Thursday, May 14, 2015

'Mad Max: Fury Road' (2015) directed by George Miller

After a stunning series of trailers, each more cataclysmic than the last, I'd prepared myself for disappointment. After all, I've been fooled by trailers before and these were so great I suspected the film had blown its visual wad too early. Boy oh boy was I glad to be proved wrong. Fury Road is a two hour symphony of destruction, a visual and sonic feast so intense that it approaches abstraction.

Set in a post-apocalyptic Australia of "blood and fire", 'Mad' Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a guilt-ridden desert wanderer. A solitary, silent and stoic figure, he's focused on one thing: survival. Not five minutes into the film he's captured and imprisoned by desert warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe, with control over water, fuel and bullets, has established himself as a God figure at the centre of aperverse dictatorial society. 

Legions of white-painted, suicidal 'war boys' carry out his violent bidding, while women are either sex slaves or perpetually pregnant human cows hooked to milking machines. A notable exception is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), badass supreme and trusted leader of Joe's war parties. But the mistreatment of Joe's wives has gotten to her, and soon she's leading an escape party across the desert, hotly pursued by a swarm of war boys in modified death-machines. Max ends up chained to the front of one of them, and so the stage is set for carnage.

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)
It's difficult to emphasise how satisfying this action is. I have no aesthetic or philosophic axe to grind with regard to CGI, but Miller's practical effects are viscerally astonishing in a way that a render farm couldn't hope to capture. From the moment the first rusty metal hulk rumbles on screen we implicitly understand it's simple reality. As these spiky, juddering, roaring, flame-spewing hunks of metal clash amid clouds of dust, the film transforms into a kaleidoscope of chaos. It's the kind of action that drops your jaw to the floor - more you wonder 'how the hell did he film that?!'

The adventurousness continues into the score, which makes fascinating use of diegetic sound. JunkieXL's score is rhythmically accompanied by the throaty growl of engines, metal clanking against metal and the screams of the participants. The best example is the incredibly barmy war-machine-rig that accompanies the villains on their raids. On the rear are several drummers beating out a rhythm, on front is a red-clad man furiously shredding on a double-necked guitar. Which is also a flamethrower. Sonic strands weave in and out of the action in dizzying combinations; the confusion between what's diegetic and non-diegetic, combined with the visual overload leads to cinematic synaesthesia. 

I'd be over the moon with just that, but Fury Road isn't just carnage. George Miller, arguably the creator of much of what we consider 'post-apocalyptic', loads the plot with social relevance and pointed gender politics. All too often, post-nuclear settings are used as right-wing libertarian playgrounds where life has reverted to a rugged 'natural' form once the corrupt liberal society have been blasted away. 

Miller understands that this is bullshit, the world of Mad Max is less a place of freedom and more a place where the societal desires, needs and instincts are stronger than ever. The people of the wasteland desperately need gasoline, water and security, and so do we. The only difference is that we've insulated ourselves from the processes needed to supply it. Miller's world is the epitome of naked, vicious capitalism, the rabid competition between warlords underlining the fact that cooperation, kindness and empathy stand in eternal opposition to free market philosophies.

That point of view leads into the specifics of what Fury Road is about: sex slavery, rape and the broad objectification of women. Told in broad feminist strokes, the film shows us a battle of the sexes - domineering men seeking to possess, control and dehumanise women who have the gall to declare that they're no-one's property. The prime mover in this is Theron's impossibly badass Furiosa, who with a shaved head, robot arm, bad attitude and penchant for smearing oil over her face looks like a grown-up, pissed off Tank Girl. Furiosa is right up there with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, essentially sharing top-billing with Max himself. She's a wonderful creation, Theron mixing up rock-hard militaristic meanness that's punctuated only by brief, but touching glimpses of anguish and trauma. 

Fury Road isn't at all cryptic about any of this - going so far as to daub its message on the scenery at times. Nonetheless it's gratifying to see a straightforwardly, unselfconscious feminist film that also has people getting their faces ripped off, flaming tornadoes and rad fire-guitar solos. 

Whoever gave George Miller $150,000,000 to crash cars into each other in the desert deserves a medal. No action film is going to top this in 2015, so get yourself to the largest screen you can as soon as possible!


Mad Max: Fury Road is released 14 May 2015

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