Car Wars

The apeshit Mad Max: Fury Road is the blockbuster to beat

FILM by Paul Constant

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Mad Max: Fury Road
Galaxy, Southland
5 out of 5

The rumors are true — Mad Max: Fury Road is one long car chase. You could transcribe all the dialogue in the movie into about five pages. By my count, the characters only stop punching, kicking, driving, swinging chainsaws, firing guns, swaying around on giant poles, or grunting like wild animals for one scene. It’s virtually exposition-free. The bunch of them, save for Charlize Theron’s warrior woman Furiosa, barely even get named. In fact, if you were to try to describe the dumbest, worst Hollywood movie you could imagine, your summary might wind up sounding a lot like Fury Road.

But the thing is, Fury Road is a virtuosic hunk of filmmaking. In fact, I’m calling it right now: you won’t see a better summer movie in 2015. Pack your bags, Jurassic World. Sorry, Ant-Man. Only one action movie this season is likely to leave audiences with goofy grins plastered across their faces, and that’s Fury Road. It’s unadulterated moviegoing pleasure.

In the hands of a lesser director, Fury Road would be hot garbage, but George Miller — director of the previous Mad Max trilogy, as well as Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2 — has meticulously honed every frame of the film down to its rawest, most propulsive material. You can follow the action through every scene of Fury Road. Every sequence delivers a sturdy sense of place and consistent blocking for all the characters. Motivation is delivered through physical acting and cinematography, not overwrought monologues. In a world of blender-cut action scenes and embarrassing studio-mandated dross inserted into the story — can we get a cut of Age of Ultron where Thor doesn’t take an ominous future-bath, please? — Fury Road is a terrific example of filmmaking economy, clarity, and purpose.

All this gushing over Miller’s professionalism is important, but it doesn’t get across the pure operatic madness of Fury Road. Joss Whedon once described Evil Dead as “a movie that goes genuinely insane, on its own terms, without ever violating its terms of reality.” Fury Road is a movie that starts out insane and then constructs a reality based on its own nutty internal logic. Of course the different roving bands of post-apocalyptic war caravans carry their own live soundtracks. Why wouldn’t these societies huff silver paint as part of a religious ritual? A human milk farm? Sure, why not?

Without a game cast, Miller’s competence would have been futile. But Tom Hardy erases the memory of Mel Gibson’s Mad Max by giving us a Max who’s actually mad. In every scene, his hollowed-out eyes focus on nothing in particular, giving him a creepy unpredictability; at any moment, Max could murder anyone around him. He doesn’t fear the consequences because he already believes himself to be dead. And Theron’s Furiosa has her own motivations and strengths. She’s not a female version of Max but a fully rounded warrior woman who easily carries her own half of the film. All the female characters in Fury Road ring true; I couldn’t tell you for sure if the film passes the Bechdel test — hell, there’s barely enough dialogue in the film to qualify it as a talkie — but I can tell you it’s a delight to watch a movie this action-driven where the women feel like women.

For all its wanton violence and sadistic mayhem, the word I keep coming back to with Fury Road is “beautiful”. This is a colorful apocalypse, a gaudy funeral party for a world that’s not quite dead. Go see it on a huge screen — you can skip the 3D — and get ready to be amazed.

2015-05-14