Film Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (★★★½)

mad_max_fury_road_ver3The slickest, coolest ride you can take this year has arrived in the form of George Miller‘s “Mad Max: Fury Road” starring the talented Tom Hardy and the impeccably magnificent Charlize Theron.  A reboot that blows every aspect of the original away with stunning cinematography by John Seale, luscious production design by Colin Gibson, and the most vivacious score of the year so far by Junkie XL.  “Mad Max” kicks ass and takes names.

As action-packed and lively as “Mad Max” is in its gargantuan shell of fire and music, there are some shortcomings that Miller’s film exhibits.  From a narrative standpoint, it presents some of the most surprising and endearing female characters seen in some time.  Everything about the women, particularly Oscar-winner Theron, is excitingly refreshing.  You come to think that the title of the film should have been called “Furiosa” rather than “Mad Max.”   “Max” feels completely secondary to everything that’s going on around him.  He doesn’t envelope the same presence that Mel Gibson’s character did in the original, and that’s both a positive and a negative.  Is it intentional or is the far superior and interesting work of its female heroines just easier for an audience member to latch onto?  The script by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris is rapidly inconsistent in the film’s first 30 minutes.  With no clear directives or plot devices, it almost comes off as a road trip movie with no set destination, at least in the first quarter.  Once the speed picks up, boy does it just thrust you from your seat.  There are also some abrupt and sharp turns from explosions to emotions that don’t exactly feel natural.  There was a time or two that I rolled my eyes at certain attempts at an emotional reaction.

Academy Award winner John Seale, who has continued to explore his narrative lenses in his career, takes on a new world of artistic capture.  He makes the viewer a passenger and an active member of the action at hand.  The sound team rises to the occasion in this post-apocalyptic world of gears, guns, and fire.  The greatest achievement of the film’s psychedelic roller coaster is the potent and passionate music of Junkie XL, whose previous scores on films like “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Divergent” could have never hinted at the masterpiece composition he would create for George Miller.  The score echoes past works from Bernard Herrmann (“Psycho” in particular) and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  It’ll be a travesty if at bare minimum, the film isn’t recognized for Best Original Score at next year’s Oscars.

There have been rumors that this is Charlize Theron’s version of Ripley in “Aliens.”  While the comparison is somewhat apt, I find it more in line with someone like Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”  “Furiosa” is Sarah Connor reincarnated into a one-handed death machine, and she’s freaking awesome.  It’s the badass performance of the year, perhaps the last few years from an action star.  A performance that hasn’t highlighted her abilities as an actress this well since maybe “Monster.”  As the villainous “Immortan Joe,” Hugh Keays-Byrne dominates with stature and aura that’s palpable in nearly every scene he inhabits.  He isn’t afforded many opportunities to stretch out the boundaries of his Bane-like mask and become intimate with the viewer.  Nicholas Hoult maintains a fun, comedic vine that slowly wraps around you as his story progresses.  Finally, Tom Hardy is as cool as ever.  This guy makes it look so easy to just be a part of something and blend into a canvas such as this.  As mentioned before, he’s surprisingly secondary to the story but when he does get a chance to offer a beat, it’s vividly real.

Seeing the film in 3D didn’t offer anything more than a few dizzy spells from some shaky camera syndrome.  It’s another example of 3D being utilized more as a gimmick, and not an additional asset.  Admittedly, I’m not the hugest fan of 3D films with the exception of few I’ve encountered.  I say save the 3 extra dollars and see it on regular full-size screen experience.  It will more than suffice.

From a summer blockbuster standpoint, you have to move “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Furious 7” aside to make way for something that stands on more of a solid foundation of action storytelling.  “Mad Max: Fury Road” is an audacious and visually striking endeavor that is sure to stand out all year in some capacity.  A technical marvel.  I’d be excited to see where they’ll bring the story from here.  A franchise that has been successfully rebooted.  Good job Hollywood.

Mad Max: Fury Road” opens in theaters on Friday, May 15th and is distributed by Warner Bros.