Film / Reviews

'Mad Max: Fury Road' is so good at spectacular violence that it injures itself

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

If you want a vision of the future, at least from George Miller’s perspective, picture a boot stamping on a human face for about two hours. Those in search of a bludgeoning good time will find it in his new scorched-earth action extravaganza, “Mad Max: Fury Road” — it’s hard to remember the last time a summer tent-pole movie over-delivered in the ways this does.

In resurrecting the Australian post-apocalyptic road-movie series that made his name — and launched Mel Gibson’s career — over three decades ago, Miller has skipped the salad and gone straight for the steak. Never mind that his last live-action feature was “Babe: Pig in the City” in 1998, “Fury Road” is a master-class in cinematic onslaught. It’s as if the director had taken the climactic tanker-chase sequence from “Mad Max 2” and strung it out into an entire film. It’s exhilarating, but also exhausting.

Working with cinematographer John Seale and editor Margaret Sixel (who is also Miller’s wife), the 70-year-old director adopts an approach that could almost be called old-school, especially when compared to the weightless CGI that defines most big-budget action flicks nowadays. His set pieces — and this is a film that consists of little else — have a pleasing sense of gravity and physical heft to them, the product of bravura stunt work, judicious digital tweaking and lots of heavy metal colliding. There’s real coherence in the way they’re spliced together: The shots all connect, and only in the most frenzied moments does it become hard to parse what’s going on.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Maddo Makkusu Ikari no desu Rodo)
Rating
Run Time 120 minutes
Language English
Opens June 20

Burly British actor Tom Hardy takes over from Gibson as the eponymous road warrior, trumping his predecessor’s physical presence without ever quite matching his bug-eyed intensity. It’s tempting to imagine what the late Heath Ledger — Miller’s original choice — might have brought to the role, but also hard to grumble with what we’ve got here.

In the breathless flurry of action that comprises the film’s opening quarter, Max is captured by a tribe of white-painted cultists, led by an impressively coiffed tyrant called Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the villain in the first “Mad Max” film in 1979). When a trusted truck driver (Charlize Theron) escapes with Joe’s harem of pregnant young wives stowed in the hold, her pursuers take Max along for the ride.

Though Theron’s character sports a metal arm in place of an amputated limb, her entire body might as well be made from wrought iron. Her scantily clad female cargo — too beautiful, by far — may look like they just stumbled out of the VIP area at a music festival, but they prove tough and resourceful, to the extent that Max himself sometimes feels like a sidekick. The scene in which he repeatedly fluffs a long-distance rifle shot, only for Theron to nail it on her first attempt, is one for the ages.

Although most of the action was filmed in the Namib Desert rather than the Outback and few of the characters have the decency to speak with Aussie accents, “Fury Road” otherwise sticks true to the feel of the original “Mad Max” trilogy. Its parade of deformed freaks, punk outfits and extravagantly customized vehicles will be familiar to fans of the older films; so too will the way that Miller treats backstory like splattered bugs on a windshield.

What’s different in this new incarnation is how much there is of everything. It feels churlish to complain about action sequences as impressively staged as these, but when there’s so little downtime between each one, it becomes hard to process it all after a while. That’s also true of the production design — a rich tapestry of grotesquery, much of which ends up getting lost in the melee.

This lunatic steamroller of a film might have benefited from pausing to enjoy its own scenery every now and then.

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