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Mad Max – Fury Road

Mad Max

“Mad Max” is a 2 1/2 post-apocalytpic car chase through the desert, with minimal dialogue or plot. It’s an adrenaline rush, an unapologetic popcorn movie. But that doesn’t mean it’s a brainless or stupid movie.

There aren’t many ideas in the script, but there are a ton on the screen. A movie filled as this one is with action scenes can be a borefest, because you just see the same thing over and over again. For reference, see any Michael Bay movie ever made how many shots of shattering glass, flying concrete, and blurry machinery does one really need? “Mad Max” avoids that fate by being, well, not monotonous. People don’t have to be talking in order for interesting things to be happening on the screen, and this is a film that gives us something interesting to look at in nearly every frame. There’s the crazy heavy metal guitar player strapped to the back of a semi, whose guitar is also a flame thrower. There are the guys who jump motorcycles over the giant trucks and throw bombs down into the cabs. There are guys and giant, flexing poles suspended from speeding muscle cars. There’s always something new, something creative and clever, happening. Who needs dialogue when the visuals are this good?

One of the advantages of so little story to follow is that, even though this is technically the fourth Mad Max movie, there is absolutely no need to see any of the others in order to understand this one. That’s something you can’t say about most of the big summer movie events coming our way this summer. (The trailer for the new Terminator movie preceeded this one, and I was hopelessly lost. Looks like I’ll need to revisit that mediocre series before my next review.) It’s a good thing, too, because the last Mad Max movie was in 1985, which means it was made before most of the people who were in the theater with me were even born. Isn’t it funny how our vision of desolate/insane post-apocalyptic future hasn’t changed much in thirty years? Isn’t it even more interesting that the problems that preoccupied us then continue to preoccupy us now? Are we any less likely to exhaust our resources and fight over oil and water than we were thirty years ago?
I’m sidetracked.

Those are definitely NOT the questions “Mad Max” wants to ask, though they lurk in the background. This is not a movie that wants to ask questions, for heaven’s sake. This is a movie that wants to strap you into an adrenaline-addled whirlwind of a car chase, and dare you to take your eyes off the screen or your fingernails out of those armchair cushions. And make no mistake: this is one to watch in the theater. You need the giant screen and the violently loud sound system. I can’t really imagine watching it on a tablet or small TV screen. It’s really too bad drive-in movie theaters barely exist anymore; that would be the perfect way to watch “Mad Max;” behind the wheel, on an eighty-foot screen.

Tom Hardy plays Max, because Mel Gibson has gotten too old and crazy to do so (actually, crazy might be a qualification for this movie, but whatever. Who wants an anti-Semitic, misogynist post-apocalyptic warrior? There’s crazy, and then there’s “mad.” I’ll take the latter.) But he’s mostly a side character, along for the ride, with Charlize Theron in the driver’s seat. She’s a road warrior, pilot/driver of a War Machine (weaponized semi truck in a world where everything, even the toilet seats, are weaponized) in a male-dominated society. There’s a bad guy named Joe who controls the water and the women (all except Theron, I guess? These are the kinds of questions it doesn’t pay to ask,) some of whom he claims as wives and dresses in medical gauze, the rest he hooks up to milking machines. Yuck.

Theron decides to liberate the wives, and take them to a better, safer place (that doesn’t exist) which leads to the giant chase, which is the movie. Hardy (who is a fine actor, everyone should see “Locke,” one of only a few movies I’ve seen him in where he doesn’t have to wear a stupid muzzle over his face) is part of the pursuit, as a sort of human blood bag connected to a death-crazy Nicholas Hoult (don’t ask why he needs Max’s blood. Didn’t I warn you about questions?) But then he and Hoult end up on the side of Theron and her girls, and the chase goes on, and then goes back, with a bevy of tough-as-leather motorcycle grandmothers in tow, to seek redemption, and water, and maybe even some milk, while you’re at it.

There’s a lot of talk about how this is a feminist action movie, since it’s about a woman rescuing women from men, aided by other women. I guess you can see it that way if you want, though I doubt this film would pass the Bechdel test, and most of the women in it are just as objectified as women always are in action flicks (how is it that everyone wears leather and grime but they wear only gauze? Stupid, stupid QUESTIONS that keep cropping up!) and nearly as helpless. But maybe it’s a step in the right direction, a step out of the dungpile that is the chauvinism that rules movies about cars and guns, toward something a little more balanced. That’d be nice.

It all exists in a world too outlandish, too over the top to ever exist, but that is what’s so fun about it. Everything here looks inspired by those T-shirts you can only buy at motorcycle rallies, all chrome tailpipes, skeletons, and spiked blunderbusses, like steampunk on acid. If you’re spending your time wondering how it all works, where in the world they get their gasoline and ammunition, then you’re missing the point. Relax. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t need to.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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