Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Short Take: Mad Max: Fury Road

One could call Mad Max: Fury Road, the belated fourth film in director George Miller's action franchise, a car chase to one end to the desert and back. It would be accurate, and unpardonably flippant. This is one of the greatest of all action films. It's a marvel of kinetic staging and editing that at times seems almost abstract. In the context of a post-apocalyptic adventure thriller, Miller has achieved something close to the equivalent of Jackson Pollock's drip canvases: pure energy has been unloos'd upon the screen. The underlying story is fairly simple. The titular hero (Tom Hardy) is captured by the throngs of a desert warlord (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and finds himself in the middle of a plot involving a rebelling field marshal (Charlize Theron) and her efforts to help the warlord's unwilling harem escape. Miller's dystopian vision has intriguing details, such as the bizarre culture of the warlord's minions, and the junkyard hodgepodge of the vehicles and other machines used by the various characters. The story also has a refreshing feminist edge. The escape plot is a revolt against patriarchal oppression, and Theron's field marshal is the film's most heroic and combat-savvy character. Max proves more her capable sidekick than anything else. The pair's main allies in the second half are a band of motorcycle-riding older women, called the Vuvalini, and one sees the harem members evolve from cheesecake eye-candy to assertive heroines in their own right. Making women the heroes is an enjoyable counterpoint to the admittedly macho aesthetic of the filmmaking. The picture is terrific fun on many levels. The virtuoso team of behind-the-scenes artisans includes cinematographer John Seale, editor Margaret Sixel, and production designer Colin Gibson. Jenny Beavan did the wildly imaginative costuming. The screenplay is credited to Miller, comic-book cartoonist Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris.