Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road ★★★★

Image result for Mad Max 1980 stills

    There is no question that director George Miller is an enigma in his own right. I mean, it is quite hard to believe that this is the same man who produced cheerful and family-oriented films such as "Babe" and "Happy Feet." This rendition of Mad Max is surely his Magnum Opus (as well as an insight into the eccentric and outlandish portion of his mind), yet it is also a magnificent work of art that has been in production hell for far too long. 

    A simple allegory--yes--but it is also a testament to his particular style and brand of film-making. "Fury Road" is simply a tour-de-force of non-stop action and brilliance, which just so happens to come in the form of what I would designate to be a rock opera. (The picture not only utilizes several "acts" to compose the whole, but features a metal head guitarist, who produces jarring notes while the action takes place.) Intrigued? You should be.

    Now, if you are expecting to indulge in a film where Max Rockatansky is the central focus, then you will be sorely mistaken. The character of "Mad Max" has been reduced to a shell of his former self, which ultimately seems to be a harsh ramification of the cosmic irony treatment he has received over the years; sure, he is present and somewhat integral to the story at hand, but it seems to be more of a "passing of the torch" type of setup than anything else.

    In post-apocalyptic Australia, the land has been reduced to nothing more than salt and the instinct of survival. Only a handful of civilizations exist, including the "Bullet Farm," "Gas Town," and a somewhat lush environment known as "The Citadel," which is run by a dictator named Immortan Joe. Water is given to the helpless civilians in intervals and most of the dirty work is handled by an army of "War Boys," who in the opening moments of the film, capture a broken man turned scavenger in Max (Tom Hardy)

    This rather nihilistic and suicidal culture of The Citadel (in which the War Boys believe they will reach the halls of Valhalla upon death--glad to see Norse mythology still alive and well) is gearing up for a run to "Gas Town," when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the driver of the "War Rig" and a well-established leader, decides otherwise.

Image result for Mad Max Fury Road stills

     Meanwhile . . . . . . but is the plot really of any importance here? I think not. The rest of the picture merely involves the War Rig on the open dirt highway that is Fury Road, as Furiosa attempts to steal several precious "objects" that belong to Immortan Joe, who subsequently follows in pursuit; Max begrudgingly tags along and the rest is history. This strategy is not only exceedingly simplistic, but absolutely brilliant. Characterizations are blatantly left short in an effort to convey the allegory at hand (that being one with a nature of sexual equality), and although this structure generally fails in its aims, it succeeds invariably here. Action films worldwide take note.

    What is most striking about this film is its unique production design and a style that ironically seems more artistic than anything else. The latter is created by way of numerous techniques, most of which can also be found permeating throughout Miller's original trilogy, including: fast motion, long tracking shots, and an indirect subjective viewpoint that ensnares the audience's attention with relative ease. Symbolism comes in the form of natural symbols, such as the raven (also found in Miller's earlier productions), and same shot relationships, such as a pregnant stomach representing innocent life, accompanied by a spray of bullet rounds to express death. (It would seem that Miller is trying to claim that in this realm: Both are one in the same.)

    An abundance of visual metaphors (executed both internally and externally) help to round out this one-of-a-kind style, which at times can be compared to the comic book atmosphere of "Sin City." The majority of these external "visions" allude to the haunting past of Max, yet Miller is obviously intent on placing an artistic touch in every crevice that he is able. There is a junction in the picture where we are flashed with what seems to be a yellow paint splotch, which makes very little sense; nevertheless, evoking a feeling of unadulterated inspiration.

    The look and feel of the picture are utterly evocative, and one can certainly understand why a film's production is deemed a collaborative effort if they stay long enough through the end credits. ("Fury Road" contains one of the longest production lists I've ever seen.) The obvious utilization of color filters on the camera gives the picture an almost orange peeled tone during the day and a mystical hue of blue at night. (The former being brought out even more by the shade of Hardy, who looks to have overdosed on spray tanning.) There are even special lighting effects used in the character's eyes while, under the night sky, that signifies how Miller pulled out all the stops on this one; every note is composed elegantly.

Image result for Mad Max Fury Road stills Furiosa

    As far as the allegorical script is concerned: The film is teeming with insinuations to the struggle for woman's equality, and every character fits this mold to a certain extent. Furiosa and her journey to "redemption" comes to symbolize feminism in its purest form (strong and able) and Joe represents the chauvinistic eighteenth century frame of mind that places the sex of women--and their children for that matter--in the same category as a bundle of possessions. Even particular scenes give off this impression, most notably in one instance where Max has to hand over the last shot of ammo because he knows Furiosa is a better aim.

    My only issue with this formula is that allegories tend to subdue the complexity of the character's disposition to where it becomes one-dimensional, however, Theron's performance clearly impedes this process; Theron steals the show with this portrayal and provides a heartfelt sentiment that most actresses can only dream of.

    Exactly what is 70-year-old director George Miller attempting to communicate here? The quotation that is boldly displayed at film's end suggests that there is a bigger picture at play; that is what makes the philosophical riddle all the more captivating. Not to mention the single shot motif in which Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a symbolic War Boy who garners his own subplot, devours a fly in a seemingly graceful fashion. Could this be an ode to the 1959 film entitled "Suddenly, Last Summer," where it is implied that mankind is nothing more than a viscous being that feeds on each other? Possibly not, yet whatever Miller is suggesting here, more of the same has become undoubtedly warranted.

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