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Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven by an elite Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). They are escaping a Citadel tyrannized by the Immortan Joe (original Mad Max actor Hugh Keays-Byrne), from whom something irreplaceable has been taken. Enraged, the Warlord marshals all his gangs and pursues the rebels ruthlessly in the high-octane Road War that follows. (From WB’s official synopsis)

 Mad Max: Fury Road
For years following the difficult production of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), George Miller (who actually ended up co-directing that film with George Ogilvie, when friend and co-producer, Byron Kennedy, died suddenly) promised a return of his quintessential antihero. But this seemed increasingly unlikely as he involved himself in TV movies, production capacities (on other director’s films), and became the architect of two wildly successful, family-friendly franchises – Babe (1995 and 1998) and Happy Feet (2006 and 2011). Still, Mad Max: Fury Road managed to survive false starts and road blocks (Miller has cited everything from September 11th to the onset of the Iraq War with no mention of Mel Gibson’s very public meltdown). At one point, Miller was so enamored with the creative power Happy Feet offered him (and probably aware that Gibson was not going to front another entry) that Fury Road was almost a 3D animated feature. Fortunately (or not, I’d probably like that movie too), nostalgia prevailed, the director found a new muse in Tom Hardy, and the unlikely resurgence of the Mad Max series was glorious.

Fury Road wasn’t exactly a box office blow-out (its final take was respectable) and it was sometimes marred in its status as a belated sequel to a burned-out series, yet it had a pop-culture impact and could conceivably evolve into a ‘game changer’ on the level of The Matrix or, perhaps more appropriately, the original Mad Max. I can easily imagine pieces of Miller’s specifically impressionistic (his greatest strength throughout his career has been the ability to make impressionism mainstream-friendly), digitally-augmented, shot-for-real chaos inspiring the look of future action franchises, even if it doesn’t inspire a whole slew of new post-apocalyptic car chase movies (…oh, how I wish the Italian film industry was still churning out Mad Max rip-offs), Fury Road should be preserved as a primer on efficient and intuitive action filmmaking. There isn’t a frame wasted in establishing speed, energy, and, most important in an age of shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing, geography, despite the fact that all three are continuously reaffirmed. To fully appreciate the difference between the 70-year-old sage’s accomplishments and the average, effects-driven tentpole director’s best efforts (take your pick – even the good ones tend to be a mess) I recommend watching sections of Fury Road without any sound. I know this seems like some kind of lame, first-year film studies suggestion, but it really is a worthwhile experiment.

 Mad Max: Fury Road
This efficiency extends to the storytelling. Fury Road has a lot more plot than even its admirers seem to recognize and much of it is hidden in the intensity of its imagery. Dialogue can be unintelligible, because Miller isn’t concerned with explaining every nook & cranny of his bizarre landscape. He lets the pictures tell the story and trusts the audience to pick up details, even if they aren’t fully aware of their significance. For example, when Immortan Joe realizes that his breeding stock wives have been ‘stolen,’ cameras merely follow him as he runs through a number of rooms (rooms full of seemingly minor production design/props that end up serving the story in the third act), opens a giant vault door, and proceeds into a sort of educational prison. The walls and floor are covered in hastily scrawled text that reads ‘Our Babies Will Not Be Warlords’ and ‘We Are Not Things.’ It takes mere seconds of screen time and tells us everything we need to know. In comparison, something like Jurassic World (which I’m picking on, because I just saw it and because it’s similarly chase-based) would pause to monopolize a character to explain the significance of each room, as well as their significance.

It’s easy to enjoy Fury Road on a purely visceral level, because it is such a purely visceral experience. It simmers with the joy of a carnival ride, the roar of a rock concert, and the unabashed melodrama of a Verdi opera (working on Happy Feet movies give Miller the confidence to effectively turn the Mad Max franchise into a song-free musical). But, however easy it is to take at face value, it’s more rewarding to recognize the ethical dilemmas brimming beneath the surface. Miller’s meaning is delivered with heavy hands – bullet casings bounce off actress Abbey Lee’s pregnant belly and a barren tree offers brief salvation for the War Rig when it is trapped in the sludgy swamps of post-apocalyptic pollution – but there’s nothing understated about the Mad Max series. Or any of Miller’s movies, for that matter.

 Mad Max: Fury Road
Watching the entire series in a row (as I did when the latest entry opened in theaters), I realize that there’s more conceptual continuity than I originally realized. Even if the four stories might as well be standalone narratives aside from the Max character, Miller is slowly developing themes and, despite variations in location, the three sequels see the director effectively remaking the same movie. It’s not unusual for great filmmakers (or artists of any kind) to sometimes obsessively revisit the same ideas, but very few reach a creative apex so late in the game. In fact, the more obscure and specific the ideas are (Dario Argento’s obsession with murder mysteries, Roland Emmerich’s obsession with the apocalypse, or Peter Jackson’s obsession with Middle Earth, for example), the more likely those filmmakers are to flounder into obscurity as they age. Fury Road, on the other hand, is such a monumental achievement, it makes the weakest film in the series, Beyond Thunderdome, retrospectively important. I now recognize the seeds Miller was planting and how they helped him flesh out the stranger corners of his post-apocalyptic universe, as well as the expanded idea of warring tribes and make-shift civilizations seen in The Road Warrior.

Fury Road’s proud feminist basis (something that was slowly developed over the four films) is the most rousing and celebrated of the themes that propel this particular rock-opera. Refreshingly, Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy (a comic book artist/production designer best known for his work on 2000 A.D.) and Nico Lathouris (who appears as the mechanic in the original Mad Max) rarely stop to pat themselves on the back and dwell upon the physical and emotional strength of the female characters. Like muscle car fetishism and irradiated, swollen lymph nodes, the power of Furiosa and her Vuvalini sisters are taken for granted. All the while, the script (made with input from none other than Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues) inverts a number of expectations for action heroines, at a time when they are still increasingly relegated to sexy sidekicks and/or captured, then threatened with sexual assault. Joe’s breeder wives are also hardened by a lifetime of sexual assault, so Miller isn’t entirely beyond using stereotypes, but their escape and defense is facilitated by another woman who utilizes the assistance of the male lead, rather than depending entirely on his intervention (see: Sucker Punch).*

 Mad Max: Fury Road
Beneath this respectful place for women is a satire of warmongering culture, which is, I suppose, largely presented as a masculine problem that can only be cured with substantial feminine leadership. The implicit message is that are women more capable of defending and sustaining peace. With the War Boys and their ‘Witness Me’ culture, Miller captures the glory of war and it is truly exciting to see faceless minions driving in slow motion to the glory of Valhalla. But, soon after, he’s happy to rub our faces in the futility of their glory. Joe is a self-serving warmonger and their sacrifice is to his vanity, not a righteous cause. In this regard, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a fallen War Boy that finds real glory in sacrificing himself for a real cause, is the prime audience surrogate. Max is an established figure (though Tom Hardy has certainly made the character his own) with rooted traits and Furiosa’s emotional journey is anchored in redemption. Nux’s growth, as nurtured by the sympathetic Capable (one of the stolen wives, played by Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis) and reinforced by a more selfless father figure in Max, is at the center of Miller’s message.

 Mad Max: Fury Road

Video


Mad Max: Fury Road was shot mostly on Arri Alexa digital HD cameras, but some inserts shots utilized other rigs (Blackmagic, Canon EOS, Olympus, and probably others). It was also post-converted into 3D for theaters, though this review refers to the 2D, 2.40:1, 1080p Blu-ray release. Miller and cinematographer John Seale shot most of this mayhem live, but they freely incorporated the sometimes eerie clarity of digital HD and heavily altered the footage in post. The soft gradations and lack of grain often makes for a very smooth image, especially in the busiest wide-angle shots. Even if the shadows and overlapping edges are a smidge fuzzy – as they were in theaters – fine detail is rarely compromised, thanks in part to hard contrast. There are inherent inconsistencies, specifically during the rare extreme close-ups, which tend to be more heavily textured (probably due to how they were shot and with which kind of camera). The colour quality, on the other hand, is super consistent due to the heavy digital grading. The palette is basically trio-chromatic – orange, blue, and red. It should probably bother me more than it does, because I’m otherwise entirely sick of filmmakers using the same three basic colours for everything, but Miller and Seale manage to make it fit the Mad Max universe like a leather coat with nipple holes (rumor has it that they tested a black & white version that might see a release in the near future). Compression is minimal, but there are some hints of edge enhancement and rough banding artefacts.

 Mad Max: Fury Road

Audio


One could argue that Fury Road isn’t the best action film of 2015, but I dare you to name a release with a more perfectly tuned surround soundtrack. Seriously, if it doesn’t take the sound design/editing Oscars this season, the Academy is insane. This Blu-ray release features a smashing Dolby Atmos soundtrack that is Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible. The insanely busy and incredibly dynamic mix kicks off with pulsating, disembodied voices, followed by punchy car motors and Tom Holkenborg’s (aka: Junkie XL’s) driving classical-meets-industrial metal score. As the film continues the spaces between dialogue, effects, and music blends into one giant organic machine. The thrum of sand from the side of a truck becomes the beating of drums and the dirge of symphonic strings. Sometimes, one element will spring to the forefront and create screen-specific directional elements, but Miller is just as likely to employ completely surrealistic soundscapes. It is, effectively, a symphonic movement in three or four parts. Among the most clever additions are more subtle and abstract creations, such as the animalistic roar of vehicles or the subjective woosh-woosh-woosh of Max’s blood flowing through his IV. The Dolby TrueHD mix down (I don’t have an Atmos-ready system at this time) has the same problems with low dialogue volume that have been an issue for other mixes since the codec was established, but the content of this dialogue (not to mention the thickness of the accents) is usually incidental enough that you don’t really have to understand what characters are saying, anyway.

 Mad Max: Fury Road

Extras


  • Maximum Fury: Filming Fury Road (28:40, HD) – This slightly fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK includes genuinely interesting production information, like production design images, storyboard art (which is basically the ‘script’), and a very nice break-down of the stunts and technical special effects involved in the crashes. The crew interviews are solid, while the actors are sort of stuck in ‘press mode.’
  • Mad Max: Fury on Four Wheels (22:40, HD) – This featurette focuses more on the design of ‘hero’ vehicles and the characters that drive them.
  • The Road Warriors: Max and Furiosa (11:20, HD) – A breakdown of the two lead characters, the actors that play them, and how they fit in Miller’s universe. Hardy and Theron get a bit ‘real’ about the difficulty of the shoot.
  • The Tools of the Wasteland (14:30, HD) – A deeper look at the intricate production, costume, and prop design.
  • The Five Wives: So Shiny, So Chrome (11:10, HD) – An exploration of Joe’s wives as characters and the actresses that play them, including footage from the extensive actor ‘workshopping’ not shown in the other extras.
  • Fury Road: Crash & Smash (4:00, HD) – A collection of raw, unaltered location footage set to selections from the film’s score.
  • Three deleted scenes:
    • I Am a Milker (00:30, HD)
    • Turn Every Grain of Sand (1:50, HD)
    • Let’s Do It (1:00, HD)
  • Trailers for other WB releases


 Mad Max: Fury Road

Overall


Mad Max: Fury Road is a stunning accomplishment – both as an unlikely follow-up to a long abandoned franchise (there are 30 years between it and Beyond Thunderdome) and as a spectacular, stand-alone action film. It’s also very easy to watch over and over again, which makes this Blu-ray release a must buy. The image and sound quality are quite nice and the extras are decent, though I’d like a more definitive look at the long-gestating production, perhaps one that included anything about the women playing the Vuvalini.

* For a expertly-written retort against Fury Road’s ‘feminist action movie’ label, read this opinion piece)

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

 Mad Max: Fury Road

* * Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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