IN THEORY, MOVIE reboots give audiences everything they loved about the original, with the added gloss of new stars, new effects, and new budgets. In practice, though, this is almost never delivered; fans often are left walking out of theaters wishing their beloved films had never been tarnished by the imperfect doppelganger.
Lightning rarely strikes twice, so going into Mad Max: Fury Road it’s hard not to dwell on the words of Max Rockatansky himself: “You know hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.” The thing is, Max is wrong. Fury Road is everything fans could have hoped for.
It’s also a very necessary movie right now. Fury Road is not only a reminder of what big, beautiful action movies can and should look like, it’s a reminder that they can have a point. That spectacle can have substance. That, in a cinematic landscape where we’re still fighting over the roles women get in movies, a new Ripley might just be waiting in the next trailer you see. (In Fury Road’s case, that’s Charlize Theron in a heart-stoppingly badass performance as Imperator Furiosa.)
(Mild spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road to follow.)
Writer/director George Miller’s fourth and latest Max—coming nearly 30 years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—opens with our hero (Tom Hardy taking the baton from Mel Gibson in yet another sign of cinema’s Brawn Race) staring out over an arid wasteland. The world is in ruins, his voiceover tells us, and everyone has been “broken” in their own way. He has been reduced to a creature of survival… Then he’s kidnapped. Taken in by the coke-white War Boys of messianic warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Max is branded—or, more rightly, tattooed—as a universal donor (shout out to Type O negative!) and literally turned into a blood bag for an ailing War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Terrible way to start a day, bloody fantastic way to start a movie.
Meanwhile, after driving an armed-to-the-teeth tanker truck out of Immortan Joe’s settlement, Furiosa uses a gasoline run to smuggle Immortan Joe’s “wives”—or, as someone else refers to them, his “prized breeders”—at which point things go from kinda-nuts to oh-shit-strap-yourself-in.
Joe, who has covered his horrifically sore-riddled body with a plastic exosuit and breathes through a respirator seemingly modeled after the Donnie Darkorabbit’s teeth, is pissed. What follows is an all-hands assemblage of post-apocalyptic dune buggies and War Boys to reclaim his “property”—and about two hours of the most spectacular, bombastic car chases ever filmed. Max, ever the reluctant savior, winds up joining Furiosa’s rescue mission and slaloms through one flaming near-miss after another. (I am not a pearl-wearer, but reached up to clutch a phantom set on at least a dozen occasions in the span of an hour.)
Dialogue is scarce, but every detail of Miller’s world is a magna carta of what truly adventurous filmmaking looks like. Much of this is thanks to his ability to show rather than tell. No one says the women in Joe’s dominion are sex slaves—they are just shown pregnant or being hooked up to milking machines or leaving hateful messages scrawled on the walls. (Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler served as a consultant on Fury Road to help the women who played Joe’s “wives” understand how their characters would deal with trauma.) The fact Max wants to help Furiosa et al. as a way of atoning for not being able to save those who came before them … well, that’s actually pretty spelled out, but it’s still there.
These things may be all done in service of setting up the next epic explosion, but they’re also done with plenty of emotional heft. (That audio amphetamine score by Junkie XL helps too.)
At a certain point, Fury Road becomes a metaphor for its own place in the current cinematic landscape. The term “wasteland” is a little harsh, maybe, but in a time of half-baked reboots and problematic depictions of women in film, here comes Fury Road with a Immortan Joe Concubine Chorus yelling “We are not things!” and dodging Hollywood conventional wisdom like so many exploding spears. (This, as you can probably imagine, does not sit well with the “men’s rights” movement.) Miller’s beefed-up war vehicle is a female empowerment tale hidden in a macho action flick—one bombarded on all sides by flashier movies, being chased by powerful masters who claim to own the world it lives in, yet holding on to a fighting shot of surviving.
Take the metaphor a step further and it seems as though the gangs clashing on Fury Road are fighting to return to a theatrical paradise lost. At one point Joe’s favorite “wife,” Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), screams “Then who killed the world?” at Nux; she’s punching a hole in his blind adherence to Joe’s messiah schtick, but she could have just as easily been yelling at Hollywood itself. After all, our theaters were once filled with the universes of Blade Runnerand Aliens and Goonies, but they’re not anymore.
In the three-plus decades since Miller’s original Mad Max hit theaters, a lot has changed. Budgets have gotten bigger, CGI has gotten more prominent, and summers have become the battleground for each studio’s presumed Next Sure Thing. Some of them are great, others aren’t, but they’re always safe. Fury Road may have a bigger budget and better gear than Miller had for his original trilogy, but it still feels dangerous, even transgressive; risking a $150 million budget on the faith that people will see a hard-R-rated death race, let alone one in the service of ending sex slavery, just doesn’t happen these days. I have a hard time believing that Jurassic World will leave me thinking How’d they get away with this?! the way Fury Road did.
And it gets away with a lot. Are you looking for theCitizen Kane of cars-that-go-boom movies? Fury Roadis for you. But would you rather see a shrewd meditation on the psychology of despotism and how the disenfranchised can ignore other subjugated people when they’re just trying to survive? Fury Roadis still for you. (The movie’s one major failing is that in a picture about power and life on the margins, race is a non-factor; Zoe Kravitz’s Toast the Knowing is the only nonwhite character anywhere.) Films about dystopias almost always have some larger message about authoritarianism and/or class, but rarely do they pull it off as smartly and subtly as Miller does here.
After this weekend, Mad Max: Fury Road will surely be a lot of things to a lot of people: massive actioner they repeatedly drag their friends to; the rebirth of a too-long-gone franchise, a sign of hope for gritty, fun, smart movies. But ultimately it will be remembered as a testament to the power of brute-force imagination—and proof that filmmakers can still create something out of nothing.
source: wired.com by ANGELA WATERCUTTER