Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Well, kids. Director George Miller is at it again. No, not another dancing penguin movie. The fourth Mad Max flick. Without Mel Gibson, yet. Why not? Max is bigger than Mel.

Oh, don't act so bloody surprised. The Mad Max series is the Australian, punk rock, balls-out, sci-fi equivalent of Blade Runner. Of course it's bigger than Mel.

Now, let's talk about the movie. Spoilers will ensue.

OK. A plot summary would waste your time, but who said your time's that important? At any rate, your chronological loss would be minimal, so here goes. (I'll skip the post-apocalyptic set up -- you know that bit, right? Right.) So ...

Fast-forward to a rotten, near-future in the Australian desert. After eating a two-headed lizard, Max (Tom Hardy) is taken captive by a psychotic cult of motorheads led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an unpleasant individual in a mesa citadel hogging a fresh water source and controlling a posse of radiation-poisoned "war boys" with aerosol drugs and visions of Valhalla. Tests prove Max is a universal blood donor, hence a "blood bag." So, they mask him up and chain him to the front of a customized, killer car like an S&M hood ornament. Off he goes on a raiding party. Then someone leaves the party, namely Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She peels off with her tanker against the boss' orders. (With six of the leader's breeder wives down below.) The "war boy" with Max on his hood pursues. A chase and a crash later, Max and Furiosa form a reluctant team. They haul ass to her childhood home -- "the green place." Or formerly green. It's a stinking, toxic bog now -- so they head back to Joe's citadel, revolution in mind. There and back again, Immortan Joe and his badasses dog their heels in souped-up death machines straight out of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth nightmares.

200 words, give or take. Not too bad, eh? But let's boil it down further ...

First half: an extended chase from Point A to Point B.
Second half: an extended chase from Point B back to Point A.

That's the plot. As stripped-down as a Roadrunner cartoon -- and I mean that as a compliment.

Chuck Jones was no idiot. Neither is Miller.

This is smart sci-fi filmmaking, kids. Stupid critics have missed the point since the series started.

Mad Max's motor mayhem makes film snobs assume it's stupidity on wheels -- an ultraviolent cinematic monster truck rally. OK, that's exactly what it is, aside from the stupidity. A fierce intelligence animates Miller's dangerous vision. A fearless courage drives his cut-it-to-the-bone style

"Less is more." Yeah, that sounds nice. But minimalism is hard. A higher level of difficulty.

And that's Miller's style.

Spare dialog. Next to no expository blah-blah-blah. No idiotic voiceovers or crawls. Miller throws out nuggets of info; you either catch them or you don't. (Us English majors call 'em "synecdoches," yep.)

It's a damn hard way to tell a story, unless you do it exactly right.

Miller does.

With glimpses, hints and fragments, Miller does what sci-fi authors and filmmakers should do. The work of world-building. He shows us a self-consistent reality. A world that hangs together ...

What a rotten world it is.

A bleak vision. Which is kinda like saying the crucifixion was an ouchy boo-boo.

Forget the Cirque de Soleil ballet of killer cars and really look at it.

You'll see an ongoing illustration of Martin Buber's "I-it" relationship. A heartless world where the weak exist to be used. Breasts for milking; wombs for birthing; strong bodies for fighting; veins for fresh blood. If you're not on top, that's all you are. This is what happens when the resources are gone, and humanity's left fighting for scraps.

That's the Mad Max world -- and the nightmare. (One born of Miller's meditations on the limits to growth, I suspect.) But nightmare is the salient point. Or the nature of the nightmare. This bad dream explains the obsessive attention to detail, why Miller keeps making the same movie over and over, and why his crazyass film is, ultimately, so honest.

Miller didn't manufacture this lurid horrorshow to make the audience scream.

It's Miller's nightmare.

He's just getting it out of his system.




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