Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road / **** (R)

Max Rockatansky: Tom Hardy
Imperator Furiosa: Charlize Theron
Nux: Nicholas Hoult
Immortan Joe: Hugh Keays-Byrne
Slit: Josh Helman
Rictus Erectus: Nathan Jones
Toast the Knowing: Zoƫ Kravitz
The Splendid Angharad: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by George Miller. Written by Miller and Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Running time: 120 min. Rated R (for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images).

They say it is a fine line between genius and madness. When I was in college, we had a professor that might’ve proved this adage. He was a brilliant teacher and director known for sometimes spectacular behavior to get what he wanted out of his casts. As a teacher he loved to ask his students each Monday which movies we had wasted our money that weekend. He chortled at the latest “artistic” cinema we’d consumed as some sort of deep commentary on society, but… get him talking about George Miller’s post-apocalyptic adventure “The Road Warrior” and you’d hear him extemporize about the genius of modern cinema.

It’s been more than 30 years since Miller’s breakthrough into American cinema with that sequel to his debut Australian production “Mad Max”. The disappointing and less severe “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” followed up “The Road Warrior”, and for the past two decades rumors have swirled about Miller returning to his futuristic world of fuel-injected madness. The madness has finally evolved into the latest franchise entry “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Gone is Mel Gibson in the lead role. I don’t think anyone really would want to see a 70-year-old Max. And gone is any attempt to anchor Miller’s incredible, unique vision with anything in the real world.

Replacing Gibson as the titular Max is Tom Hardy, who after appearing as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” is beginning to make a habit of acting with masks on his face. In the previous films Max’s madness was pretty much a manifestation of anger as a renegade biker gang ran down his family in the first film. The madness was really a reference to the world in which he existed, where gangs persecuted the few survivors of the apocalypse on the roadways, the last vestiges of the world left behind. This time around Max might be even crazier than the world which he now inhabits. The ghosts of the people he failed to save haunt him, including a little girl who calls him “Daddy” in some of his hallucinations. I believe his child in the first film was a boy. This possible contradiction just serves to enforce the madness that has consumed Max by this point.

Before the movie even really gets a chance to get going Max finds himself prisoner of a clan of savages. He’s hooked up to a war boy named Nux as a human blood transfusion bag. The war boys are the enforcers of this clan, who dream of a glorious death that will open the gates of Valhalla to them. Immortan Joe, a skin-burned survivor of the apocalypse who makes Death Vader’s asthma seem like a minor case, rules the clan. He keeps slaves of women to cultivate his seed and controls vast amounts of water that he bestows upon his subjects sparingly. Imperator Furiosa is one of his higher level lieutenants who drives a war rig that is used to import supplies from their neighboring ally clans in Gas Town and Bullet Farm.

Charlize Theron threatens to steal the spotlight as the tough as nails Furiosa from Hardy’s rather flighty version of Max. Furiosa has other plans for her war rig on this particular supply run and soon Max is pulled into her treacherous plans against Immortan Joe. But I’ve already placed too much emphasis on the film’s plot, which is secondary at best. The real spotlight of this film is not the characters or what they do or even the feminist undertones and criticisms of a male dominated society. No, the star of this movie is the action, and you’ve never seen action like what you’ll see here.

Of course, this film’s predecessors hint at the outlandish action to be found within. The craziness of Toecutter’s crew from the first film and their random attacks on innocent people peaked into the psychopathic nature of what is found here. Don’t miss the very brief image during one of Max’s hallucinations of Toecutter’s eyes popping out of his head from the that film. The terrorist tactics and tricked out vehicles witnessed in “The Road Warrior” suggest what can be witnessed here. One thing missing from the previous films is the presence of innocent bystanders. Everyone in this film is complicit with the violence that surrounds them, perhaps suggesting the evolution of violence acceptance in our own society.

What can be experienced here is the next step in cinematic action evolution, a spellbinding necromancy of violent insanity. Plausibility is moot. Logic is an affront. What Miller attempts here is beyond the “dance of violence” that is often attributed to cinematic violence and barrels into a breed of operatic violence. Even that is insufficient metaphor to describe what just might be a new form of cinematic experience. The creativity behind the violence in this movie raises it beyond what has ever been attempted in cinema action before, and once you give yourself away to it, it becomes exhilarating.

My professor was a genius who occasionally lapsed into madness to create artistic experience. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is almost pure madness as cinematic experience. Unlike other attempts to create art through madness, such as Godard’s recent cinematic drivel, Miller creates his on a unique canvas, not working in the world that we know, but sculpting his out of the unique details of his previous films in this series. Using those remarkable elements of cinematic design that made “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior” stand apart from the crowd, he re-envisions the action picture into something that could only come from a unique source. Miller has said that this movie came to him in dreams. It plays something like a dream—something beyond what normal people might experience in a dream, but something that might fuel the creative juices of a mad genius

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