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Mad Max: Fury Road.

DIRECTOR: George Miller

STARRING: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron

Thirty years have passed since our last visit to the sun-scorched post-apocalyptic wasteland dreamed up by George Miller, and yet "worth the wait" still feels like a puny response to the two hours of ferocious, unfettered B-movie bliss afforded by "Mad Max: Fury Road." The sort of exhilarating gonzo entertainment that makes even the nuttier "Fast and Furious" movies look like Autopia test-drives by comparison, this expertly souped-up return to Max Rockatansky's world of "fire and blood" finds Tom Hardy confidently donning Mel Gibson's well-worn leather chaps; still, the tersely magnetic British star turns out to be less of a revelation than his fiery colead, Charlize Theron, decisively claiming her place (with apologies to Tina Turner) as the most indelible female presence in this gas-guzzling, testosterone-fueled universe. Whether Theron will boost distaff turnout for Warner Bros.' heavily marketed May 15 release remains to be seen, but either way, word-of-mouth excitement over the film's beautifully brutal action sequences should lend it tremendous commercial velocity through the summer and beyond.

For all intents and purposes, "Fury Road" is a two-hour car chase interrupted by a brief stretch of anxious downtime, and brought to life with the sort of deranged intensity that firmly indicates Miller's franchise has entered its decadent phase. All the more remarkable, then, that the movie still manages to retain its focus, achieving at once a shrewd distillation and a ferocious acceleration of its predecessors' sensibility. There is gargantuan excess here, to be sure, and no shortage of madness, but there is also an astonishing level of craft and discipline.

Perhaps wisely, Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris seem to have taken their cues from the spare yet sturdy narrative architecture of the series' acknowledged high point, "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1981). Years after some unexplained cataclysm, the world as we know it has fallen into lawless disarray, as briefly explained by Hardy's Max, whom we first see being pursued across a landscape of sunscorched dunes and endless horizons (the Namibian desert stood in for Australia this time around). The chase soon ends with our hero captured, imprisoned and tortured in the Citadel, a stronghold ruled by a despotic warlord known as the Immortan (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who has enslaved what remains of the local populace by controlling the water supply.

The Immortan's male warriors, known as the "war boys," show their respect for their leader by sharing in his gloriously awful fashion sense, walking around bald-headed with their torsos branded and bared, covered in pale body paint, and blinged out with shrunken-head necklaces and other demonic accouterments. Conversely the Immortan has taken a harem of five beautiful, child-bearing young women as his wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton), whom he keeps locked away.

It's their struggle that not only sets the plot in motion, but also lends "Fury Road" the swift, steady undercurrent of rage suggested by its title. The formidable one-armed warrior Imperator Furiosa (Theron) is the women's defender, smuggling them out of the stronghold in a heavily fortified truck. Once their plot is discovered, and the Immortan sends his minions after them (with Max himself lashed to the front of a war boy's car) the proceedings kick into high gear, and the magnificence of Miller's below-the-line contributions--including Junkie XL's pummeling score, Colin Gibson's elaborately grotesque production design, John Seale's vivid widescreen cinematography, and the outrageously acrobatic fight choreography --comes to the fore.

Miller remains a brilliant orchestrator of onscreen mayhem, and in "Fury Road" he seems to have ascended to that rare level of action-movie nirvana where a filmmaker's sheer exuberance in every detail becomes one with the audience's pleasure. Everything we see here seems to have sprung fully formed from the same cheerfully demented imagination, whether it's the cars that look like overgrown porcupines on wheels, the poles that catapult the fighters from one vehicle to the next, or the fiery windstorm that rages through in mid-chase, making short work of some of the less well-armored participants.

Yet Miller proves himself a maestro not only of slamming large objects together, but also in the much subtler matter of modulating his story's pacing. Notably, our engagement doesn't wane even when "Fury Road" downshifts into an interlude of tense, close-quarters intimacy, as Max finds himself forced to team up with Furiosa if he wants to escape (let alone overthrow) the Immortan.

"You know hope is a mistake," Max warns Furiosa late in the game, but for all its mood swings from giddy nihilism and darkest despair, "Mad Max: Fury Road" doesn't feel even remotely cynical. Certainly there's nothing but tenderness in the fiercely protective manner with which Furiosa and the five wives regard one another, or in the key supporting role of Nux (a wonderful Nicholas Hoult), a young, fanatical war boy whose dramatic shift in perspective yields one of the story's emotional high points.

That Max is a man of few words is precisely what has made him such a durably iconic creation over the years, one that dovetails perfectly with Hardy's taciturn charisma. Still, there's no denying that Miller and his collaborators have subtly conspired to put their hero in the passenger seat of his own reboot, deftly ceding the spotlight to Theron's electrifying Furiosa. Tellingly, plans are reportedly in the works for a "Fury Road" sequel called "Mad Max: Furiosa," raising the expectation --an unreasonable one, perhaps, on the evidence of Miller's powerhouse movie--that this duo's finest hour may yet be ahead of them.

CREDITS: A Warner Bros, release, presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, of a Kennedy Miller Mitchell production, produced BY Doug Mitchell, George Miller, PJ. Voeten. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS, Iain Smith, Chris DeFaria, Courtenay Valenti, Graham Burke, Bruce Berman, Steve Mnuchin. DIRECTED BY George Miller. SCREENPLAY, Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris. CAMERA (COLOR, ARRI ALEXA HD, PANAVISION WIDESCREEN), John Seale; editor, Margaret Sixel; MUSIC, Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL; production DESIGNER, Colin Gibson; SUPERVISING ART DIRECTOR. Richard Hobbs; art directors, Shira Hockman, Janni Van Staden, Marko Anttonen; set decorator, Lisa Thompson; COSTUME DESIGNER, Jenny Beavan; SOUND (DOLBY ATMOS), Ben OSITIO; SUPERVISING SOUND EDITORS, Mark Mangini, Scott Hecker; SOUND DESIGNER, David White; RE-RECORDING MIXERS, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff; VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR, Andrew Jackson; VISUAL EFFECTS PRODUCER, Holly Radcliffe; visual EFFECTS, lloura; CASTING, Ronna Kress, Nikki Barrett. REVIEWED AT Dolby Studios, Burbank, Calif., May 7,2015. (In Cannes Film Festival --noncompeting.) mpaa RATING: R. RUNNING TIME: 120 MIN. CAST: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie HuntingtonWhiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, John Howard, Richard Carter, lota, Angus Sampson, Jennifer Hagan
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Title Annotation:movie review
Author:Chang, Justin
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Movie review
Date:May 12, 2015
Words:1113
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