Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) *****

Patrick Dempsey starred in a movie back in 1991 called “Run,” and the most striking feature of the movie was how aptly-titled it was. There was more running in that movie than in “Chariots of Fire.” His character literally RAN from the Mob for almost the entire movie. “Mad Max: Fury Road” joins this elite crew of perfectly-titled movies. It's full of fury, and almost the entire movie takes place on the road, in moving vehicles.

“Fury Road” finds Max (Tom Hardy) still wandering the post-nuclear wastelands, haunted by the memories of those he failed to save in the first three Mad Max movies. He gets caught and enslaved by a bunch of cancerous cult-followers who serve the emphysematous Immortan Joe. One of Joe's elite fighters, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has had enough of his crap, and she helps Joe's harem of sexy ladies escape from his Citadel. Joe and his army of dune-buggy driving lunatics give chase, and Max is along for the ride.

I don't know if I've ever seen a movie this action-packed, and certainly not an action movie this good. People with heart conditions should stay away. 90% of the run-time is non-stop driving, crashing, and fighting. In most movies, so much action becomes numbing, but “Fury Road” manages to keep you invested with touches like the flamethrower-guitar player. It's thrilling, and yet the movie also manages to be about something. Imperator Furiosa isn't just making a stand against slavery, she is trying to reach “the green place,” the idyllic land of her youth. When she realizes she is never going to see it again, her despair resounds louder than any explosion in the movie. Max, for his part, starts out completely broken and amoral, interested only in his own survival, but ultimately he cannot resist helping the helpless. Then there's the Warboy, Nux, unrecognizable as Nicholas Hoult with his shaved head and white skin. He starts out as just one of Immortan Joe's many followers, but when one of the harem girls befriends him, he finds something more in himself than just a desire to die in battle.

There's been a lot of debate about whether “Fury Road” is a feminist movie. On the one hand, Furiosa is a strong, female figure, Max's equal in every way. On the other hand, some feminists are upset that the ladies still need Max, a man, to help them escape. I can tell you that when I was watching the movie, I wasn't thinking about any of that crap. This is just a great movie. Period. The acting is excellent, and the action is superb. In the old Mad Max movies, the bad guys on motorcycles just swung axes at the cars, and the road fighting never made a lot of sense. In “Fury Road,” the tribes seem to have perfected road-fighting, using grappling hooks, explosive harpoons, and these long, swinging poles that allow a fighter to board an enemy vehicle or even snatch someone out of it, all while racing pell-mell across the desert. As for being feminist, I would say “Fury Road” is more humanist. It's true that Immortan Joe's only use for a woman is if he can have sex with her or extract breast milk from her. It's no better for young men, though. He only values them if they can fight and die for him. This is a society that can only treat people like meat, earning their compliance with subsistence rations and the promise of a glorious afterlife. The message of “Fury Road” is that men AND women can and should rise up and fight for something better in this life.

5 stars out of 5

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