Mad Mad returns for ‘Fury Road;’ plus ‘Iris,’ ‘Pitch 2’
The abiding awesomeness of the Mad Max films — a cult series of only three movies released over a six-year period, the last one nearly 30 years ago — is that while on the surface they are simple, fossil-fuel-burning apocalyptic actioners, for true cineastes they are much, much more… something that Andre Bazin might have called “pure cinema.” It’s not a stretch, or pretentiousness, to view a blow-’em-up through the lens of the French nouvelle vague, which is exactly my point. Go ahead and underestimate the newest entry in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road; but you do so at your peril.
There’s not a whole lot of dialogue in Fury Road, but that merely coalesces the purity of the plot: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water, food and arable soil are at a premium, hoards of roaming marauders have turned the world into a series of warring tribes who appear to destroy each other not for good reason, but because they fear the same will happen to them. It’s a vicious cycle, where survival is the dominant instinct, even though the means of achieving it are self-destructive. (Basically, it’s what the Tea Baggers think Jade Helm 15 is intended to be.)
Our anti-hero, Max (Tom Hardy, taking over — thankfully — from Mel Gibson) is captured by an especially aggressive band of melanin-free Morlocks, led by Joe the Immortal, who doles out water sparingly to his loyal subjects while living a rich life inside The Citadel, his stronghold in the desert. Joe relies on Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, channeling her best Sigourney Weaver) to lead his squadrons on missions. But one day, Furiosa mutinies, and tries to escape with Joe’s harem of sex slaves for a better life in The Green Place. Joe tries to stop her. And for the next two hours, you can hardly catch your breath.
Fury Road is a shit-kicking rude-boy of a motion picture (emphasis on motion), but its genius is that it isn’t a brain-dead, testosterone-fueled explode-a-thon with dopey sentiments. (I watched the trailer for San Andreas before it; trust me, I know whereof I speak). At its heart beats a genuine parable of female empowerment and the benefits of matriarchal leadership. (Naw…. Really? Really.)
The director, George Miller — who also made the others in the series, as well as such incongruous films as Lorenzo’s Oil and Happy Feet — is a brilliant and exhilarating visualist, who uses machine-gun editing and skip-frame fast-motion techniques without convoluting the action. He has fully conceived of a world where ad-hoc religious zealotry and demented militancy have supplanted actual culture. I think it’s funny that a lot of the audience for this movie (aside from gay guys like me who kinda get off on all the beefcake) have no idea they are being indoctrinated with a message that ultimately embraces peace and cooperation. At least after it rips the bad guy’s face off. Hey, it is summer.
Also opening this weekend: Iris, the hilariously engaging documentary about nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel (a must-see); and Pitch Perfect 2, a follow-up to the hit a capella comedy.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2015.