Mad Max: Fury Road
Rated R | 3.5 stars out of 5
I wonder if Mel Gibson was upset that he didn’t get asked to cameo in the Mad Max relaunch. He may be a homophobe, a racist, an anti-semite, a misogynist, a Scientologist, an arsonist, an arborist, a member of ISIS, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux KIan and a Lakers’ fan, but really, when you get right down to it, not a bad guy.
Fuck Mel Gibson. But god bless Mad Max.
It would be so easy for George Miller’s reboot to suck. Everything that made the originals so wonderful (specifically the first two installments) is largely antithetical to box office success. Lo-fi production, sparse dialogue, unfamiliar faces and overt weirdness are the stuff of cult classics; so what formula would allow Fury Road a chance at being a 2015 blockbuster?
With a simplistic, post-apocalyptic storyline faithful to the gasoline-starved past, drifter Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself aiding Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a disillusioned pupil of grotesque wasteland warlord Immortan Joe. When Furiosa steals away Immortan’s captive breeding beauties in the hull of a tanker in hopes of escaping to her native “green place,” a frenetic road rage ensues, and basically never relents. In fact, it would be fair to say that three-quarters of this two-hour film are balls-to-the-wall chase scenes—ones that would make The French Connection proud at that. Whereas most effects-driven flicks of modern day rely upon green screen razzle dazzle, Fury Road kicks it refreshingly old school with actual wrecks, explosions and stunts; it’s closer to Commando than it is Furious 7.
The casting is admirable as well, with Hardy and Theron legitimate stars, and quality ones at that. Which is to say they can act. And while neither role calls for Shakespearean eloquence, selecting the likes of Vin Diesel and Megan Fox as co-leads could have doomed Fury Road from the start. Even with heavy action and decidedly minimal discourse, there’s plenty of room for non-verbal acting, which Hardy especially showcases. He discreetly manages not to ruin scenes that could otherwise have been ripe for needless macho posturing and bravado. And perhaps most surprising is that Fury Road, watered-down as it could have been, still manages to be genuinely odd. The generic bad guys are slathered in ghoul makeup and black leather; Immortan Joe is a disgustingly clownish barbarian; and the army of demonic motorbikes, big rigs and worn-out muscle cars still manages to ring freaky and true after all these years.
To my chagrin, however, is a hefty dose of Beyond Thunderdome. There’s a reason Warner Brothers backed that film in 1985, and it’s because Miller was willing to tune down the weirdo knob in order to allow for a broader, Spielberg-ian appeal, hence Tina Turner. Fury Road, in many instances, makes the same concession. The character threads, for example, simple as they may be, are fed frequent and unnecessary bits of sentimentality in the film’s second half and are only embellished by an overly dramatic score that could at times have been lost altogether. To this same point is the undeveloped and meaningless inclusion of the downtrodden community under the thumb of Immortan Joe, who desperately beg for the dam-like release of water from The Citadel. None of the above serve Fury Road any benefit whatsoever other than the prospect of mass appeal (which I suppose is inescapable), and in the end rob the film of its chance to be great, as opposed to merely good.
But that’s neither here nor there when you consider, as mentioned prior, how bad this movie could have been. The overwhelming majority of reboots and re-creations are abjectly horrible, as the newest Poltergeist will serve as reminder in a week’s time, in case you’d forgotten (which I’m sure you hadn’t). For Mad Max: Fury Road to come out right side up 30 years after the nearest release, and with a septuagenarian director no less, is a miracle greater than that time the Pope won a round of three-card monte. Whether or not the subsequent sequels will be worth a damn is anyone’s guess. But for now, at the absolute minimum, we have an entertaining freakshow worthy of your $9.50.