Reeling it in: ‘Mad Max’ blazes down ‘Fury Road’

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

Warner Bros.

2 hours

There’s a recurring element in this week’s insanely entertaining action adventure “Mad Max: Fury Road,” that sums up what I love about not only this film, but it’s predecessors as well. You’ve probably seen at least a clip of what I’m about to describe. In the midst of dozens of souped up, screaming war machines tearing through the desert after Max and his cohorts is a rig that appears to consist of an entire stereo-store of speakers backing a suspended platform upon which a crazed mutant with a huge electric guitar is providing a frenzied adrenaline fueled soundtrack to the chase playing out below him. Behind the speakers, suspended at a 45 degree angle, are a half-dozen bass drummers, pounding out a rhythm, giving structure to the mayhem.

It’s bizarre, amazingly cool looking, and has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. As a result, it is never explained, or even mentioned by any of the characters. It’s just this strange, crazy thing. I love that, because “Fury Road” has only two goals — look cool and drive the plot relentlessly forward. And that it does, never stopping for needless exposition or pandering, tacked on humor, or excessive dialogue.

I can see lesser films trying this and coming off as bombastic, empty, or just plain ugly. Michael Bay comes to mind. But master filmmaker George Miller manages to effortlessly weave those lighter moments, those bits of exposition, and real character development into the constant rhythm of the action. The man is a brilliant director and it’s only a shorter filmography that keeps him out of the ranks of Spielberg and Scorsese.

Max, survivor of the fall of civilization and now a wanderer in the wasteland, is captured by the denizens of the Citadel in the first few minutes of the movie. The Citadel is an oasis in the desert where water is pumped up from underground and used as a means of propping up the dictatorial rule of a diseased family. The community is led by Immortan Joe, a radical high priest of sorts, who uses his army of “warboys” to keep order.

At his right hand is Imperator Furiosa, as tough a warrior as there is, but who is about to surprise her maniacal employer. The Immortan maintains a stable of wives, young, beautiful, and most important, free from disease. Furiosa is about to open the gates.

Max, in the meantime, has been chosen to act as a living blood bag, literally suspended upside-down with tube to allow his healthy blood to flow into that of Nux, a warboy whose illness has gotten the better of him. When word of Furiosa’s betrayal reaches the Citadel, Nux decides that death in battle will assure him entry into the realm of Valhalla, as promised by the Immortan. So he straps Max to the front of his car, bloodline intact, and races off to find his destiny on the Fury Road.

What follows is two hours of the most adrenaline-filled, heart-stopping action ever filmed.

I think it’s fair to say that I loved “Fury Road.” I like it more today than when I walked out of the theater this weekend, and that’s saying something because I was pretty pleased with it then. The movie is pure excitement. Tom Hardy, taking the role made famous by Mel Gibson, is perfect because he never attempts to make his Max a Gibson impersonation. He’s tough and taciturn and is struggling with terrible memories from his past.

Charlize Theron steals the film as Furiosa, and much like other Mad Max movies, the film is really more about her than him. She provides brilliant balance to the role, playing someone who goes from tormented to tormentor and then seeks redemption.

Much has been made about the film’s feminist agenda or how it is flat out man-hating, but I don’t see it. Yes, there is a strong female protagonist and yes, the villain is a man that has engaged in sexual slavery. That’s non-unique. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen an episode of “Law and Order: SVU” that could be described exactly the same way.

“Fury Road” is a great story with great performances and excellent writing. The fact that much of the story comes from a female perspective simply means that it has the same perspective as 50 percent of the population, and if you’re one of the few people who still believes that we should live in a male dominated society where half of the human beings are subservient to the other half, then maybe this film isn’t for you.

I was very impressed with the acting in the film, but I can’t say enough about George Miller. To be able to referee this madness is a true feat. So many of the effects in this film are practical, not computer generated, and to have marshaled all of that, especially considering the difficulties they had on set with the weather and other breakdowns, is a testament to the skill of the director.

Miller has the remarkable ability to work in widely varied genres, never telling the same story twice, and to consistently hit the ball out of the park. In case you don’t recognize his name, he directed, in addition to “Mad Max,” “The Road Warrior,” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” “Babe,” “Babe: Pig in the City,” “Happy Feet” and “Happy Feet Two,” among others. Of those four children’s films, only “Babe” seemed like a sure bet, and even that premise was a little weird — a sheep-pig? The rest of that line up, though, should have been junk. The pig goes to the big city and meets a bunch of weirder animals, including a creepy clown? A dancing penguin musical? A dancing penguin musical sequel?

And yet, those four films are some of the richest, most moving, and downright beautiful children’s films I’ve ever seen.

Of the Mad Max movies, each one feels completely different from the other, and I think that’s part of their strength. Max seems like a mythical figure, and the films are generally structured as stories being told about him from different perspectives and with probably varying degrees of accuracy.

I can’t say enough about “Fury Road,” but, as with any film, it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot of grotesquery on display, both in the diseased and ruined bodies of some of the characters, and in the pitiless violence. I wouldn’t say there’s much in the way of gore, but there’s some disturbing stuff here, so be forewarned. If you’re on board with that, however, “Mad Max: Fury Road” will make you seriously re-evaluate the terms “Fast” and “Furious.”

Grade: A

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is rated R for brief nudity and non-stop violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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