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Mad Max: Fury Road
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Driven To Perfection"
5 stars

Most summer blockbusters have but one job to do--to serve as a reasonably satisfactory diversion to audiences that have spent their hard-earned money on tickets and parking and taken out a second mortgage in order to fund a trip to the snack counter--and quite frankly, most of them fail to achieve even that less-than-lofty goal. "Mad Max: Fury Road," on the other hand, not only has to do that but it also has to live up to the requirements of being the long-awaited fourth installment of the celebrated action film franchise that began with the cult favorite "Mad Max" (1980), achieved peak intensity with the instant classic "The Road Warrior" (1982) and was last seen on the big screen in the underrated "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome" (1985). To say that it accomplishes both of these goals in spectacular fashion is an understatement along the lines of suggesting that pizza is relatively tasty or that Penelope Cruz is easy on the eyes. Simply on its own merits, it is one for the ages in the way that it grips you from its opening frames and never lets go until long after the end credits have finished running. As a continuation of a property that has been a special favorite for several generations of genre film buffs, the only thing that is currently preventing me from proclaiming it the best of the bunch--and, by default, one of the great action films of all time--is that I have lived with the previous films for more than 30 years apiece while only maybe five hours have elapsed between the conclusion of my screening and the commencement of this review. And yet, the fact that I am willing to seriously consider such a notion should be enough to suggest that this is the rare film that not only lives up to its intense expectations but manages to leave them choking in the dust as it effortlessly blasts past them.

For those who are arriving a little late to the party, perhaps a brief recap is in order. The original "Mad Max" was a micro-budgeted Australian exploitation film from first-time director George Miller that, in telling the story of an ace cop (Mel Gibson in his breakthrough performance) in a world going wrong in the wake of an energy crisis driven around the bend after a rampaging motorcycle gang kills his wife and child, took a standard-issue revenge plot straight out of a typical "Death Wish" knockoff and fused it to a series of some of the most astonishing automotive stunts ever captured on film. After becoming an international sensation (except in American, where it was badly redubbed--apparently those Australian accents were just too confusing--and tossed into grindhouses and drive-ins), Miller expanded on his vision with "The Road Warrior," a post-apocalyptic thriller in which everything was bigger and better than before and which he demonstrated a knack for visual storytelling that, despite it only being his second feature, made even the likes of Steven Spielberg seem like fumbling amateurs by comparison. By comparison, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" was slagged by some at the time for failing to live up to the previous films--largely because of the addition of a group of desert children who the initially reluctant Max is forced to lead to safety--but it is a much better film than those complaints suggest, thanks to Miller's ever-expanding vision of the universe he has created, the undeniable presence of Tina Turner as the chief bad guy, a brilliant final chase sequence and the brawl inside Thunderdome--a jungle gym-cum-gladiatorial arena in which combatants flew around on bungee cords--that belongs on every short list of the best fight scenes in cinema history. In other words, these are mighty big boots for "Fury Road" to fill but not only does it do it, it does so with the kind of style that puts pretty much every cinematic epic of late (I'm looking at you, Marvel universe) to shame.

Presumably set a few years down the line from the events of the last film (though it is probably best not to dwell on the particulars of the timeline), "Fury Road" posits a future even bleaker than the not-especially-cheerful visions from the earlier installments--with virtually nothing left to the world but a vast desert wasteland, the remaining survivors either scavenge for the necessary elements in order to survive or find themselves completely at the mercy of those who control the world's few remaining valuable resources. The film has hardly begun when he is captured, tortured and imprisoned by the followers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the vicious leader of an outpost called the Citadel whose control of the only supply of fresh water allows him to enslave the populace and build an army of young men willing to die for him in the belief of great rewards in the afterlife. Joe's most prized possessions, however, are the five beautiful young women--The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz), Capable (Riley Keough), The Dag (Abbey Lee) and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton)--that he has taken captive in order to serve as breeding stock (Angharad appears to be only a few weeks away from giving birth.)

One of the few people willing to take a stand against Joe is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed badass who launches a one-woman plan to rescue the five women from their plight by sneaking them into a truck that she is supposed to be using to make a fuel run and hijacking it in an attempt to get to the pastoral area where she once lived before being herself kidnapped at a young age. Needless to say, Joe is not particularly thrilled by this development and he and his death-defying minions give chase. One of the would-be martyrs, Nux (Nicholas Holt), is on the anemic side and so he straps Max to the front of his car with an IV attaching them so as to serve as a living blood bag. This kicks off the first of the film's major action set-pieces as Furiosa tries to outrun Joe's men, not to mention a second desert gang, in an orgy of twisted metal, spectacular explosions and people leaping willy-nilly from car to car and this is all before the cars find themselves heading smack into the middle of an incomprehensibly huge sandstorm.

If anyone had any doubts as to whether Miller, who has spent the last couple of decades making such overt family fare as the "Babe" (he produced both and directed the superior sequel "Babe: Pig in the City") and "Happy Feet" films, had it in him to go back to the world of full-out action, this opening sequence should dispel those qualms instantly. Simply put, this is an absolutely flawless set-piece that should leave even the most jaded action buffs rubbing their eyes in pure astonishment. Stressing practical effects and elaborate stunt work over the CGI treatment that is the norm these days (it is estimated that only about 20% of the effects are CGI and most of that comes from hiding stunt wires and rigs and creating the illusion of Charlize Theron's missing arm), Miller offers up one amazing stunt after another and presents them with a skill that is all too rare these days--rather than utilize rapid-fire editing to create the illusion of action, he stages his scenes with incredible clarity and detail so that we always know where everyone is in relation to each other. He even manages to work a lot of humor into the chaos as well--the old joke that Mel Brooks loves in which the audience hears a sudden burst of music and then finds a full orchestra driving by in a bus gets an inspired update here.

What is most astonishing about this sequence is that as great and seemingly impossible-to-top as it is--and it is the kind of jaw-dropping tour de force that most filmmakers struggle to achieve throughout their entire careers without ever coming close to touching--Miller then spends the remainder of the film somehow managing to outdo himself in even more eye-popping ways. In essence, "Fury Road" is a two-hour chase sequence that is only occasionally broken up by brief respites in which Furiosa and Max, who has joined up with the women purely to save his skin, warily get to know each other and realize that both are willing to do suicidal things in a desperate attempt to achieve some form of personal redemption, and Nux, who has also joined the group after failing to achieve a glorious death no fewer than three times, begins to realize the glories of the afterlife have nothing on a smile from Capable. In theory, this should get monotonous after a while because, as anyone who saw "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" can attest, it is almost impossible for any filmmaker to start a film with the pedal to the metal, action-wise, and maintain that breathless level of excitement throughout the entire running time without becoming exhausting after a while. However, Miller proves to be the exception to that rule--with co-screenwriters Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris, he has created one thrilling scenario after another with any number of audacious flourishes to boot and with his army of technicians (including cinematographer John Seale, who came out of semi-retirement to shoot this film, editors Margaret Sixel and Jason Ballantine, composer Junkie XL, production designer Colin Gibson and more stunt people than you can shake a flaming stick at), he has executed them with such grace, skill and precision that one may find themselves wondering why all blockbuster entertainments can't be as good as this one.

The original "Mad Max" films made an international superstar out of then-unknown actor Mel Gibson and the role of Max Rockatansky remains arguably the most iconic of his entire career--the on-screen one, at least. Replacing him with another actor is roughly akin to replacing Sean Connery as James Bond and once again, the film triumphs with the inspired choice of Tom Hardy to embody the new Max. Like Gibson, he possesses the kind of raw charisma that all but leaps off the screen and the talent to present the character in such a way that every moment--noble and vicious alike--is utterly convincing. If Hardy was maybe a half-step away from full-on stardom before this film, his galvanizing work here will easily put him over the top. Matching him toe-to-toe in the ferocity department is Charlize Theron, whose knockout performance as Furiosa helps make that character easily the most indelible kick-ass heroine to grace a genre film since maybe the Bride in "Kill Bill"--no damsel in distress by any means here, she is arguably the central character in this particular story and the lack of any romantic development between her and Max is another breath of fresh air. Among the supporting players, Keays-Byrne (who actually played the chief bad guy in the first "Mad Max" film all those years ago) is appropriately terrifying as Joe and Nicholas Hoult manages to hit upon the mindset of a true-blue fanatic struggling to come to terms with the fact that things may not be quite what they were led to believe. Even the five escapees--whose scantily-clad first appearance hosing themselves down in the desert is an inspired erotic joke--turn out to be more than mere babes in the desert as they make the roles into full-blooded characters instead of mere pin-ups.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" had one of the longest and most tangled journeys to the big screen of recent years--when it was originally proposed, Mel Gibson was still age-appropriate for the part and attempts to get it off the ground were scuttled by the Iraq war and budgetary concerns. (At one point, Miller even contemplated doing it as a 3-D cartoon after the success of "Happy Feet.") Throughout the years of rumors and false starts, fans continued to hold out faith that George Miller would someday not only get the opportunity to make the film but that it would also live up to their sky-high expectations. To their vast relief and excitement, he has managed to do both and the result is a genuine masterpiece--one of the great action films of this or any other era--that leaves viewers alternately giddy and wrung out from excitement and thirsting for more. Whether Miller is willing or able to even attempt to top his efforts here (the guy is 70, after all--an age when hanging out in the desert on an extended film shoot presumably seems less than inviting) remains to be seen but if there is any filmmaker out there who I would say has even a shot at coming close to approximating the glories of "Mad Max: Fury Road," it is Miller and if he does choose to continue the saga, it will be a great day for moviegoers everywhere.

NOTE: "Mad Max: Fury Road" is being presented in both regular and 3D iterations during its theatrical run. Miller shot the film flat--it was converted to 3D in post-production--and apparently prefers that version over the 3D one. I have only seen the regular version so far--it was the first made available to critics, presumably to keep in line with Miller's wishes--and it looks so glorious throughout that I cannot imagine anything that could be gained by watching it through glasses that will presumably do little more than needlessly darken those exquisite visuals.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26973&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/13/15 18:35:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/16/19 Tommy Soulless and dull. Beyond Thunderdome doesn't seem so bad anymore. 2 stars
6/11/19 bored mom Immortan Joe himself says it best: "MEDIOCRE" 3 stars
8/22/17 Mark Louis Baumgart So shiny. So chrome. I live! I die! I LIVE AGAIN!!! 5 stars
5/29/17 Danny Embarrasingly bad, feminist propaganda. 1 stars
10/29/16 morris campbell the plot was messy but still the best action movie of 2015 5 stars
9/08/16 Yaz What was the point of practical stunts if everything was sped up and looked videogame like? 1 stars
6/18/16 Oz1701 Stunts were amazing. Charlize was terrific. Plotting was terrible. 2 stars
1/21/16 DVM Absolutely terrible. An insult to my intelligence. 1 stars
10/26/15 Johnnyfaye Often called a masterpiece, for how simple it is, it's refreshing lack of CGI, fantastic. 5 stars
10/17/15 christefan26 Best movie I've scene in a long time and I watch movies constantly 5 stars
10/04/15 G. Best action movie this year. 5 stars
8/27/15 Billy34 Mad Max minus the screen presence, charisma and his balls. 1 stars
8/24/15 DillonG Incredibly fun from beginning to end! Everything I want out of a blockbuster. 5 stars
7/26/15 jd shit review, shit comments, great movie 5 stars
6/24/15 Cal L Mundane Max tags along with Mad Maxine and glamourous models 1 stars
6/23/15 wfibcdxjl USA 5 stars
6/08/15 TonyK The baddies chase the goodies ..thats it! 2 stars
6/07/15 Lisa H I can't remember the last time I got so bored with an action movie. 2 stars
6/05/15 mr.mike Good, not great, remake. 4 stars
6/01/15 Charles Tatum Throws you in and never lets up 5 stars
5/29/15 Nancy Love! Adrenaline-rushy, cool imagery, action-packed. 5 stars
5/28/15 Joey C The Road Warrior is still the best. This sucked and Tom Hardy was terrible. 1 stars
5/25/15 Damien240 Spectacular, exhilarating action, stunning visuals. Falls just short of a masterpiece. 5 stars
5/24/15 David Marsden Too much repetitive action, too much CGI, and Tom Hardy sucks. Mel is Max. 1 stars
5/21/15 David Hollingsworth An action thrill ride that actually delivers 4 stars
5/20/15 Toni Peluso Awesome. A spectacle in every wonderful way. 5 stars
5/20/15 Meep Good solid action film, but far from the masterpiece some want you to believe 4 stars
5/18/15 KingNeutron Unable to understand dialogue and I honestly got bored with it. 3 stars
5/16/15 Bob Dog Too much of a good thing... 2 stars
5/15/15 Slayer Feminist propaganda bullshit 1 stars
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  15-May-2015 (R)
  DVD: 01-Sep-2015

  14-May-2015 (15)

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  DVD: 01-Sep-2015

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