One of my fears about moving to the burbs is that I would get to the movies less. In my old neighborhood, I could walk to a very nice theater that showed most English-language movies in their original version (ie not dubbed). I was worried that if I had to get in the car, even for a short drive, I would more often than not opt to watch a video at home.
And guess what? I was right! I don't think I've seen a movie in a theater since we moved 6 months ago. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that I now have a part-time job, which means much less free time during the weekdays (when I prefer to see movies). But part of it is that I just wasn't excited about the movies that have come out lately. I'll probably get around to seeing the new Avengers or "Birdman", but I figured I will eventually be able to download them. (This from a former film major who used to watch two movies a day). I began to wonder if this was a sign of getting old. I mean who needs the crowds and the traffic and paying those 3-D prices, amirtite? But then came "Mad Max: Fury Road" and suddenly I was desperate to get to the movie theater again.
For those of you not familiar with the Mad Max franchise, it is a series of three Australian films starring Mel Gibson (who was practically unknown at the time of the first film). Set in a post-apocalyptic world where survivors of an unknown war/disaster fight over water and gasoline, the films are largely credited for creating the punk-rock-in-a-desert-wasteland look that countless other dystopian films have copied.
In the first film, Max is a small-town cop whose wife and daughter are killed, sending him on an insanely violent quest for revenge (earning him the nickname "Mad Max"). In the subsequent films, Max takes on the familiar Western movie trope of the guy who just wants to be left alone, but can't quite resist the urge to help those in need. It is interesting to see how the films expanded in visual and narrative scope as their budgets grew and "Fury Road" is the biggest one yet.
Somewhere between a sequel and a reboot of the previous films, this new one has Tom Hardy taking over for Gibson. This is also the first movie where Max actually appears insane, haunted by hallucinations while trying to survive in the desert wasteland. Captured by a gang of "war boys", the minions of a war-lord called Immortan Joe, Max is taken to the Citadelle, where Immortan Joe controls the water supply, harvests breast milk, and keeps a harem of beautiful wives as personal breeders. After a failed escape attempt, Max is hooked up to transfuse ailing war boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), an indoctrinated soldier who wants nothing more than to die a good death and be reborn in 'Valhalla' as shiny and new as chrome (in Immortan Joe's twisted vehicle-worshipping mythology).
Writer/Director George Miller (along with his co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris) make the very intelligent choice to focus "Fury Road" not on the stoic Max, but on Charlize Theron's kick-ass Imerpator Furiosa, driver of one of Immortan Joe's big rigs that ferry around fuel and milk. Furiosa, who has her own tragic backstory, has decided to help rescue Joe's imprisoned wives and take them to the "green place" where she grew up. When Immortan Joe learns of her betrayal, he pulls out all the stops and sends his entire fleet of armed vehicles after Furiosa, which includes Max as the world's strangest hood ornament since he's still attached to Nux via I.V.
I won't spoil any more of the story. Suffice to say, Max ends up joining Furiosa's quest to find sanctuary. To describe the movie as one long chase sequence would be accurate, but not do justice to the inventive obstacles Miller and the screenwriters throw at them nor the way they are able to find moments of humanity along the way. The visuals and stunts (for the most part practical and not CGI) are truly spectacular and should absolutely be seen on the big screen. And while I found the dialogue (what there is of it) a little on the nose, my expectations of where the story was going was confounded more than once, which is no small thing in a genre action film.
In creating his immersive world, Miller is greatly aided by an impressive cast - Hardy, Theron and Foult are all excellent and remain distinct characters amid all the on-screen fireworks. "Fury Road" can be seen as a deliberate allegory of the tactics of modern-day warlords, or a mind-blowing action film featuring a bunch of strong women, or both. In the US, the movie is rated R, but in France it's rated 'tout public', with a warning that it contains disturbing images. That it does. There's no getting around this is a very violent movie, but the violence is not empty in the way it is in many American action flicks - it has real weight and consequences. We took our 14 year-old, who loved it, but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger.
So for the rest of you - get thee to a movie theater and see "Mad Max: Fury Road" in all its 3-D glory. Downloaded six month from now on your iphone just won't be the same.