it's tough to point to individual sequences and credit them with the insight.

It's a beautiful movie full of action, comedy, and thought. Throw Speed Racer into a blender with Conan: The Barbarian and the previous three Mad Max films, and you'll get a sense of what they were going for here, though I don't really think that covers it.

Obviously, you need to see this on the big screen, if for no other reason than to see for yourself how the hell a 70 year-old director returns to the property that made him famous three decades after his last attempt and pulls off a critical response that would make Pixar envious.

In Australia, apparently making a movie like this is what passes for retirement.

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