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South Texas Living


‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ best action movie since ‘Avatar’




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At the movies
May 20, 2015 | 3,404 views | Post a comment

“Mad Max” is a franchise that’s never enjoyed a No. 1 opening in America, and yet is known by virtually every moviegoer. In a genre focused on nuclear war and bomb shelters, the 80s trilogy posed a different apocalypse -- one caused by shortages of gas, water, and food. It gave the diminishing post-apocalypse genre new life as the world phased away from the Cold War.

Thirty years since its last entry, Max Rockatansky, a former highway patrol officer just trying to survive in the wasteland, is now played by Tom Hardy instead of an upstart Mel Gibson. His world is still dominated by roving gangs of stunt drivers and bikers. He encounters Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a band of women she’s saving from a post-apocalyptic dictator.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a pulsing, two hour chase scene of rare energy and raw emotion. It is among the best action movies ever dreamed up. A quick glance across my movie lists of the last several years makes me confident in saying it’s the best pure action experience since 2009’s “Avatar.” More importantly, it’s also the most tailor-made to see on the big-screen.

The danger in action movies today is that they’re all so similar. Endless aliens/robots/orcs stream straight into our superhero’s fists as buildings collapse, the earth shatters, and the camera spins around in a way no real cameraman ever could. It’s all one glorious video game cutscene. That’s great; I love cutscenes. For two hours at a time every week, though, that begins to wear. The most brilliant decision in “Mad Max: Fury Road” is that nearly everything you see is done by a real stunt driver in a real car. CGI adds extra bodies getting thrown around and some crazy lightning-duststorm-tornadoes, but the core shots are always practical. The stunts you’re watching are real.

This gives every piece of action a weight, and it gives the viewer a sense of geography. Quick, tell me the layout of Sokovia in “Avengers 2.” Are characters a block away from each other or on opposite sides of the city? Who knows? Yet in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I know where every character is and how they’ll come into conflict. I know this for dozens of cars going 60 mph in a desert with no landmarks. I can anticipate the next steps in a chaotic fight, which lets the movie be more unpredictable in how those steps play out.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” boasts some of the most audacious and awe-inspiring stunt choreography since ... well, maybe ever. What it pulls off is usually achieved in a film for five minutes at a time and then listed as one of the greatest chase scenes ever, except “Mad Max” pulls it off for 70 or 80 minutes of a two-hour movie. Moreover, the story doesn’t stop to let the chase happen like a setpiece; the story ramps up and tightens the screws right alongside the action.

Every new action scene delivers new consequences, fresh stunt choreography, and a surprisingly diverse array of settings for a desert. In fact, the majority of the action sequences are three-way fights, which are often avoided on film today because of the planning and precision that’s required in choreographing, filming, and editing them.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is also about something crucial:

“We are not things,” shouts a woman early in the film. “We are not things!” The women Furiosa has saves are “breeders,” kept trapped by the men in one dictatorship to give them sons. Despite his name being in the title, Max is not the film’s lead. He’s sidekick to someone else’s adventure. Furiosa is the lead, and she’s transporting these women to safety. Once Max and Furiosa come together, this is her film more than his. If that upsets you, my only question is why? Any other hero who lasts long enough in our fiction ends up appearing in another hero’s story.

Women are the action heroes in this film, and “Mad Max: Fury Road” makes no bones about it. If that bothers you, then you should absolutely see this movie. You might realize women being equal partners has no ill effect on a movie’s quality. In fact, not limiting your cast to 50 percent of the population effectively doubles the number of quality actors you have to choose from. It makes your film better.

If you have no problem with women being equal, then you should absolutely see this movie, too. Simply put, it’s an action masterpiece. The 3-D, though converted in post-production, is also fantastic. It’s used to bring out the atmosphere and landscape and doesn’t become too gimmicky.

Four out of four stars. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is rated R for violence and disturbing images.

Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at vlasicary@hotmail.com.
 

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