Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Flower had been coy about going to see a movie on her birthday. She wondered whether there would be anything good out (apparently Avengers 2 wasn't going to cut it and Marnie hadn't opened locally yet). I tentatively suggested Mad Max: Fury Road, about which she was dubious until I dropped the CGI-bomb.

As in, Mad Max's special effects are not primarily CGI but actual cars and what-not.

I actually didn't think that would sell it, but it did, in a big way. Then my concern was that the movie wouldn't live up to the hype in her own head.

But it did. In a big way.

How good is Fury Road? Very, very good. The Boy put it in his top 5 of the year-to-date. (Keep in mind that three of the other four—American Sniper, Mommy and Wild Tales are actually from last year—but he goes by the year he sees them, not the "official" year. For the curious, the fifth and most recent of the top 5 is the deeply romantic 5 to 7, which will probably drop a bit lower as the year wears on.)

Fury Road on the other hand is not just good in comparison to other things, but just plain good. Even if you didn't like any of the three previous entries in the series, you might like this. There's less graphic violence, for example. And maybe because he spent the past two decades directing family films like Babe and Happy Feet, director George Miller has a sure hand had creating emotion and drama without a lot of words.

In fact, if this movie has a weak point, it's the few words that are actually spoken. It's virtually a silent film—could've just about have been, in fact.

The story is that Max is captured by an evil warlord who keeps women for breeding (and milking!) purposes, in attempt to have a son who isn't a hideous defective mutant. Max spends the first half of the movie providing blood for (anemic?) Nux (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies, X-Men: Days of Future Past), the son of the warlord Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Bearns, who was the villain in the first Mad Max).

I want to point out now, as I feel I always must, that the first Mad Max isn't post-apocalyptic. It's just an Australian version of Death Wish, and it's only apocalyptic in the sense that all those revenge movies of '70s gave a sense of apocalyptic doom and civilizational collapse. It's not until Mad Max 2, known in The States as The Road Warrior, that the collapse has actually occurred. (And then of course, Beyond Thunderdome, where an emergent civilization, Bartertown, begins to take hold.)

Speaking of The Road Warrior, hailed in its time and for years after as the greatest action film ever made, Fury Road may actually be better. But perhaps better for the series as a whole, it's different.

Anyway, Max (Thomas Hardy, who spent his last movie in a car, too) finds himself with a bunch of the breeding women trying to escape, but in true Max style, he's not too interested in getting involved. It's only through the machinations of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) that he ends up going on this road trip.

Now, we can't really pretend that the Maxian apocalyptic world makes sense. As The Old Man was fond of pointing out, if you were driving cars along in the Australian desert, your problem wouldn't be gas, it would be tires. But within the confines of its own rules (Apocalypse, but with cars) it all works. And it works because considerable care went into playing within those rules.

For example, the breeding women? They're near useless. They're gorgeous, soft, pale, scantily clad, and they can't do a damn thing. Predictably, at times they debate the wisdom of leaving their comfortable lives for the crazy, wild world outside, where they'll have to work and scrabble like everyone else. But they do have heart, or at least some do. (This doesn't make them useful but it makes them likable.)

Furiosa fights Max but she can't really harm him much unless she grabs some sort of a weapon. This is refreshing given the current nonsense regarding women fighting men, with little sub-100 pound women beating up hulking giants. (Just as a reference, consider that trans-sexual that's going around smashing up women in MMA in his weight class!)

I suppose I should talk, at least briefly, about the whole Eve Ensler thing. (Because everything must be political, apparently.) George Miller apparently had Ensler, whose sole claim to fame seems to be pedophilia-endorsing "The Vagina Monologues", consult on the film, and this resulted in—I guess—the Vuvalini, a sort-of Amazonian tribe of motorcycle women.

But, here's the thing: the name never comes up that we recalled (and I was listening for it). And the whole premise—i.e., that some women might get fed up of the abuse they'd been fed (especially in Road Warrior and here) and form their own group? It's not that far-fetched. They're largely older women, too, which would make sense.

And to me, the irony is that it's in the running for Least Feminist Movie Ever. (Apocalyptic movies almost can't be feminist if they're going to make sense. Feminism is a by-product of civilization.) The Vuvalini come off reminiscent of pioneer women, nothing even slightly edgy or radical there. There are traditional male roles, female roles, a couple of classic boy-meets-girl stories woven in, and so on. And it's a world where a bourgeois lifestyle would be paradise.

So unless the idea is to boycott everything that certain people touch, I'm not getting the point here.

Another common criticism is "The movie isn't about Max!" Well, none of the movies are about Max, after the first one. The first movie is Max's character arc. It defines him. The second movie is about a struggle over gas he doesn't want to get involved in. The third about Tina Turner. So, I don't find that complaint interesting, especially given how silly most franchises get in trying to make all their movies about one character going through arc after arc, unable to learn from anything, like it's an episodic sitcom.

Anyway, the action is gripping in a way that I don't get out of the superhero stuff. The character development is economic but strong. It's got style coming out its ears. And it confirms a belief I have regarding CGI: It can be a lot more effective if it's used sparingly, as-needed. The scenes of the Australian Outback are breathtaking (as seen in Tracks, e.g.) and the CGI is used to create just the right amount of sci-fi/fantasy vibe.

The kids really dug all the little touches, like the swamp where the Ravens—a tribe that navigated the toxic marsh on stilts—lurked. The cult. The chrome. The tree. And there are just tons of these little details everywhere. It's one they've both indicated strongly they wish to see again.

And I won't mind joining them.

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