Here comes my first entry in a series that looks into the very best of the action genre! Up first, Mad Max: Fury Road!
What a day! What a lovely day! That sums up Nux’s feelings as he drives through a sandstorm, looking for his death to reach the gates of Valhalla. It’s also how I feel when I decide to rewatch Fury Road, the 2015 action masterpiece that racked up 11 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and winning six of them, the most for the year. Sitting at a handsome 97% on the Tomato Meter, Fury Road is a relentless, chrome filled action extravaganza that also offered up a unique commentary on gender studies.
Fury Road admittedly is a bit light on plot. Our hero, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson) is captured in the desert and taken as a prison to be a universal blood donor for Immortan Joe’s war boys. Simultaneously, one of his lieutenants, the fearless Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steals the war rig, a terrifying 18 wheeler and smuggles Joe’s five wives to safety. Furious that his “property” has been taken from him, Joe unleashes his army of gasoline fueled maniacs to chase her down and reclaim his wives. Max ends up crossing paths with Furiosa and company after the car he’s chained to crashes and he agrees to help the women get to safety. Tagging along is the war boy Nux (Nicolas Hoult), who deeply wants to be noticed by Joe and ride into Valhalla before he dies. The movie may be titled after Max, but lets be real, this is Furiosa’s movie. She drives (ha) the film with her anger and determination and is easily the most fascinating character in the story, which questions men and women’s roles in the wasteland, whose fault it is that the wasteland even became a thing (men is strongly implied) and what these individuals will do for freedom when tyranny tries to suppress it. There is some great socio-political undertones in the film but it never beats you over the head with it. But it would crash a customized monster truck/1950s sedan hybrid into your living room if it could.
What makes Fury Road so awesome is the action. There’s so much of it for starters but it’s done in an old school manner that feels refreshing. A lot of the film was done for real, utalizing grand wide shots when vehicles collide into each other into a breath taking collision. My personal favourite would be the pole cats, who balance on beams while on moving trucks. That scene was made with the help of Cirque du Soleil performers so you know the stunt work is A grade. CGI was used sparingly, often used to enhance a shot or to add some elements to what was already filmed. The crash of the war rig was done for real but the rubble and the cliffs were added after the fact. Another trick the film used was blending some shots together for the safety of the actors. The fuel tanker explosion is an example of this, where the explosion was filmed on it’s own and then layered on top of the shot of the riders next to it. So even though the explosion is real, the stunt team was completely out of harms way, allowing the real explosion to happen with less safety worries. The trucks, cars and bikes are all real and in a CGI heavy genre these days, it’s amazing to see a high budget film take this on (in a desert no less) as real as they possibly can. Couple this with the over saturated cinematography, creating this bright orange and blue world, peppered with the red of flares or explosions makes for a visually unique experience that could’ve been the familiar bland looking film.
The costume and set design in the film is absolutely stellar. Everything looks like it was assembled by bits and pieces and strung together to create something new…which is exactly what the props department did. Every car and costume has a story behind if you look at it. Salvaging the world before the apocalypse, we get an idea of how these people live based on everything they have in their possession. The end result is a spiky, leather and all around impromptu style that has had it’s fair share of immitators ever since the series launched in the 1970s, when director George Miller created the character. Now in his 70s, Miller’s vision of the post apocalyptic wasteland has become the archetype and he has further world built with this addition. Cars spitting out flames is one thing, but a war party being led by a doof wagon made of drums and amps charging into battle by the doof warrior, a blind musician with a flame thrower guitar is quite the other (you will never be this metal as honest trailers would say).
One of the final pieces of awesome comes from the soundtrack. In my BVS review, I stated that Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score was fantastic and Junkie does it again here. Pounding electronics and drums with frantic yet epic strings make for a white knuckled musical ride. My favourite track from the score, “Brothers in Arms“, is a perfect example of this. When the film is in it one of it’s many high speed action scenes, the music creates a high octane tension that elevates the scene even more. The score captures the fanatic world that the movie presents us with and occasionally makes use of classic compositions, such as when the Scales of Justice rides into the fog while Yuri Temirkanov’s “Dies Irae” plays underneath Junkie’s pulsing score.
In short, Fury Road surpassed all expectations. In a decade of cinematic universes, superheroes and CGI, a masterpiece of practical mayhem came crashing into the film scene, earning critical and commercial success. When it comes to vehicular chase scenes, Max is now the bar that all movies here on out should try to aim for in terms of quality of production.