If the hype machine was in full swing for Age of Ultron and we got what we did as a result, you could understand me getting some slightly chilled feet as I bought my ticket to Mad Max tonight. 99% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes? A certain group of individuals going nuts over it in a negative way (which can only be a good thing)? Every single word of mouth reviewer I have heard of even in passing loving it? How can this be? Does it actually live up to all that positive word of mouth or is it another case of Hollywood and the Press jumping in bed together for something illicit and a bit dirty?
Let’s take a look under the hood shall we?
According to Cracked, George Miller is good at precisely two things – Mad Max and anthropomorphic animals. Thats right this man directed all of the previous Max films and Happy Feet. The connection is clear to me; of course I am also sleep deprived as I write this so there could be some really cool hallucinations going on here. Miller is also one of the three writers on the film adding the talents of newcomers to the script scene of Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris. McCarthy is a storyboard artist and visual consultant in his previous works and I believe his talents helped Miller envision many of the shots in the film to make it what it was. Lathouris, on the other hand, is no novice to the Mad Max Franchise, having played a part in the original 1979 film. By their powers combined they have matched action and storytelling. They gave us a world we shouldn’t want to imagine and made it touchable. There are those who say this is Max 1.5 picking up after the events in the 79. I would disagree and argue that instead this truly is part 4. Let me explain.
The movie introduces us to a barely vocal Max (Tom Hardy) who is just barely above your average survivalist animal in a post apocalyptic landscape. Why is there an apocalypse? Fuel wars. More than that doesn’t actually matter and they don’t bother to explain – which is good. This Max is haunted by his past failures and is clearly going insane from his enforced isolation and continued existence in a kill or be killed bleak world. Max doesn’t even classify as human at the beginning of the film, living as a creature of instinct. That is of course until during the course of events he runs into Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who changes everything for the nomad. The man that they give us is so deeply traumatized his guilt wracked visions have near physical impact on him. By the end of ’79 Max, he was a force of vengeance, but not haunted. After all the carnage and deaths of Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome – now I believe the evolution to today’s Max.
From an acting perspective, it is absolutely abundantly clear that Hardy (Bane from Batman) spent a lot of time studying Mel Gibsons performances. He aped the mans facial expressions, nervous ticks, and even speech patterns making Max feel near seamless; even against the different face. He is a broken man who just wants to be alone; yet still wants to do the right thing per his old job as a cop. This is one of Hardy’s best performances to date reminding me a bit of Kurt Russell in Soldier where a good actor is put to the test using minimalism. While not nearly as minimalist, there are enough similarities and Hardy pulls it off. Charlize Theron (Hancock, Italian Job, Snow White, etc) continues to prove there isn’t a role she is not capable of. She is a physical presence on screen as much as she is a force of personality that you believe can do whatever she damn well pleases. Some are decrying the strength of the character, but it is that very strength that pulls Max in.
Other cast include Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, and Beast from X-men), Zoe Kravitz (X-men first class), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers 3 – don’t hold it against her), Riley Keough (The Runaways, Kiss of the Damned), and the incomparable Nathan ‘Colossus’ Jones (Fearless, The Protector). New comer Abbey Lee makes a memorable performance who at times reminded me of a certain Khaleesi. We also have another Mad Max alum in Hugh Keayes-Byrne, coming in as a new role in our villainous Immortan Joe. Each and every performance mentioned above is memorable in their own ways within the film and clearly act their heart out under Millers direction.
Lets talk tech for a second. I have been heard saying how awesome I think this movie is for its reliance on practical effects where possible. That means for those who don’t live and breathe movies that every car you see – is real. Nearly every crash you see – is real. Not only did they make these vehicles, they destroyed them just as much. I almost imagine the conversation went like this –
Movie Makers: “<insert Trick My/Pimp my XXXX here>, we’re making a Mad Max movie and need some vehicles. What is something crazy you’ve wanted to do to a car?”
Vehicle Guys: “Tank treads on a cadillac….” *snickers as they say it*
MM: “Ooh good start. Can you make it?”
VG: “Serious? Like …this isn’t a joke?”
MM: “No…but can you go even a bit crazier. We have four Taiko drums we want to use too…”
These vehicles are NUTS! Knowing all of them are real and all of them function just makes the movie richer. Something else that does? Narrative arc. The film really is a 2 hour car chase as promised; however, unlike Ultron, they wisely paced it. There are lulls in the action for you to catch your breath. There is slight tension to let you know it isn’t over. The movie just works on this level with rises and falls of action that make both narrative sense, visual beauty, and cognitive pacing. You can follow the action. You can understand the slow parts. and they work in balance with each other.
This is 2 hour thrill ride of solid filmmaking. If you are an action movie die hard, car lover, Max lover…or are in any way approving of this genre – this is the movie we’ve been waiting on since John Wick. This is the movie we need. I want Hollywood to take note of WHY this works and learn from it. We deserve good movies like this.
George Miller knocked it out of the park on this one and deserves our support.
If you aren’t into the genre, there’s always Pitch Perfect 2 this weekend (review pending screening tomorrow); but you can avoid it. Otherwise- go see this movie. Make it the hit it deserves to be.