Sunday, 28 June 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

I’ve always admired the Mad Max franchise’s depiction of a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with ferocity, savagery and the roar of rusty engines. V8-powered, bolted together vehicles churning fire and oxidised steel on a horizon of hell is a welcome contrast to the grayscale and zombie-ridden surroundings the “post-apocalypse” genre has been saturated with. Yet as a story of “The Road Warrior’s” revenge, redemption and survival, the series hasn't had the same impact as its visuals and sound. George Miller’s recent career has been one filled with dancing penguins and little of anything resembling action cinema. Yet for a director who’s been 30 years absent from the franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road is arguably the best in the entire series. 

Essentially a two hour vehicular chase, Max is caught up in Imperator Furiosa’s break for freedom 
while being chased by Immortan Joe’s convoy of adrenaline-fuelled madness. The theme of survival is encapsulated in nearly every facet of the film’s world; the citizens of the Citadel are ruthlessly held under Joe’s clenched grip over the water supply. Joe himself needs to continue his line through his breeding girls. Furiosa’s attempt to escape the horrors of her current situation and Max’s sheer perseverance to endure. There’s little doubt that Fury Road focuses its attention on the action and visuals, which leads to the film suffering from a lack of depth towards the end. Yet for a script that’s light on substance, the likes of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy offer a compelling team as the wreckage ensues. The brief moments of respite offer enough character to maintain their mysticism whilst giving them some semblance of humanity and empathy. Theron’s Furiosa takes centre stage in a commanding, yet fragile performance that steals the show from Max. Tom Hardy is suitable gruff and cynical under the unfortunate circumstances he finds himself in. There’s a flashy yet vain attempt to “re-address” his tragic backstory and psyche, but he shares the characteristics of a protagonist from the spaghetti western formula; weathered and mumbling. It’s entertaining, but a few more lines of dialogue wouldn’t have hurt him or the film. The supporting cast, especially Nicholas Hoult, does a similarly fine job.

While light on story and dialogue, the barebones nature offers a solid foundation for which the visuals and sound design flourish. The world of Mad Max is one of “fire and blood” and “madness” as our protagonist says in the opening monologue, and while the harshness and hostility of the environment and its inhabitants is clearly evident, the film is visually stylish and repeatedly stunning to watch. For an apocalyptic wasteland comprised of deserts and rocky outcrops, Miller injects a swell of colours and tones; yellows, oranges, and blues that add variation and vibrancy. The warped realities of society and humanity shown within the set and production design, help craft the treacherous surroundings and its characters. The symbolism of Valhalla, the War Boys’ chanting V8 in front of an podium of steering wheels, and the harvesting of “mother’s milk” add a twisted richness to film’s design. These small details further the construction and theorising of these personalities and locations which has been a staple of the franchise’s style. The careful use of CGI and Miller’s desire to champion practical effects really adds to the sheer savage and hard-hitting nature to the film. Vehicles twist and buckle under the weight of collisions and debris litters the pristine sand dunes. Everything has force and an incredible amount of speed. Meanwhile Junkie XL’s thunderous soundtrack of pounding drums, vigorous guitar strumming and sharp shifts in tone reinforce the crazed fury that’s being depicted on screen.

Mad Max: Fury Road is another fine example of action cinema that doesn’t require an over-zealous  and contrived screenplay to remain engrossing and thoroughly entertaining. A simple narrative, interesting characters, incredible production design and thrilling stunt choreography turn the two hour runtime into a beautiful and unhinged storm of destruction and lunacy. It’s lovely.