Hype is a dangerous thing. When you’re excited for something new on the horizon you’ve already trapped yourself in a state of mind where you can only be disappointed. For example, let’s say you watch an exciting trailer; the film you’re imagining is infinitely more thrilling and wonderful than the film could ever possibly be. This isn’t because your imagination is stronger than anyone else’s, but it’s because your imagination isn’t constrained by the real world that the film is made in.
Mad Max Fury Road is the impossible film that somehow delivers on the fantasy promise of the trailer and premise. A lot of reviews going around have liberally used the word “insane” to describe it and I don’t think I can think of anything better. It’s the execution of what you thought movies could be when you were an excited twelve year old.
The story starts with Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, driving a suped-up petrol tanker War Rig. She’s an underling of Immortan Joe, the leader of a small violent society who have gathered around one of the few remaining reserves of water. When returning a cargo of imprisoned wives to Joe, Furiosa abruptly turns the War Rig off the designated route and makes a break for a promised land where women and their offspring aren’t the property of warlords.
In the great tradition of classic action premises Max himself isn’t the instigator of any of these revolutions. He’s the stranger who came to town, who, in the manner of classic heroes like Han Solo, only agrees to help Furiosa initially because their immediate goals of safety briefly align. Max even spends the opening set-piece strapped to the grill of a truck as his blood is syphoned out into the body of the driver, watching the gang of Immortan Joe tear after Furiosa from the leading car.
That opening set-piece lasts about forty minutes. Usually this is a favourite pet-peeve of mine – the action scene that doesn’t know how to end. Fury Road manages to pull it off because of a few smart choices. Firstly the action of the film is the principle method of storytelling. The director George Miller has spoken a lot in press interviews about the purity of silent cinema, and how with Fury Road he wanted to tell a story entirely by visual means. Secondly the action is incredible. It’s genuine stunt-work that you’re watching and seeing the gang of War Boys fling themselves from car to car is astonishing.
It’s efficient, but character driven. Miller builds a world and story with muscle movement and costume design; Tom Hardy spends the first half of the film with his jaw wired shut, frantically chiselling his way out as the sound of pursuing growling engines draws closer. The choreographed insanity is so effective that Fury Road manages one of the most effective feminist take-downs of macho-cinema that I have ever seen, and does it all without the characters breaking story-flow to talk about it. The themes and characters are all in the framing and world building, and it respects your intelligence that you get that without having to grab you by the shoulders and explain it to you.
It feels like a just week in film criticism because Fury Road has been met with riotous praise, and rightly so. Many have called it a throw-back to action cinema of the 80s, but it’s important to remember that films like this didn’t exist in the 80s. This is the kind of genre film that has literally been impossible to make until recently, now that wire-work and stunt-ropes can be edited out digitally without making a scene look ridiculous, and that stunts can be composited into shots that would have been otherwise impossible.
This is film technology being used in a way that is revolutionary. For all the buzz when something like Avatar is released, using modern day tech to include the physicality of eye-watering stunts is the thing that gets me excited. This film cost $150 million to make, which is a sizeable amount, and I’m hoping it does well enough to start a trend of films like this.
Image credit: Stephen Kruso via Compfight
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