Thursday, 4 June 2020

Coronacinema - Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz

Director: George Miller

Available on: Amazon Prime

For all the abundant qualities exhibited by George Miller’s original Mad Max trilogy, its status as a somewhat cult staple in the post-apocalyptic canon, not to mention a 30-year absence from the zeitgeist, afforded the franchise’s newest entry, Fury Road, a relatively low-key arrival on the big screen. 

That said, those intrigued by the continuing adventures of Max Rockatansky were promptly rewarded. This latest chapter is a magnificent, cacophonous and swaggering injection of purified adrenaline that banishes the kind of rubbish otherwise clogging up multiplex programmes, offering only Vin Diesel in return. 

Quite where it sits in the wider franchise mythology is unclear. Sequel, reboot, or both; the truth is ultimately meaningless. Miller's has taken the dystopian tropes of the series and ratcheted them up with wild abandon, placing his glowering protagonist into the middle of a kinetic chase movie grand enough to remind us all of film's singular power. 

Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson as the eponymous road warrior, whose lonesome existence on the plains of a cursed future Earth is disturbed when he falls into the clutches of the ghost-skinned War Boys, fanatical foot soldiers of cult-leader-cum-tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). He is turned into a living blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), an especially devoted follower, who, like almost everyone else around him – including Joe – is terminally ill thanks to the radiation that has gutted the planet. 

Before long, Max is strapped to the front of Nux's wagon and sent out into the wastelands in pursuit of Charlize Theron's Furiosa, Joe's one-armed, trucking-driving protégé. Furiosa has gone rogue, liberating her boss's harem of "wives" in the process and making a break for "
the green place", the land of her birth. And thus the chaos begins, Joe and his army scorching the sands in pursuit. Max, inevitably falls in with this rag-tag band of fugitives and he must rely on their skills, and they on his, to survive. 

If it sounds potty, that's because it is – gloriously so. Miller's vision is a melange of idiosyncratic artistic endeavour and high-functioning cinematic spectacle; the particulars of every action, in every frame, strike a perfect balance between aspiration and execution. 

Fury Road is, ultimately, a series of blistering set pieces that slash and burn their way across the screen, each more unhinged than the next. In one, the War Boys assault both Furiosa's rig and the reavers into whose territory she has strayed. They propel from one chariot to the next armed with exploding spears and a martyr's enthusiasm. Later, Furiosa leads Joe's convoy into the roil of a massive dust storm, an astonishing sequence of genuinely epic proportions. A third-act extravaganza sees murderous miscreants on vertical seesaws – "pole cats" – assailing their prey, all while Max and friends fight like demons, vault between speeding vehicles and stare into the jaws of death. 

Aesthetically, this is a picture that will sear the eyeballs and suck air from the lungs. Captured in soaring high definition, the colour palette is rich and bracing, the roasted orange tones (of the Namibian desert) stretching to the horizon. There are islands of cool blues and lush greens, too, each one a welcome respite in a sea of desolation. 

Ugliness abounds also. Miller has concocted a freak show's line-up to garnish the mayhem. Joe is a Trump-like gargoyle whose lardy body and weeping sores are hidden by a muscle-etched translucent carapace, his flowing snow-white hair, staring eyes and stentorian intonation finished off with a leering skull breathing mask that covers most of his face. 

The villain's citadel headquarters is littered with grotesqueries: a stable of obese bare-breasted women attached to milking machines; various gnarled courtiers; and the hordes of desperate citizens living far below his penthouse, thirsting for the water he showers on them when the mood grips him. His expeditionary force is accompanied by a rolling platform carrying drummers and a blind, deformed metal guitarist whose instrument spits fire. Seriously. 

Even the "wives" (including Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough and Zoë Kravitz), sequestered in genteel isolation, register as weird. Their fertility and exquisite beauty are, after all, the chief causes of the demented atmosphere. 

There are, mercifully, moments of quiet and it is here that Hardy and Theron come into their own. Both are truly skilful actors, capable of seizing their moments when the frenetic pace slows. Hardy, whose dialogue is as grizzled as it is spartan, draws out the goodness inside of Max, slowly but surely. He is an effective leading man, heroic yet more robust than invincible. Theron, meanwhile, is the tale's emotional and moral centre. Her flint-hard resolve is matched by a surety of purpose. She meets toxic masculinity head on, Wonder Woman without the gloss. 

Miller’s resurrection of his iconic character may be deranged, but it is accomplished with such panache that the beauty in the pandemonium is its own reward. A reminder that blockbuster cinema is still able to captivate, Fury Road is the kind of rush that the medium required to stay true to itself. 

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