Car Chase as Metaphor for a Brave Mad World.
We’ve been promised this movie for over a decade; since Mel Gibson was not a Nazi and still looked good in hot pants. Was it worth the wait? Hells to the exploding musclecar yes! MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a ballet of fiery incandescence, a violent visual poem of psycho-licious demolition derby.
In a future wasteland, a lone drifter named Max (Tom Hardy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) joins a band of female refugees led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, PROMETHEUS), to first deliver them from their tyrant overlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, MAD MAX), ultimately leading them to overthrow the ravaged city from whence they fled.
His name is Max. That’s all the exposition you need, and all you’re gonna get. His world is fire. And blood. In terse opening narration and radio static, we hear of the apocalypse, of “guzzoline,” of water shortage. “It was hard to know who was more crazy, me – or everyone else”… And then the Car Chase starts. And doesn’t stop.
I’m not saying FURY ROAD is one long Car Chase. No. I’m saying it’s THREE long Car Chases. As you know, Poffy no like Car Chases. Padding. (See: My Infallible Method of Watching Car Chases in the sidebar to JACK REACHER.) But here is a movie where the Car Chase is metaphor for the world. A brave new world that writer-director George Miller has wrought from choking dust and metal rust. A whole society close-minded upon itself, built on fear, peopled by diseased slaves, ruled by a tyrant who deigns to bequeath his peons sustenance in piddling quantities, enough to keep them alive and praising his name; indoctrinating them to believe they are free, and that the outside world is terror-laden and alien… yeah, basically America…
Every emotional arc and nuance of story is encapsulated in the elemental fury of the Car Chase. The Car Chase is the foreshadowing, the Car Chase is the payoff; the Car Chase is the telegraph and the plot twist; each beat of the movie is delineated by the Car Chase: the Meet Cute, the sexual tension, the gaining of trust, the double-cross, the strand of hope, the blood-soaked goal, the romantic sacrifice – all during Car Chase; there is blazing rock and roll during Car Chase, people meet their deaths during Car Chase, have religious epiphanies, shoulder regrets, are burdened with hope, and yes, even give birth during Car Chase.
Any wonder the vehicles themselves are anthropomorphized, phallic extensions of aggression and domination.
And the coolest vehicle of all – Max Rockatansky’s Ford Falcon V8 Interceptor – the Supermarine Spitfire of cars, with its classic sensual lines and jugular nitrous turbines – is blown up in the first five minutes! Immortan Joe’s “war boys” take it down, capture Max (who has grown back his THUNDERDOME mullet so impetuously he looks like THE WRESTLER), then have the audacity to drive that sexpot car into a chase and immolate it between two tankers! Bastards! (That’s directed as much at the filmmakers as the war boys…)
Drawing its inspiration from the thunderous MAD MAX 2 (1981), FURY ROAD is carved from the unforgiving Namibian desert and shot in flamethrower reds and oranges by cinematographer John Seale; the most beautiful ultra-violence since Zack Snyder‘s and cinematographer Larry Fong’s Spartan body-oil overload in 300. Every shot is a ’70’s album cover; every frame is visual gluttony. And the editing! What mighty, meticulous eagle-eyed continuity and slam-shock eye-pop from editor Margaret Sixel. Nothing is lost in the firestorm action – we see every fall under the wheels, every arc of spear into engine, every angle of crushing immolation; there are simply no shots where our eyes lose track of what’s happening where. An astounding feat of turning complex confusion into manageable madness!
Amongst this sui generis world of fiery death machines and children turning giant cogs with their feet to rain water on mutants, a stark plot peeks through, revealed piecemeal during – what else? – a Car Chase: Immortan Joe sends his bionic-armed road warrioress Furiosa on a mission to retrieve fuel and return to the city. She has other plans. In the madness of the first Car Chase, brought about by Furiosa veering off course and Immortan sending his war boys to retrieve his rig, we see a strange sight: crawling in the space between the ganglion of the war rig’s trailer – an impossibly hot chick in a bridal gown, inching her way to the driver’s cab! We will discover that Furiosa is transporting Immortan’s five wives as stowaways.
Amongst the protein-deficient, body-shaved war boys, the anemic Nux (Nicholas Hoult, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST), using Max as a “blood bank,” strapping him to the bumper pole of his suicide machine and connected by a blood drip. An insane tweak to that iconic visual of the captives crucified on bumper poles in MAD MAX 2. Nux and his kamikaze compatriots have been indoctrinated into believing they will attain Valhalla if they serve Immortan fanatically to the death… yeah, basically Scientology. The slogan (that Nux squeals as they drive death-bent into a stratosphere-high ochre sandstorm), “Oh what a lovely day!” is akin to Native American warriors’ battle cry, “Hoka Hey!” (“Today is a good day to die!”), believing he is bound for glory. Little does he know he’s bound for Drew Barrymore…
Escaping the war boys, Max finds himself shepherding a harem of three impossibly cute chicks and two below average ones – Immortan’s fleeing wives: Courtney Eaton (made to look average) and Zoe Kravitz (DIVERGENT, who can’t help looking average, even though the tabloids keep telling us she’s “beautiful”); Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON) as The Splendid Angharad (if there’s a circle of womanly beauty, then Whiteley has definitely pedaled to the apex of that circle, and now she’s circling back around to ugly again… I mean, how badly did the surgeon screw up her chic supermodel botox-skin-levitating surgery, or was she unfortunate enough to be born looking like a misshapen showroom mannequin?); Abbey Lee as The Dag, bred in a genome tank of utopian DNA, that will ensure the whole human race will procreate. With her. And the flame-haired Drew Barrymore analog, Riley Keough, who takes under her wing the lost soul Nux. “We can trust him – he’s a redhead.” Waitaminute, how does she know he has red hair? These guys are irradiated bald to the bone with ghostly pale skin, and – oh, so he’s NOT completely body-shaved!…
The beauty of this movie is its implicit storytelling; behind the Car Chase ethos, we feel the backstories throb; each gesture, each visual, each pathetic lifestyle and character and twisted truck holds volumes of weight. Desires and motivations and actions might be completely alien to us, yet this is a world that is written whole, that makes sense.
As can be expected, homages to the original films abound: the dwarf, the music box, the Humungous muscles, the semitrailer chase, “You wanna get outa here…”, the old lady pointing a gun at Keays-Byrne, the costumes, the shape of Thunderdome, the music by Junkie XL (following the original stabby motifs of Australian composer Brian May), all tweaked to hideous kinky…
As with all the MAX movies, the character names can only be gleaned from the credits. Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus, Immortan’s musclebound son, in body and brain; John Howard as People Eater, Richard Carter as Bullet Farmer; Australian musician Iota as the Doof Warrior on electric flamethrower guitar atop a semitrailer stack of speakers. And the old feisty desert women are called the Vuvalini. Really? You expect us to say Vuvalini and not think vulva?
My one complaint: more Mad Max please. The title character doesn’t seem to have a pivotal role, as he sand-surfs through the melee almost on the periphery. Sure, he’s in the thick of things, but he doesn’t seem to be instrumental to the escapes, the driving, the killing, the saving. Does he save the day? Well, he helps drive the rig away from town, convinces the warrior women to take back their bras, and then helps drive the rig back into town. Playing it close to the vest is one thing, but lack of characterization is not a substitute for Eastwood cool. We have prior knowledge of Max’s history going in; otherwise he’s a shallow road warrior with a hallucinogenic past. There is no flashback of his wife and kid, or his time as a “bronze,” so there is little to base his demons on; there are merely random flashes of a child warning him to vogue. Like the new JURASSIC WORLD, this movie cannot stun us with “originality” because it is starting with an established entity. And Tom Hardy, though pulling off a great terse role as drifter Max, doesn’t exude the sexual panther of Gibson, more the earthy paternalism of Russell Crowe.
My other one complaint is the mask obscuring the face of Hugh Keays-Byrne. As imposing as it is, I would have loved to see Keays-Byrne ACT. Sometimes we see a shadow of that pillared lupine run, but no silly-scary death-mask can convey the wanton feral fury he oozed in MAD MAX simply by being The Toecuttter.
He puts on that damnable mask and watches incredulously as Furiosa’s war rig, driven by Max, heads past his pursuing party – straight back towards his kingdom. (Another homage to MAD MAX 2, when Max, one seeing eye and one good arm, u-turned the semi-trailer to throw off his pursuers.) There were quiet moments (of promised redemption), there were grace notes (of seeds carried by the old ones to re-generate the green), there were unspoken promises (between men in cars and the women who guzzoline them), but now – the final chase begins…
MAD MAX FURY ROAD is not a movie to watch in cinemas or on your iPad. It’s bigger than all that. FURY ROAD needs to be watched in your lounge room on a 200-inch TV with chicken wings and beer and all your hooligan friends as if you’re at the game, cheering insanely and spilling beer at every hero kill and booing and throwing popcorn for every villain kill, like the mighty hand of vengeance sent down to strike the unroadworthy! I am a rocker. I am a roller. I am an out-of-controller. I’m a fuel-injected suicide machine! Step right up, chum, and watch the kid lay down the rubber road ride to FREEDOM!….