What A Lovely Day
Almost thirty years have passed since the last instalment in the Mad Max franchise was released. Which means the first thing one apparently needs to ask is ‘does this film serve as a sequel or a reboot’? Arguably it’s a reboot but as Max’s origins aren’t explored and the Mad Max franchise always felt a bit parabolic and disconnected from film-to-film, it could easily be considered both. One thing is certain though, Miller hasn’t lost his flair for the eccentric and ridiculous, nor has his eye for exhilarating action dulled.
The film opens with a brief voiceover detailing the history of Max Rockatansky’s [Hardy] life as a policeman, before simply surviving in the apocalyptic wasteland following personal tragedy. He is quickly set upon by a raiding party from the cult-like gang of warboys and brought back to a mountain fortress called the citadel to act as an unwilling blood/organ donor for their members. Within these walls, Max attempts escape but fails due to the sheer number of mind-warped followers and impregnable tunnels of the fortress; on top of that, Max is haunted by visions of those he’s lost, which act as a hallucinatory distraction at the worst possible moments. Chained to the wall, Max is intravenously hooked up to a wounded driver named Nux [Hoult] and referred to as ‘blood bag’. Simultaneously, a one-armed imperator named Furiosa [Theron] is sent out on a standard gasoline supply run but quickly deviates off course. We soon learn that she plans to liberate five young women who have been selected for breeding and are kept enslaved by citadel’s grotesque leader Immortan Joe [Keays-Byrne]. Learning of this, Joe sends his entire army of warboys out in pursuit, with Max still attached to Nux. From start to finish, this is a straightforward chase. The actual synopsis itself is incredibly basic, the character development is simple and the dialogue is sparse and yet this is a surprisingly complex film. In many ways, the action, the scale, the story are all grand without actually exceeding a specific point: the action is huge and rip-roaring but only feature ten or so cars in the desert, the setting feels endless but really it’s just a road or a canyon and the story is epic but as stated above consists of three-to-four actual developments. Much of the film’s genius lies in the subtext that’s hidden without actually being concealed at all; addressing slavery, patriarchy, sexual oppression, cult of personality, mob mentality, child brainwashing, morality, family, human rights and societal responsibility to name but a few.
Furiosa and Max serve as not only the film’s co-leads but also opposite sides of the same coin. Like a superhero/villain parallel, both characters have experienced the horrors of the wasteland and one has become broken and cold, while the other hopeful and driven. People often mistake Max for the series protagonist – a fair assumption considering the film’s title – when in actuality, he’s just a witness, always has been. Max is like our spirit guide through the wasteland; a self-serving individual who remains as neutral as possible before finally releasing a long repressed glimmer of something noble and acting upon it. Subsequently, many will feel that it is in fact Furiosa who is the film’s central protagonist. And it’s hardly surprising as one of the only things that feels a little off with the entire movie is Max himself. I’m not exactly sure what Hardy was going for with his performance and he never really seems to settle with the character, exuding a sort of weird mix of Bane, Bronson and Forrest Bondurant. But even then, he manages to convey the essence of what the character is, albeit a little less charismatically distant than Gibson. I’ll expand further on Furiosa’s involvement later but the assorted supporting cast were equally brilliant, throwing themselves head first into this crazy, lush world of absurdity and abuse. Nicholas Hoult gives a brilliantly energetic display and Keays-Byrne’s return to the franchise is a welcome one, with the visual alone of this armour clad desert beast a fine feat. The five wives each have their own distinct personalities and redeeming qualities, elevating them above the usual damsels in distress and demonstrating how strong female characters don’t have to all be written with the same mindless aggression. And then there are the countless extras and minor roles utilising toned shaved men and heavily disabled individuals, both of whom would be a staple of a nuclear wasteland and the general life expectancy of both equalised to a short existence.
With a gripping simple narrative and luxurious production design adding to the world-building, it would be easy to fall flat in terms of the technical aspects. Thankfully the direction, cinematography, stunt work and minimal CGI bleed together perfectly to create a plausible high-octane delight. Free from the posturing nonsense, flimsy visual effects or implausible developments that grace most action releases (Fast & Furious, I’m looking at you), everything has a weight to it and will leave audiences and filmmakers alike wondering how 75% of the shots were achieved without killing people. Keeping the pace and tension of the chase fresh, Dutch composer Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) continues his signature sliding guitar riffs, ominous brass blasts and tribal drums (one of the only redeeming features of 300: Rise Of An Empire) to help the two hour running time pass by without developing any form of fatigue or tedium.
Some may quibble about Fury Road being shot in Namibia rather than Australia but as this was due to the weather leaving Australia looking uncharacteristically lush and fertile, I think we can all agree it wouldn’t be fitting for the franchise’s setting. Nevertheless, every shot is indicative of a whacky, visceral, bright, stunning, thrilling, captivating and mesmerising 70’s dystopia that feels like a real product of post-nuclear Japanese anime and the endless sprawling deserts of Australia. Furthermore, the colourful and quirky palate, costume design, hair and make-up (and even the casting) lend themselves to standout from what we have come to consider as the typical contemporary vision of the future with desaturated greys and whites. Everything is gilded with a level of hybrid beauty and grotesquery through the attention to detail and pride in one’s physical appearance, even if what is being emulated is appalling. Same goes for the vehicle designs, which should be overtly ridiculous considering one of the primary causes for this apocalyptic future is the wars that stemmed from a depletion of oil. Thankfully, there’s a simple scene whereby the amount of manpower, petrol and ammunition expended on this simple endeavour is a shocking waste over a ‘family squabble’. All of this combines to produce something that has been imitated several times over but never truly a replicated, a thoroughly original and unique portrayal of mankind’s potential should society collectively abandon all form of civility.
15th May 2015
The Scene To Look Out For:
For completely separate reasons, I have highlighted two disparate scenes. The first is the epic sandstorm. It’s one of the rare uses of CGI but is handled very well, combining the utterly implausible with sheer fantasy. The visuals feel very reminiscent of oil paintings depicting the end of days or angels being cast out of heaven; endless impossible red clouds, lightning crashing all around, just a biblically monumental construction of chaos and fury. The second is for the (largely) reserved way of depicting something pretty gruesome through sound design. One of the major plot points is that Immortan’s favourite wife is heavily pregnant with his child and upon her death, has a make-shift surgeon perform a rushed caesarean-cum-autopsy. He learns that the baby was a boy and would have been ‘perfect in every way’ given enough time. As stated, this scene is pretty grisly if only for the sound design and the nonchalant slapping and rough inspection of what we can assume is a dead foetus. Unpleasant stuff without resorting to shocking grotesquery.
Considering how dire Theron was in Snow White And The Huntsman, it’s good to see her back on form and delivering a strong and powerful performance without resorting to ludicrous or clichéd tropes. Furiosa is a clearly Amazonian individual who was clearly done great things to not only survive the wasteland but to prove herself enough to be afforded a position of respect and relative power. And then on top of all that, to defy the status quo and stand up to her overlords. We’ve seen it plenty of times in film but rarely this convincingly.
“Do not become addicted to water, it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence”
In A Few Words:
“A fine addition to a rather niche but entertaining series of films that crave originality and excess”