REVIEW: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

mad max fury road

bars

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

I was having mixed feelings about this reboot of the classic Mad Max series, about halfway through, until the last act when George Miller cranks it up to 11 and delivers an opera of chaos and carnage to match…or maybe even outdo…the finish of his classic The Road Warrior.

Fury Road takes place years after the world has collapsed and finds ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a samurai-like loner wandering the wasteland, taken prisoner and brought to desert oasis of The Citadel by the forces of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the Toecutter from the original Mad Max). At the same time, one of Joe’s top imperators, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rebels and takes Joe’s wives/breeders out of The Citadel in a massive war rig. War parties are sent in pursuit with Max reluctantly brought along. Now Max must find a way to escape in the middle of a high speed road war and choose a side if he hopes to survive…but either side might want him dead.

Any reservations I was having from George Miller’s return to this classic character after 30 years was because the co-writer (with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) and director is a little too eager to get things moving at first and starts his epic chase saga in motion when we could have spent a bit more time in the Citadel, getting to know our villain better and understand more clearly why Furiosa is willing to throw everything away to escape with Joe’s prized possessions. We also need to get reacquainted with Max, as this is a new version of the classic character with a new actor’s interpretation. Instead I was left a bit cold and emotionally detached till we start to get some character and story development while on the road and on the run. Even still, by the time the credits roll, we realize there wasn’t all that much of a story anyway…and the earlier films indeed had a story to tell amongst the carnage. What we do get, thought, is almost two hours of some of the most incredible and energetic stunts and action since Miller first grabbed us by the throat with The Road Warrior…and no matter what we see in the first two thirds, it’s nothing compared to the jaw-dropping demolition derby that he makes his last act finale. The stunts and crashes are absolutely amazing and Miller has not lost his touch filming them. You’d think he would have run out of innovative ideas by now…but he hasn’t lost a beat. The film is also a stunning visual feast and John Seale’s cinematography is sumptuous as is the shot composition by Miller. The film is simply amazing to look at. The score by Junkie XL is both pulse pounding and melodic depending on the mood of the scene and production design on all fronts is spectacular. The film is as epic in scope as the action within it. Best of all, there are some subtle nods to the original series that should delight long-time fans and the film returns to a harder edge after the PG-13 Beyond Thunderdome.

Miller has also assembled a fine cast of actors to portray the eccentric and oddball characters that populate his post-apocalyptic world. There is no better choice to pick up the mantle of Max than Tom Hardy. Hardy’s ex-cop is more of a man of few words than Gibson’s portrayal and he conveys the essence of a man who is hardened, dangerous, yet, with a glimmer of humanity left buried deep inside. Max’s past is a bit vague for those who aren’t familiar, but we do see glimpses of flashbacks where loved ones were lost. Charlize Theron is also a strong and determined warrior as the mechanical-armed Furiosa. She is tough and dangerous and like Max, still has a touch of humanity left. Keays-Byrne makes a sleazy and omnipotent tyrannical warlord, though I wish we had a bit more time to really get to know how awful he is to give him more intensity. The actor is delightfully over-the-top, but most of the time is just staring angrily from behind the wheel of an oversized vehicle and doesn’t have any of the memorable lines his Toe Cutter or even Lord Humongous had. Even his thugs aren’t anywhere near as memorable as Vernon Wells’ Wez. Nicholas Hoult rounds out the main cast and is over-the-top fun as one of Joe’s War Boys, Nux, who winds up joining Max and Furiosa on their quest. The girls playing the wives (including  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) are all pretty, but get little to do and there is also a cast of hundreds of extras to add to the film’s epic feel.

So, as a fan of this classic film series…and one of my favorite movie characters in Mad Max…this movie won me over and then nearly blasted me out of my seat with it’s final third. Sure, I wish there had been a bit more of a story and I do wish there was more character development so I was more emotionally invested by the time the action started. But Miller gives us some amazing action and it’s wrapped in a stunning visual feast and no matter how intense the action gets, it is nothing compared to the massive chase that finishes things out. Hardy makes a fine choice for the new Max…though it took about a half hour to warm up to him in the role…and Charlize Theron proves yet again that there is a versatile actress beneath that beautiful exterior. And what Mad Max fan wouldn’t want to see Keays-Byrne in action again, even if his character could have been stronger. Maybe not quite the masterpiece I had hoped for, but it can proudly sit among the previous installments and delivered some of the best chase action since…well, The Road Warrior.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Mad Maxes…Hardy style.

madmax fury road rating

 

 

 

 

bars

MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE ROAD WARRIOR and MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

MZNJ_SNDF

now playing

double feature_RW_MMBT

bars

This week’s double feature is one that really works together for obvious reasons. While they are the second and third parts of the Mad Max trilogy, these two films both take place after the apocalyptic collapse of society and thrust Max into battles for survival in the savage wasteland the Australian Outback has become and feature him regaining his humanity as opposed to losing it to the tragic events of the first film.

road warrior

bars

THE ROAD WARRIOR aka MAD MAX 2 (1981)

Road Warrior is simply an action classic and one of my all time favorite movies. It still holds up today even after over 30 years and is still better then most of the CGI filled action flicks that get churned out today. I was stunned upon leaving the theater after first seeing it at the Stanley Warner in Paramus, N.J. in 1981 and the film still has it’s magic when I watch it all these years later.

The film is set years after the events of 1979’s Mad Max and takes place after an apocalyptic collapse of society triggered by the drying up of fuel sources and the resulting panic. It follows ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who we last saw avenging the murder of his wife and child against a savage biker gang, and now wanders the wasteland fighting to survive amidst the scavengers, a once loving family man transformed into a ruthless survivor who looks out only for himself. Max stumbles across a small desert community that is manufacturing fuel but, is also battling a large gang of thugs who want to take the gas and slaughter all those inside. Max’s need for fuel leads him to align himself with the embattled village but, is it something more that makes him risk his life as the villagers make a desperate attempt to escape the ‘vermin on machines’ and find a better place to start a new life.

The Road Warrior is simply a great movie. One of the greatest action films ever made, the film that turned Gibson into a star and launched dozens of cheap imitations and still inspires filmmakers today (I recommend Neil Marshall’s outrageously fun homage Doomsday). George Miller creates a world that is an apocalyptic Sergio Leone western in S & M gear and features some of the most furious action/chase scenes ever committed to film. He populates this world with a cast of eccentric characters from the bizarre and whimsical Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) to the equally surreal gang leader Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his mohawked henchman Wes (Vernon Wells). But, beneath all the leather and carnage the film also has a heart and a soul and that’s what sets it apart. Ultimately it is about clinging to and regaining one’s humanity in the face of adversity. Not only is Max rediscovering he has a heart underneath the bodies of all those he has killed and all that he has lost but, civilization as well is struggling to regain what’s been lost against those who would take advantage of it’s ruin. Amidst the bone-crushing action and blood-spattering violence there is a message of hope and that is really what makes this film so special and gives it so much substance. And director Miller mixes in his message perfectly with the action, offsetting the brutality with a quirky sense of humor so, the bleak nature of the film never wears you down. A perfect blend of elements if there ever was one. Miller also gives the film a look that would make Leone and Kurosawa proud and Dean Selmer’s cinematography brings it to life along with Norma Moriceau’s inventive costume design and, of course, all the amazing stunt work and action choreography. Wrap that up in Brian May’s pulse pounding score and you have a cinematic experience that is just as effective today as it was over 30 years ago. Miller co-wrote the script with Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant and the film was produced by Miller’s friend and Mad Max producer Byron Kennedy, who would tragically be killed 2 years later in a helicopter crash.

The cast really are perfect, especially for bringing such colorful and strange characters to life. Gibson is both samurai and gunslinger as the iconic Max, portraying a man who is deadly, cunning but, still has a heart buried deep down that enables him to become a hero when there are those in need. His actions may seem selfish at first but, the cop and family man is still in there needing a good reason to re-emerge. Bruce Spence is a delight as the goofy Gyro Captain, a bizarre individual who flies a gyro copter over the vicious inhabitants of the wasteland and survives by his wits and the help of his pet snakes. A truly endearing and memorable character. Nilsson and Wells create formidable villains becoming the signature template for all the bad guys in practically every post apocalyptic action rip-off that arose after this became a sensation. They are both oddballs and nut jobs but, very lethal characters with Wells’ Wes practically stealing the show as the loose cannon, psychotic henchman. We also have Michael Preston who is a noble leader as the in-over-his-head Pappagallo, a man who believes civilization is not lost and plans to start again. Young Emil Minty is a hoot as the Feral Child, a stray dog of a little boy who communicates in growls and is quite resourceful and scrappy in a fight and Virginia Hey is noble and strong as the simply named Warrior Woman, who fights just as hard as any man. There are many other supporting players and they all do well in establishing personalities for their offbeat characters. An almost perfect cast for a film masterpiece.

What else can I say. This film is a masterpiece of action and storytelling and is one of the most influential films of it’s time. It is one of my all time favorites and a film that is just as effective today as it was in 1981. It is a clear example that action movies can have a story and a soul and still deliver mind blowing sequences without a lick of CGI. Often imitated but, never equaled. A classic in every sense of the word.

4 warriors of the wasteland!

road warrior rating

 

plus

Mad_max_beyond_thunderdome

bars

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Second sequel to Mad Max brings a much lighter tone and a surprisingly tame PG-13 rating when compared to the brutal violence that earned a hard R rating for the previous films. As this film involves a tribe of wayward children, that isn’t too hard to understand, though was a bit hard to swallow for hardcore Mad Max fans. But, the story does make sense as the film brings Max a step closer to regaining his humanity and the world is getting closer to regaining it’s civility… though there still are some obstacles.

Set about a decade after The Road Warrior, the film picks up with wandering nomad Max (Mel Gibson) having his caravan stolen out from under him by the pilot Jedediah (Bruce Spence) and his pursuit leading him to a city in the desert called Bartertown where barter and trade is the way of life and energy is supplied by methane gas made by pig poop. To get his belongings back, Max gets in the middle of a power struggle between ruling matriarch Auntie (Tina Turner) and the duo known as Master Blaster (Angelo Rossitto as the diminutive genius Master and Paul Larsson as the muscle, Blaster) who provide Bartertown with it’s electricity.  Max’s task to kill Blaster in the gladiatorial Thunderdome goes awry and he is expelled into the desert to die. But, there he meets a tribe of lost children who mistake him for “Captain Walker”, the pilot of a crashed plane they prophesied to take them to “Tomorrow-morrow Land” a paradise far away. And when fate leads these kids back to Bartertown, Max once again finds himself facing Auntie and her army of thugs. Now he must somehow get these kids to safe place while keeping a vengeful Auntie from taking his head.

I’ll admit I was initially disappointed with a much lighter tone for the third Mad Max film… there is still plenty of action, just not the bone crunching kind… but, once I got past that, I realized that it makes sense as this is about the further regaining of humanity and the children represent a fresh start. Post Road Warrior, Max’s path back to being more humane is further along and while he is still dangerous, he is also more compassionate then when we last saw him. The film’s slightly fairy tale-ish story also makes sense as the last film saw a world that was more of a nightmare… a nightmare the world is slowly waking up from with new hope and signs of a return to order. The film also accents this with a slightly broader sense of humor and little or no actual bloodletting. George Miller, who again co-wrote with Terry Hayes, mirrors the world’s healing in the character of Max as the former husband and father becomes slowly protective of this group of orphans and comes to risk life and limb to see them safe. The Max we saw at the beginning of Road Warrior may not have done so unless it directly benefitted him. Over the course of the three films Miller has taken Max from good man to killer and from killer to savior, and that is what makes this trilogy work so well as a whole, as well as, individually, as each film differs distinctly from the last and yet they all fit together. Thunderdome has a brighter, more colorful look too, as it is a brighter film and Dean Selmer returns to brilliantly photograph it, recreating the Leone-esque landscapes of the previous films but, with stronger hues and deeper colors to illustrated this is a somewhat better world then the one we last saw Max in. The music score by Maurice Jarre is also fuller and far less savage sounding as Brian May’s perfectly fitting score in the last installment. Unlike the previous films, this film was co-directed by George Ogilvie but, the result is seamless.

The cast is again excellent with Gibson in top form as Max. He really convey’s the character’s slow growth back to a compassionate human being and gives us a perfect lone gun/samurai type that has made this character iconic. Tina Turner surprises with a nice over the top Auntie. She is having fun with the role and it shows and she also provides two strong songs for the soundtrack. Rocker Angry Anderson brings piss and vinegar as well as a touch of comic relief as Auntie’s lead henchmen who is constantly thwarted and embarrassed by Max and the kids. Rossitto makes Master both arrogant, when with the massive Blaster, and sympathetic when he is without his muscle and at Auntie’s mercy. Paul Larsson is imposing as Blaster but, has no dialog but, still is an effective presence. And rounding out the main cast is Helen Buday, who is strong and determined as the leader of the children’s tribe, Savannah and Bruce Spence again plays another eccentric pilot in his oddball Jedediah. The supporting characters are equally colorful and effective as always in these movies and many, like Pig Killer (Robert Grubb), are as memorable as the main cast.

So, while it’s not quite the masterpiece that is it’s predecessor and the lighter tone and more audience friendly action may be a bit off-putting for hardcore fans of The Road Warrior, this sequel is still highly entertaining and does fit in with the series very well. An excellent cast creates another assortment of memorable characters and Miller and Gibson successfully take Max on the next step in his journey to rediscovering the man he once was. There is also plenty of action to punctuate the story and a couple of now classic Tina Turner tunes as a bonus. A really good movie and a fitting entry in a classic trilogy.

3 and 1/2 warriors of the wasteland!

mad max thunderdome rating

 

AND HERE IS A BONUS MUSIC VIDEO FROM THE THUNDERDOME SOUNDTRACK!…

bars