Sandstorm Boulevard (A Review of Mad Max: Fury Road – no spoilers)

There are three things you need to know going into this movie.

1. This is basically a perfect movie. One of the most beautiful works of visual art I’ve seen recently.

2. You shouldn’t drive immediately after watching this because you will have the urge to zoom off the road, use the ditch as a ramp with which to launch yourself into the air while cackling madly and shooting flames from your rearview mirrors…while shredding an electric guitar.

3. You will have so much fun watching this movie that you’ll want to take a nap as soon as you’re done because you will be plumb tuckered out.

The internet has been drenched in fanboy hyperbole ever since this movie came out, so I’ll try to avoid rehashing what everyone else has already said, other than mentioning that his movie really does live up to all its hype. To avoid excessively gushing about how this movie could basically bring about world peace, I’ll just sum up my feelings with the following image:

I’m pretty sure I actually made this face multiple times throughout the film.

Also, the film’s inspirational girl-power themes have been discussed at length by writers better than myself, and all I could hope to do would be to stumble and trip my way through points which have already been well-explored, and so I will just say that it’s absolutely lovely to see a movie take a genre which is primarily male-dominated and have it deal with (gasp!) both genders equally and fairly. It’s bizarre, I know.

And to all those morons who feel that women have no place being important characters in an action movie, I present the following GIF in reply:

Madame Vastra telling it like it is

Now on to the actual review:

In the post-apocalyptic landscape we first saw in Mad Max (1979) and its two sequels The Road Warrior (1981) and Beyond Thunderdome (1985), a lone wolf of few words, Max (Tom Hardy), ends up helping a group of escaped women, the wives of the deformed cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keyes-Byrne). The women are led by the one-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a former subordinate of Joe who is looking for the idyllic place where she was born, far away from the horrors of Immortan Joe’s nightmarish citadel. Along the way they pick up another of Joe’s lackeys, the slight but determined Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who is desperate to prove himself to his insane master.

Essentially (and this isn’t really a spoiler) the whole movie is a car chase. But to call it just “a car chase” would diminish the sheer balletic brilliance of the movie as a whole. I’m talking Kubrick-style filmmaking perfection. Everything from the breathtaking landscapes to the music to the fight choreography to the editing fits together with such Swiss watch precision, it makes pretty much every other movie that’s come out so far this year look gross and ungainly by comparison.

I’m gonna tell you a story.

The other day, some moron on my way to work decided to stop suddenly to turn without using his turn signal beforehand. I slammed on the breaks, but didn’t have enough time to avoid hitting him, so I veered onto the shoulder and avoided a wreck (everyone’s fine; all is good). But anyway, as I was skidding to a halt, pumped full of adrenaline, I noticed a squashed snake curled up on the side of the road. And even though I was in the process of screeching to a halt hoping the truck behind me didn’t crunch me into a cube, it seemed like I got a whole minute to stare at that squashed snake and really study it. It was kind of gross but also strangely fascinating. In reality, I probably only saw the dead snake for a second or less, but that fun adrenaline-enhanced reflex thing our brain does made it seem longer.

My point is, this movie basically operates in that same way. It’s moving so fast and is so insane, but it feels like you get a number of leisurely seconds to take in all the details of every shot, even though it’s all racing past you at a zillion miles an hour and your brain is marinating in adrenaline. It’s frantic, but so impeccably crafted that you basically just fly with the camera through all the explosions and you ask yourself whether you should be dreamily saying “It’s…so…pretty…” or jumping up out of your seat screaming “F@#$ YEAH!!!” and showering everyone around you with popcorn and soda.

There’s one fight scene early on between three characters that is completely bonkers in its brutal intensity, but is still so artfully choreographed that I sort of fell out of the scene, trying to figure out how such a complex and rapid fire fight scene could even be shot. It wasn’t stagey fighting that looks cool but doesn’t feel like actual fighting (think the lightsaber battle at the end of The Phantom Menace), either. Everything just clicked so well together that it felt like you were basically watching a dance wherein any single dancer could die horribly at any minute. Absolutely spectacular work.

As for the characters, Hardy takes over the role, originated by Mel Gilbson, and really makes it his own. For someone who doesn’t say much of anything, Hardy really imbues a lot of depth into his character. One scene that stuck out for me involves Max working quickly and intensely on something and mumbling and muttering to himself and quietly apologizing to those around him. It suggests both a little kid building a Lego spaceship and talking absently to himself about what he’s doing, and an old grandfather muttering to himself while he pulls out a family album to show his grandson. For someone who spends most of the movie being a complete BAMF, this moment is almost cute and adorable and suggests that, for all of his outward gruffness, he’s got an innocence buried somewhere beneath all the dust that he hasn’t lost.

Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is beautifully done as well. She’s tender towards the women she’s protecting, and completely fearless and brutal when she’s taking out her enemies. You feel both her pain and her rage in all her scenes and yet she’s incredibly likable. She reminds me of Die Hard‘s John McClane: a badass, but a likable badass you enjoy cheering for. So often, action movie heroes simply become impervious superhumans who take out bad guys without any real fear for their own mortality. Furiosa feels much more human. As for her lovely charges, I was impressed at how much depth those characters were given even though they could have just been window dressing. The way they react to being liberated from an abusive situation is handled very well and creates some incredible moments throughout the film.

I’ll also add that, based on how beautifully Miller films desert landscapes, I nominate him to give us the big budget movie adaptation of Dune we all so deeply deserve. Anyone care to second?

But seriously, you should go see this movie, even if you don’t like action movies. The characters are pretty well rounded, even though the genre conventions tell us that 90% of the movie should involve things blowing up (and man, do they EVER!). The side characters are more archetypes than anything, but the three central characters, Furiosa, Max, and Nux, are multifaceted and all have wonderful, incredibly satisfying character arcs. It ties in very well with the previous sequels, especially in some of Max’s frenetic flashbacks, and sets the stage nicely for any sequels Miller decides to do (rumor is, the next movie will be called Mad Max: The Wasteland). *is giddy*

I for one welcome our new dieselpunk overlords!

And with that, I will say adieu. Come back next week as I talk about killer clowns and why we need more of them!

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