17 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Unlike quite a lot of other people who have reviewed this film, I didn't grow up with the Mad Max films as a film cornerstone. I'd seen things that the films had influenced but the actual films just passed me by and I didn't really have much interest in watching them. Then I watched the trailers for Fury Road, which made me interested in the series and I watched the first two films, both of which are great (although The Road Warrior is better). However, after now seeing Fury Road, not only is it the best of the Mad Max series, it is one of the best action films ever made.The film concerns Max who, at the start of the film, is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe, the leader of a survivor colony with an ample supply of water and fuel, and is forced to be the blood donor for one of Joe's soldiers (called warboys) Nux. At the same time as this happens, Imperator Furiosa, one of the lieutenants for Immortan Joe helps a group of women Joe keeps for breeding purposes escape, with them looking for the place Furiosa lived before she was captured by Joe, the Green Place, an area of supposedly fertile land. When Joe finds out, he sends out his full war party, with Max strapped to Nux's car to continue acting as a blood donor. After a sandstorm, Max finds his way to Furiosa's war rig and, since the rig has a kill switch which only Furiosa knows how to deactivate, Max reluctantly joins her quest. One of the things I didn't expect from this film was for it to be a statement of feminism. The main plot of the film is a group of women escaping their sexual slavery, with the whole crux of the film being that women are the people who should be in charge of the world. A question that gets asked time and time again in the film is 'who killed the world' and with people like Immortan Joe, his army and the leaders of the other nearby settlements of Gas Town and Bullet Farm, it's clear that men ruined the world and women are the ones in the best situation to fix it. This is a film that shows femininity as a strength and it's refreshing to see an action film take this route. Max's part in the story meanwhile is reminiscent of The Road Warrior, where he gets forced into a violent situation that was already occurring without him and he ends up being forced to help a group of people to benefit him. Whilst the film is called Mad Max, it isn't really his story, it's Furiosa's. That's not to say Max isn't a blank slate, he does have a great character trait where he sees visions of those he's lost and those he couldn't save, racking his mind with guilt and enforcing his lone stature. This also helps in establishing the film outside the original trilogy, not just with the appearance of the Interceptor (which was destroyed in The Road Warrior) but also through the child Max lost being a 6 year old girl rather than the baby son it was in the first film.

The cast meanwhile are incredibly game for whatever the film throws at them. Tom Hardy is a man of few words in the film (with his mouth blocked for the first third of the film) but his physicality works for the character. There's this very weary nature to the character that makes sense given the loss of his family and all he knows makes sense. The standout performer though is Charlize Theron as Furiosa. Again there's this great physical presence to the character, with the robot arm adding to the air of mystery surrounding her, whilst also having this great emotional core, constantly filled with a sense of hope that she can rescue the women. The wives themselves in a lesser film would have simply been the damsels in distress but here, it's clear that they organised their own escape and are all active throughout the film, all of them having different character traits, from one who wants to go back to Joe for the stability to one who wants to revive the world's vegetation. All of the actresses, Zoe Kravitz; Riley Keough; Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton do great work, but the best of the bunch is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. She's the one who orchestrated the events of the film and she displays a great deal of intelligence, knowing what to do to stop Immortan Joe just straight up killing them. Speaking of which, Hugh Keays-Byrne (who played the Toecutter in the first Mad Max film) makes a great villain. His design, from the sickly tumors covering his body to the breathing apparatus he wears, it's a really intimidating design, with his voice adding to this menace. This character also shows how the view that women are lesser (Joe sees the wives as property rather than people) is causing unending harm to the world. Then there's a virtually unrecognisable Nicholas Hoult as Nux and his character is the best show of the philosophy of the film. At the start, he firmly believes in the cult that Immortan Joe has established, where water is treated as a luxury, breast milk is farmed for sustenance and if you die in battle, you go to Valhalla, a reworking of Norse mythology to serve Immortan Joe's means, creating an army that is willing to die for him. As the film goes on, Nux sees just how ludicrous this whole view is, after trying to die in battle multiple times and surviving (with the image of those knowing they are going to die spray-painting their teeth chrome being one of the funnier elements in the film, along with the reveal over two of his friends). There's also great work done by Megan Gale and Melissa Jaffer, although revealing why would end up spoiling the film.

The standout elements of the film though are on the technical side.Firstly, this is a gorgeous film to look at. The way that George Miller and John Seale film the Namibia desert and the action in the film, making use of vibrant oranges and reds, contrasting them with the whites of the warboys, is expertly done. The design of every car, weapon, piece of clothing is handled to perfection, creating this wonderful world. The designs, along with the way the film is shot, lets you know a lot of the story and the philosophy of the film without the audience being lectured. The action scene meanwhile (I say that since the film is one long chase scene between Immortan Joe's army and Furiosa) have this sense of weight to them that is missing from most other action films. This is mainly because virtually all of the action in the film was done in camera with dozens of stuntmen and drivers. Everything from the car wrecks to fighters essentially pole vaulting from car to car at a hundred miles per hour was done for real, just look at some of the b-roll for the film and you'll see how much effort went into the action. There are only 2 parts of the film where I know CGI was used, Furiosa's arm and the sandstorm, the rest I'm pretty sure were all practical. All of these elements, along with the excellent music by Junkie XL, are best represented by the Doof Warrior, a person strapped onto a truck which is just dozens of amps strapped together, playing a combination of guitar and flamethrower throughout the film. It shows the tension in the film through the sound of the guitar being heard whenever Immortan Joe's forces are close by, the way he's filmed is incredible, the orange flame bursts being some of the most striking visuals in the film and the fact that this character exists shows the mad genius of George Miller. Keep in mind, George Miller is 70, John Seale is 72 and they direct and shoot this film with the energy of 20 year olds. It's a shame we'll never see what George Miller would have done with Justice League because after this, I can only imagine what he would have done with the more bizarre elements of those characters.

Overall, Mad Max: Fury Road is an action masterpiece. George Miller has put almost every other action director to shame with this film, showing just how incredible practical effects still are. Tom Hardy makes the character of Max his own whilst Charlize Theron's Furiosa joins the ranks as one of the best female action characters alongside such characters as Ellen Ripley, Sarah Conner, The Bride and Hit Girl. This is also one of the most blatantly feminist films to come out in recent years without forcing it all down your throat, the skill of George Miller getting this message across. Even if you have no knowledge of the other films, if you're a fan of action films in any way, you need to see Mad Max: Fury Road.

My Rating: 5/5

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