Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Unleash the Fury

This past weekend, critics and fans alike were tripping over one another in a rush to heap praise upon the new Mad Max: Fury Road. In what perhaps was an overreaction to disappointment in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, they created another situation where a movie couldn't possibly live up to its incredible hype.

There is a lot to like about Fury Road. Artistically, it's an absolute triumph. The designs of characters, locations, and vehicles are all powerfully evocative. Each image in the movie seems as carefully staged and framed as movies like Sin City, which try much harder to look painterly (often sacrificing the human touch in the process). Peppered throughout are indelible images too fun to deny: the skeletal appearance of the War Boys, the apocalyptic "fife boy" with the flame-throwing guitar, porcupine-spined cars, the crazed Cirque du Soleil quality to the warriors who attack from swinging poles, and so much more. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the majority of these action sequences were achieved in camera, without resorting to lifeless CG.

The protagonist of the movie is a charismatic and likeable character. I'm referring to the new Imperator Furiosa, played with bold intensity by Charlize Theron. Mad Max may be the title character, but he's really a glorified supporting player. (And Tom Hardy here lacks the personality to overcome this.) Furiosa is the one character whose motivations seem explicit and relatable, and the movie generally works best when it's following her

The War Boy character of Nux is played with crazed conviction by a barely recognizable Nicholas Hoult, but the motivation behind changes in his character aren't made nearly clear enough. Beyond him, characters are so much meat for the slaughter. A handful get a personality quirk or distinguishing physical feature, but when they start dropping like flies in the high octane climax, you're hard pressed to care about them, or even distinguish who is still alive and who is dead.

I found myself longing for a bit more strategy in the action. There are certainly moments to get the blood pumping, but rarely does an attack involve anything more sophisticated than driving fast with weapons blazing. Villains with superior numbers, superior resources, and superior terrain never make effective use of those advantages. Indeed, the entire climax of the movie hangs on the main villain having made an unbelievably stupid tactical error.

But while the movie doesn't make sense all the time, it's effective at silencing any doubts at other times. The amazing visuals, the earth-shaking soundtrack by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg), and the all-out performances of Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult count for a lot. Don't let the sky-high Rotten Tomatoes score set your expectations unreasonably high -- but you might still consider giving it a shot. I give it a B-.

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