Review by Ken Burke
The same sort of frequent, ongoing, non-cinematic-activities in my life which I noted in my last posting have continued recently so I had time for just 1 new screening this week also. Based on the more positive reviews in my local San Francisco area (and ultimately the nationwide—plus, of course, Canada, which for box-office-purposes is virtually considered the 51st “state”—domestic-ticket-sales-results) I suppose I should have chosen Pitch Perfect 2 (Elizabeth Banks) but I thought I’d seen enough of that sort of thing by watching 6 seasons of Glee on TV so my curiosity got the best of me and I chose Mad Max: Fury Road, details to follow below. However, Pitch 2 took in $69.2 million domestic dollars in its opening weekend (its predecessor [directed by Jason Moore, 2012] made only $65 million domestically in its entire run), giving it the 3rd-highest-opening of all time for a female director (topped by Sam Taylor-Johnson's 50 Shades of Grey [review in our February 26, 2015 posting], Catherine Hardwicke’s 2008 Twilight), also the 2nd-biggest opening for a 1st-time director (Robert Stromberg takes the top honor for Maleficent [2014; review in our June 6, 2014 posting]) but best overall opening for a musical. Its audience, not surprisingly, was 75% female, with total attendees being 62% under age 25. In contrast, this latest addition to the Mad Max franchise scored $45.4 million domestically with a 70% male audience, its total attendees being 46% under age 35. However, given that Max was my option, here’s what I thought about it.
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
The post-apocalyptic, barren desert world of ex-cop Max Rockatansky continues with the usual combat between a small group of the good vs. the raging forces of evil as battered vehicles race across the sands with dead bodies flying everywhere as this furious-franchise's newcomers, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, do battle against a vicious warlord.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews. Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up. Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
What Happens: As we hear in brief-opening-voice-over-narration from former cop/now desert wanderer Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), the world we know has been lost to thermonuclear wars over oil and water, leaving the planet as a harsh desert where various communities struggle for survival, with the area we’re focused on commanded by the brutal Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a Darth Vader-ish-character whose ego knows no bounds but whose body needs an evil-looking-life-support-system. However, his reign is absolute (like a future version of Pharaohs and slaves in The Ten Commandments [Cecil B. DeMille, 1956]), doling out small amounts of life-sustaining-water to his impoverished populace, kept under control by his army of pale, shirtless, bald War Boys, one of whom, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), needs blood-infusions from captured donor Max (Joe also forces a group of women to produce milk as sustenance for the elite of his reign). As the almost-non-stop-main-action gets under way here (after rapid-early-scenes where Max tries but fails to escape), one of Joe’s combat leaders, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)—near-bald herself, with a mechanical left arm—supposedly is leading a convoy to Gas Town for more of the kingdom-sustaining-fuel, “guzzaline,” but hidden in her tanker are Joe’s nubile Five Wives (Capable [Riley Keough], The Splendid Angharad [Rosie Huntington-Whiteley], Cheedo the Fragile [Courtney Eaton], Toast the Knowing [Zoë Kravitz], The Dag [Abbey Lee]—and you thought the Spice Girls had weird names!), attempting to escape from their lives of enforced breeding to maintain Joe’s power and legacy. Joe figures out what’s happening so his whole skinhead army in their hotrods, jeeps, and trucks sets off in pursuit, including crazed Nux, anxious to die so as to reach Joe’s promise of Valhalla (a nice snide twist on the supposed “72 virgins” seemingly the goal of many of the suicidal-jihadists who prop up Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc.), so Nux attaches “blood bag” Max to the front of his car in order to keep the needed liquid flowing while he’s off on a quest to prove himself worthy of Joe’s admiration. Furiosa eludes the first army-onslaught by driving straight into a ferocious sandstorm (complete with lightening and tornadoes), where only Nux is crazed enough to follow; in the process, Max manages to escape, get loose of his chains and metal face mask thanks to Furiosa and the Wives, leaves Nux for dead (but he’s not, eventually reconnecting with Joe’s troops), then sets out with them on an escape run which results in the army blocked by damage in a narrow canyon but a Wife (Splendid, the pregnant one) left dead in the melee, along with Nux hiding on the tanker, although he comes to accept outcast status as well, encouraged by Capable.
Furiosa’s goal is to take the Wives to the Green Place from where she was kidnapped as a child, but when our escapees encounter a group of wandering women on motorcycles she finds out that her former home is now a miserable swamp (with these nomads the last of her original tribe), so all of these women and Nux set out to go even further away until Max (haunted by a vision of his dead daughter—which creates a continuity problem because he only had a son in the original movie, unless this is—unlikely—a child from a second family "beyond" ... Thunderdome [see next paragraph below]) convinces them to instead attack Joe’s Citadel territory, somehow bringing him down in the process. As our outflanked/outnumbered/outweaponed-tanker heads back toward the War Boy army all hell really lets loose (as if we hadn’t been witness to enough of that throughout most of this story already) with a plan to once again maneuver through that narrow canyon, block it off in order to prevent further pursuit from the army, then move on to The Citadel in hopes of changing the mindset of the remaining defenders there. As events transpire, the tanker crew manages to stave off the continuing attacks from the War Boys, Joe is killed in the process (as is his behemoth son, Rictus Erectus [Nathan Jones], a name indicative of the patriarchal paradigm under fire in Miller’s pro-female-script), Nux sacrifices himself in order to bring down the canyon walls to block off further pursuit, allowing Max and Furiosa (who was badly wounded in the final battle but helped back to health by a transfusion from ever-blood-ready-Max) to bring about an immediate Citadel uprising when they display Joe’s dead body, leaving us with the assumption that these women (including a few survivors of Furiosa’s clan; she’s a bit worse-for-wear herself, now with a missing right eye to match her truncated left arm, but even Miller acknowledges that she’s the true protagonist of the piece so she’ll persevere) will now be this society’s leaders, sharing its vital resources with all of the inhabitants, not including Max who, as usual, rides away to parts unknown.
So What? Maybe part of what swayed me to see Mad Max: Fury Road is its depiction of a world so destroyed that it’s turned into a desert, better preparing me for what may await my once-lush-California if this damned 4-year-drought doesn’t come to an end soon (ironically, Miller wasn’t able to shoot his landscape scenes in normally desert-realm-inland-Australia because unusually heavy rains brought forth such a blooming of vegetation that he had to go to the Namib desert of southwest Africa [parts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa] to get the shots he desired without resorting to computer-generated-imagery—although some of the early scenes in the 3-D version that I saw rendered that actual landscape in the background as so flat compared to the foreground that it looked more like a painted backdrop; unless you’re just a fiend for 3-D I saw nothing about its use in this movie to justify those expensive glasses). Some writings about … Fury Road have likened it to a reboot of the Mad Max concept (as with J.J. Abrams crafty-time-warping-re-launch of Capt. Kirk and company in Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness [2013; review in our May 24, 2013 posting]) with Hardy now in place of Mel Gibson from the first 3 tales (Mad Max, 1979; The Road Warrior, 1981; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985, all directed and co-written by Miller), but most reviews and synopses indicate that we’re just moving on from … Thunderdome with merely a change of lead actor (maybe the just-announced-plans for further Max prequels—see the comment at the end of my next section—will fill in the chronological gaps for the titular-character) without decades of actual time passing, in the same manner that the James Bond plots, until Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006), assumed a continuity of action occurring in less time than the release years of the actual films from Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962) to Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002), just using different guys playing the same 007. If this is the case, then Max continually confronts a desperately-rugged-life in an environment where warfare is constant to maintain some control of water, guzzaline, and human reproduction, leading to repetitive battles for our protagonist and his allies (this latest one seemed similar at times to The Road Warrior, but, then, these limited-concept-stories often find themselves mirroring earlier episodes, as with Return of the Jedi [Richard Marquand, 1983] aping much of the original Star Wars [George Lucas, 1977]—since retitled A New Hope, as all in this series acquired an episode number) against a constant onslaught of leather-clad-antagonists who seem to have wandered over from an S&M-porno-casting-call (bringing along quite a collection of human-skull-emblems this time, although that may be an ongoing-icon in these Max movies because I can’t recall many of the specifics of the earlier ones right now).
How you’re likely to respond to Mad Max: Fury Road depends largely on what you expect to happen in a movie house when you shell out several dollars for a ticket, along with the optional accouterments of 3-D, refreshments, etc. If all you want is a couple of hours of well-made-mayhem where it’s all about desperate heroes on the lam from despicable villains in time-worn-vehicles chasing each other across miles of unforgiving sand until the inevitable moments when bodies are crushed beneath rampaging autos/trucks or shot down at close range in do-or-die-firefights (at one point when Max is standing atop the tanker truck with a rifle shooting at various War Boy pursuers, blowing them all away, it reminded me of John Wayne as the Ringo Kid doing virtually the same thing against incoming Indians in Stagecoach [John Ford, 1939]), then this assault on your senses (with equal assaults on the actors’ bodies, because much of what you see of these speeding gas-guzzlers and their occupants involves actual-photographed-chases rather than CGI-facsimiles) should be satisfying to you because the action constantly builds tension; there are enough variations in how different War Boys and their ferociously-ugly-leader are menacing Max, Furiosa, Nux, and the Wives so that parallel shots of pursuit and combat are energetically-edited together; and there’s a clear sense of accomplishment as Joe is brutally killed, allowing the victorious women to bring change to The Citadel, giving some hope that its resources will be used to build a more communal life for these survivors of catastrophe rather than Joe's cruel kingdom with only his heirs as rulers, many of the subjects locked into life-sustaining-fluid-production, and limited allocations of water keeping the peons under control in their need for this precious substance intertwined with their internal battles for getting some of it when Joe allowed only enough to flow to keep his population both needy and desperate. However, if what you want is more exploration of how all of this came to be, how despots such as Joe are able to maintain command of their empires when there are seemingly plenty of miserable subjects ready to rebel against their iron-fisted-rule, and what really happened to Max’s family that set him on his miserable journey (you get quick flashbacks of an attack, along with his hallucinations of a young girl berating him for not being an effective protector, but for more than that you’ll just have to rent the 1979 original, where you’ll find Keays-Byrne as Toecutter, a member of the cruel motorcycle gang that did those killings), then you’ll likely come away wondering why you didn’t just find some collection of demolition-derby-highlights on some obscure cable TV channel rather than spending your time and money watching not much more than well-produced-scenes-of-destruction for 2 hours in a movie theater.
Metacritic score; more details in the links far below) at a much higher degree than I’m willing to offer, although I did find the cinematography and choreography of the many chase scenes; attention to detail of this ravaged, almost non-technological-world—except for motorized vehicles and firearms; and use of weirdly-absurd-elements, such as the heavy-metal-guitarist who rides on the front of one of Immortan Joe’s army trucks blaring away as their murderous hoards bear down upon Furiosa, Max, and company, to be all marvelously-crafted (which enhanced my less-than-overwhelmed-initial-response). Accordingly, while there are so many other film reviewers out there offering you their opinions on whatever it is I choose to write about that I rarely make reference to them, I’ll offer an exception this time to give you some strikingly-different-statements from my own middle-of-the-(fury)road point of view, with all of them coming from the Movie Sites You Might Like in the column to the right of my text in this blog’s layout. I’ll start with Jason King (a fellow Australian with Mad Max series-overlord Miller), who runs the Salty Popcorn site, gives … Fury Road 4 of 5, and says: “It harks back to the first Mad Max film where Max’s family is slaughtered, creating the hardened soul of the Max we love, a true super-anti-hero. MAD MAX FURY ROAD also embraces what it is, B Grade 80s action post apocalytpica, something that after the hundreds of current post apocalyptic dystopian films of late we never thought we would need more of.” In stark contrast we have Fiore Mastracci (of Pittsburg, PA, where he creates Outtakes featuring the Right Critic with both web and YouTube reviews) who offers a mere 3 of 10 (or 1½ of 5 on my scale, for the mathematically-challenged among you) because he rejects that Furiosa should be the lead character, not Max: “His name in the title is a ploy to ensnare Mad Max fans to a movie that they would otherwise have ignored. It’s a cheap ploy used to spread an ever irritating feminist propaganda at the expense of an already established male movie model.” (There’s always a cluster of movie notations on his reviews page so you’ll probably have to scroll down to find the one about Mad Max; you can also go to his home page to see what he does like, with Avengers: Age of Ultron getting a full 10 of 10 [my 3½ of 5 review is in in our May 7, 2015 posting]; given my friend Fiore’s feelings about this latest Mad Max [and my frequent disagreements with him about a lot of things despite respecting the knowledge-base he possesses], I doubt he’d be all that thrilled to know that Miller brought The Vagina Monologues’ playwright, Eve Ensler, to the filming in Africa to coach his female players for what he accepts as a feminist-based-futuristic-story that speaks out against violence toward women [see Miller’s comments in the 3rd option of the suggested links far below].)
More along the lines of my response to … Fury Road I’ll give you an offering from another Australian site, Odean Online (which makes much better layout use of Google Blogspot software than I’ve ever been able to accomplish), run by Steven East, where he offers 3 of 5 for this writer-director’s latest effort because “I was looking for a little more depth, more character development (although perhaps Miller assumes we know Max’s back story – but what happened in the intervening years I wonder, and what about Furiosa too) and perhaps an insight in to the world as it is.” Well, Steven, you get your wish as Miller is planning 2 prequels to ... Fury Road, with the 1st to be called Mad Max: Wasteland (not ... Furiosa, as cited in earlier reports), so we may get more backstory on both Immortan Joe and Imperator Furiosa, although unless an amnesia plotline works its way into the scripts there shouldn’t be any meeting of Max with either of them in that he apparently first encounters these Citadel leaders in … Fury Road. Because superhero (and related futuristic sci-fi-movies such as the Mad Max franchise) are now spinning plots out into the next decade of this century we’ll just have to wait awhile to see what’s actually next in this barren landscape.
For my Musical Metaphor to conclude these comments on Mad Max: Fury Road (maybe I can convince Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, and the rest of their crew to saunter over from Pitch Perfect 2 to sing it; nah, they’re probably too busy negotiating a contract for another sequel where they have to win the contest for best a cappella group in the solar system [they’ll have to go for the galaxy in the 4th one]) I’ve chosen Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” (from his 1975 Born to Run album) but in a version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cXzFhZVMnQ where the focus initially is on his co-performer, Melissa Etheridge, as she offers a long introduction to bringing Bruce out to join her for a relatively-quiet-acoustic-duet (March 21, 1995, from an episode of MTV Unplugged), but if you’d prefer a more typical “Bruce! Bruce!” attack (with him in his undershirt, the E Street Band backing him up, in what seems to be a VHS recording—in gloriously-grainy black & white—from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ [September 19, 1978, also with a long intro to the song]) then here you go at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf61K6ZKu_4; if nothing else, this pairing of performances of a tune about “all the redemption” that can be offered being “beneath this dirty hood” may speak to those critics of Mad Max: Fury Road who complain about its intentions being too locked into a feminist agenda, co-opting a former-male-centric-franchise which is better exemplified by the grittier memories from the past. If that’s how you feel about this most recent episode of Max’s struggles with existence that’s your right as a viewer (and reader of anyone’s analysis of any movie), but for me I’m satisfied with both versions of the Springsteen song just as I don’t feel that Max has been undermined by Furiosa any more than Bruce has been by Melissa, although I would agree that old-school-Max does work for me better than this new movie version but only because I found The Road Warrior to be the most intriguing of all of these stories, no matter who was in the title role nor what obstacles he was forced to face.
I’ll offer a wrap-up this time that speaks not to anything further of a cinematic nature but to 2 recent larger-concept-wrap-ups that have a much greater cultural impact than anything I’m likely to say anyway. First, like so many others, I’ll note my sorrow at the recent death of blues-legend B.B. King. As another great-late-musician (George Harrison) once said, all things must pass, but B.B.’s mastery of traditional blues singing as well as his command of a guitar fret board will be sorely missed except in how they live on in his many recordings. I’m fortunate to have seen him perform a couple of times in the last couple of decades with my marvelous wife, Nina, but she got to see him in an even-better-show at the Oakland, CA Arena way back in 1969 on a bill with Ike & Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones (such combinations don’t come around too often—I missed a chance in the mid-1970s to travel from Austin to Houston for a California celebration with the Beach Boys, the Eagles, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young because by the time I found out about it all of the tickets were gone, just like “the King” is now [I refer to B.B. in this context, not the long-departed Elvis]). While I could easily help you remember marvelous Mr. King with one of his own songs I think that an even-more-appropriate-tribute would be with something that speaks to his career as a whole—and that of so many fabulous entertainers who give so much of themselves to their fans at the possible expense of their own health and personal stability—Willie Nelson’s “Night Life,” so here’s B.B. King performing it with Willie from sometime, somewhere in 1984 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcSCEB9z-2M, aided by their respective famous guitars, Lucille and Trigger.
My other farewell tribute is to Matthew Weiner’s marvelous Mad Men (which, as I noted in my last posting, provided me with the inspiration for my Musical Metaphors with its use of a similar tactic connected to many episodes’ closing credits), which has now concluded its 7th-season run on AMC, one of the best TV dramatic series that I’ve ever seen (along with many others in the industry who felt the same way, as it won the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series 4 times, along with 11 more of these prestigious awards). With all of the trauma that the various characters caused for themselves and each other on their collective journeys through the culture-upheaval-events of the 1960s (a significant decade for me as well, one that I admit my memories, tastes, and orientations are frequently stuck in, even when such sticking is quite enjoyable), it was a pleasure to see that most of them, by November 1970 (one of the few times on Mad Men’s many episodes where we got a specific temporal reference to the larger context in which the plot events were occurring), seemed to be headed (at least temporarily) to better times than they normally had endured (except for Betty Draper Francis [January Jones], diagnosed with incurable cancer, but she seemed resolved to her circumstances as being part of the hand that life deals us rather than railing against fate for her misfortune). Even the chief-con-man, the duplicitous Don Draper (Jon Hamm), finally found himself on the road to inner peace, leaving his life of personal and professional (advertising industry) lies behind, as he joins a group of other peace-seekers at a California coastal retreat, greeting the morning with a chant of the Hindu sacred word, OM. So, I’ll wish Don and his former colleagues farewell with one of my most pleasant memories of the 1960s, time spent quietly listening to the Moody Blues’ 1968 album, In Search of the Lost Chord, which concludes with their musical reflections on this word in their cut also called “OM,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-lGKnIbNbw, visualized with a good number of computer-graphics-illustrations (some of them appropriately psychedelically-inspired) for you to mediate upon until next we meet again.
Although … lest I try to end on too lovingly-organic a note here, I must admit that Weiner certainly tops me with his final use of a well-known-song of the era to conclude an episode by running the famous 1971 "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad, which I interpret as a sly—or blatant—comment on how advertising, and the mass media in general, so often uses something emotionally-stirring (such as Don’s seemingly-emerging-holistic-consciousness or the lyrics of this jingle, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”—which, ironically, went on to be a pop hit as sung by both The Hillside Singers and The New Seekers without the Coke lyrics, although hearing the song on the radio coupled with the memory of the commercial probably helped subliminally sell as many sodas as did the ad itself) as a means to peddle a product, reminding us that whatever better world might await these Mad Men characters could easily be turned into sentimental hogwash, just as they’d been doing for their clients for the entire run of the series. Mad Men may have ended with satisfyingly-implied(but not verified)-closure for these folks, but Weiner didn’t let us forget the marvelously-snide-satire that made this show such a success. (Some have already suggested that this ending implies Don simply channeled his newly-found-New-Age-vibe into this very-effective-but-highly-manipulative-ad, in that it was actually produced by the McCann-Erickson agency, where many of Don’s fictional colleagues ended up, with presumably a job open for this creative titan if he chose to reclaim that lifestyle [he was even reminded that Coca-Cola awaited him as a client if he’d come back to NYC]—however, I’m trying my best to not be cynical enough to accept this downbeat interpretation of Weiner’s marvelous surprise ending but we may never know for sure—although I can offer you Jon Hamm's take on it for your consideration.)
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Here’s some more information about Mad Max: Fury Road:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9_VxcSHyWI (23:23 interview with director George Miller; lots of clip inclusions that are different from the one in the trailer just above)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.