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Mad Max: Fury Road - Spoiler-free movie review (plus bonus mini-rant)

Nathan Strum

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From the "Better Late Than Never" department...

I'm gradually catching up on some of my summer movies. I may not get to them all, but at a friend's insistence we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road last night.

I wasn't sure what to expect going into it. Sure - some of the trailers looked kind of cool, and although The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) is an absolutely excellent film, I never thought Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was very good, and that was the last film of George Miller's that I'd seen. And then there were all of the problems and delays of getting this film off the ground, the non-involvement of Mel Gibson, plus, after The Dark Knight Rises, I wasn't much of a Tom Hardy fan, either. Despite the stellar reviews, I just had a hard time getting worked up for it.

But I'm sure glad I went now.

It's actually kind of hard to describe the film, so I'll throw out a few words that came to mind: visceral, palpable, physical, intense, adrenaline, exhausting, bonkers, nuts, insane...

...awesome.

If you've ever seen The Road Warrior, you remember the final chase scene. So, picture that. Got it? Okay. Now, amp that up by a factor of ten (or twenty), and make it go on for two hours, with a few pauses here and there to catch your breath.

That's kind-of what Mad Max: Fury Road is like.

The movie opens fast, and accelerates from there. It runs pretty-much non-stop for quite awhile until it comes (literally) crashing to a halt, before gearing up to put the audience through the meat grinder all over again. And again. And again. And again.

But here's the thing - if that's all the film was, so what? Lots of movies relentlessly assault your senses without delivering anything entertaining. Not so here. MM:FR is relentlessly entertaining. It's fun to watch. It's a thrill ride with peaks and valleys and lots and lots of fast downhill sections. It's replete with bizarre characters and amazing (and I don't use that word lightly) vehicles and absolutely astonishing stunts. And as weird (and this is about as weird as films get) as the characters are, you do end up caring about them. Even Max - who is cold and distant, and has all but lost his humanity. He has no reason left to care, but by his nature, he can't help but do so.

Tom Hardy won me over as Max. He doesn't have the charisma that Mel Gibson did in the role, but maybe for this film, that's a good thing. He needs to stand in stark contrast to the insanity all around him. Charlize Theron was outstanding (and completely unrecognizable) in her role as Imperator Furiosa (and that's the least crazy name of pretty-much anyone in the film - seriously, just take a look at the IMDb page). Everyone else was equally amazing and incredibly bizarre. Pure entertainment for the sake of pure entertainment.

The characters needed to be over-the-top though, in order to even stand a remote chance of competing with the astonishing stunt work in this film. The cars were real. The crashes were real. Some 90% of the effects were practical - not CG. Everything had the proper weight, impact, and sheer chaos that CG simply can't replicate. How they got through this film without killing anyone is beyond me.

There were a couple of other things that really impressed me about the film. First, although a violent film, it didn't dwell on it gratuitously. The violence happens as violence often does - fast. Out of the corner of your eye. Intense, but not overly graphic. Even off-screen at times. Suggested, not relished in. Like a quick smack up the back of your head, not prying your eyes open and forcing you to stare. Secondly, was how remarkably well the action was directed, filmed and edited. Many (if not most) action films now rely on fast cuts to imply action. It's nearly impossible to really follow what's going on. That's bad filmmaking. Not so here. Not once, despite how fast everything moves, did I ever feel lost, confused or mis-directed. Everything was always, absolutely clear. But without ever losing its intensity. Hollywood - take notes.

If I had any complaint about the film, is that some dialog was difficult to understand. Whether too quiet, or hurried, or muffled, some of it I just never picked up on. However, the important dialog was always understandable. The story was always clear.

My friend may have summed it up best, when he said it's been decades since he saw a film that felt the way watching this one did. It was a rush. It was exciting. And it's what movies are supposed to be like.

Mad Max: Fury Road gets an over-the-top 11/10. Go see it in a theater while you still can. It has to be seen on a big screen. It is absolutely nuts. And it's a masterpiece.


And now... a mini-rant.

Remember when I ranted about going to bad movie theaters, and how I found one that changed all of that?

Well, I'm away from any ArcLight theaters at the moment, so I had to go to a Regal theater for the last two movies. The projection in them was actually fine, but something else wasn't. And I wasn't the only one who picked up on this...

It was the popcorn.

It was stale. Borderline rancid. Nowhere near "fresh". And as I was leaving the theater, I realized something else... you couldn't smell it being popped. Or hear it being popped. The smell of popcorn used to waft through movie theaters. The sound of the poppers ever-present.

But now? I think it's all pre-popped. They're probably just dumping giant bags of stale pre-popped popcorn it into now-defunct poppers, and charging crazy-money for it. And it wasn't just for Ant-Man, but for Mad Max: Fury Road as well. Probably both from the same bag, days apart.

Way to go Regal. Thanks for ruining yet another part of seeing the movies.



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BTW: I read somewhere that the stuntmen for the pole scenes were trained by a member of the Cirque du Soleil :)

 

And somewhere else I read that most of the movie doesn't run at "normal" speed, almost everything was either sped up or slowed down to maximize the visual impact of each scene.

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I missed this movie in the theater and had to settle for it on video. I am not really a Mad Max fan. Well, I recall enjoying the first two movies back in the 1980s (not Thunderdome, that sucked), but not overly so. I had reservations about watching this movie, since the trailer suggested it was mostly non-stop, over-the-top gratuitous violence.

 

So I took the chance and... the trailers were right: it was mostly non-stop, over-the-top gratuitous violence. I kinda admired it though, and enjoyed it at least in some meaningful way.

 

I agree with your review and with most of the critics out there: the movie is brilliantly filmed and stunning to watch. I am glad I did, but I do not think I'll watch that again.

 

I can't describe it. It was weird, and unsettling, and violent, and spectacular, and gruesome, and thrilling, and, and, and... I guess it was also exhausting.

 

I found the plot (to whatever extent it was) with the little children a bit preachy and on-the-nose, but other than that, it was brilliantly executed for what it was: if you're going to make an over-the-top, ultra-violent, non-stop thrill ride of a movie, Mad Max: Fury Road should be the standard against which you should measure.

 

All that said, it is not really my kind of movie, so I won't be watching it again. I am glad I did get to experience it, if at least to know and feel what others were talking about. :)

 

I'd give it a 6/10 in my personal book -- but +5 for maximum effort.

 

-dZ.

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