Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Now that the dust (storm) has settled, it turns out Mad Max: Fury Road is not quite the second coming of the action movie - but it is a rollickingly good, kickass film, and a refreshing breath of fresh air for anyone that is fatigued by superheroes and wider cinematic universes. The Mad Max movies are undeniably George Miller's 'babies' and it's obvious the end product of Fury Road - despite the epic gestation from script ideas to actually reaching the screen - is a real labour of love for the director. I confess to not really being a massive fanboy of Mad Max (although I do like the first two movies) in the same way I love the Lethal Weapons, Die Hards and Terminators of the celluloid world; but Miller's vision of a fully realised, post apocalyptic wasteland feels "lived in" and authentic without seeming contrived or clichéd. That is a very difficult skill to master since dystopian future worlds have literally been done to death. Fury Road does have a air of familiarity about it, yet the level of detail invested means it also has a certain freshness too (if that makes sense)?
If one was to describe the premise of Fury Road, then it would be to combine the nitrous boosted ferocity of The Fast and The Furious with the depravity of The Hills Have Eyes. On steroids. It's unsurprising that Max has gone mad, as the world he inhabits is genuinely insane. This is none better symbolised than by the Immortan Joe's guitarist - epitomising the notion that the show must go on. The idea of using prisoners as human blood bags for the warboys (or foot soldiers) is also genius. In fact, the opening thirty minutes of Fury Road is wonderfully delirious - a turbo charged, exhilarating thrill ride that is pure, edge of the seat cinema. Alas, the remainder of the film cannot maintain the same pace, and it's after this point that repetition begins to gradually creep in. It exposes that the plot is rather threadbare - taking away the feminist theme of empowerment and ultimate goal for liberation - and the finale is essentially the beginning of the film only in reverse. Besides the obvious of his own personal redemption, the character of Max Rockatansky is effectively a passenger in the face-off between Imperator Furiosa and Immortan Joe - a damaged survivor reluctantly caught in the crossfire.
Anyone who was concerned that it wouldn't be a Mad Max film without Mel Gibson need not have worried as Tom Hardy is brilliant as the titular ex-patrol cop. Despite being almost a sideshow in his own movie, Hardy plays the character in a quasi-eccentric, slightly feral fashion that retains the spirit of Max without being an imitation of Gibson's portrayal. Based on feedback from movie-goers, i was half expecting Max to be mono-syllabic - he has much more dialogue than I thought, and it would not have mattered anyway as Hardy says far more through his body language and facial expressions: it has to be one of the best examples of this form of acting. The last time Charlize Theron drastically altered her appearance for a film, she won an Academy Award for her troubles. Whilst Theron doesn't quite go to those lengths here, her shaven headed Furiosa is right beside Rogue Nation's Ilsa Faust as this summer's ass kicking ladies, and she is essentially centre stage as the focal point of the film. Original Mad Max baddie Hugh Keays-Byrne looks the part as the Immortan Joe - top marks for the make up and costume department - but he is a one dimensional tyrant and lacks the camp charm of, for example, a Vernon Wells.
Technically, John Seale's cinematography is fantastic, with the stunning "toxic storm" sequence the epitome of manga in motion. The only disappointment is that the vehicular centric set pieces are not as spectacular as they could have been. It feels as though every set piece serve their purpose but there is nothing that is particularly memorable when compared with the other big action movies of 2015 such as Fast 7 and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Elsewhere, fans of Hong Kong cinema/Donnie Yen may notice that the action employs the use of undercranking - filming at a slower rate to achieve a sped up effect when played back. It may be jarring for some, but it makes for a nice alternative to the "shaky cam" style that is favoured in so many contemporary action films.
Fury Road may not be the equivalent of reinventing the action movie wheel, but it's a welcome and overdue return to the screen of an iconic character. George Miller, along with Terence Malick, is possibly among the least prolific filmmakers still currently active. However - from the world(s) that he has crafted and sheer detail put into the movies - Miller is undoubtedly an auteur and the Mad Max films (although I've yet to see Beyond Thunderdome) are his piece de resistance.