Sunday, 17 May 2015

ROAD MADDER: THE NEW MAD MAX REVIEWED AT EYEWEAR

CHARLIZE THERON IS THE NEW ICON
[SPOILER ALERT] The new Mad Max: Fury Road film has had a fascinating gestation and now a narrative of striving against another kick-ass franchise, Pitch Perfect, itself a vehicle for amazing women. Well, that's the media hyped story, and let's leave it there.  I saw Mad Max 4 (as it were) on Friday in 3D in London; at the end, reactions from the audience were mixed.  If you wanted to sum it up you might say Marmite - it did create a love-hate tension in the packed theatre.

I loved it.  I loved the insane Cirque du Soleil mania, the battery acid propulsion, the high-octane raciness; I loved the Trigger Warning vision of it.  The eco-warrior-feminist subtext; the redemption; the ugliness; the beauty; the sheer Wild West poetry of the cinema it extends and amplifies in its very motion.

I would argue that, at 70, director George Miller, in tandem with a hugely talented team - a crew of hundreds - has choreographed one of the most beautifully fluid and breath-taking action spectacles cinema has ever seen - or felt.  At times, it has the grandeur, sweep and power of The Searchers, Zulu, Ran, Star Wars, Indiana Jones 1, T:2, Lawrence of Arabia, Jackson's LOTR, and indeed Road Warrior.

Tempered by a very Australian sense of humour, and starring the two best-looking actors now working in movies (Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy), the melange of body horror, body paint, and body modification, presents us with the longest there and back again I've seen - 120 pure minutes of pure cinema. Vertigo and Rambo are almost as silent and thrilling - but it's hard to recall as wordless a world of pure visual sensationalism, put to the ends of a story with a heart at its bloody and horrific core.

Much has been made of the feminist element of the story, which I am unsure is really there (it may be a mirage) - surely the word matriarchal is more apt. Just because a film has active women in it doesn't mean the form or content is feminist - though this does pass the Bechtel test handily, and does terminate with a new hope, based on an idea of female fecundity and natural justice (essentialism?) returning to take control from a de-natured and evil cock-rock emperor of eye-scream. As well, the mostly-passive and doe-eyed stick-insect sex slaves are presented with a Vogue glamour that is almost preposterous (it must be said we assume intentionally). More clearly, as in the forerunners in the tetralogy, an ecological and pacifist ethos beats a taut drum in the background, even as caveman violence and vehicular manslaughter, as much as anything, save the day.

Modern cinema is in search of a zipless fuck, or, really, a guilt-free way of shooting Injuns. Zombies, Nazis, and robots are also fair game - a shoot-em-up is what we crave, and this is what this is.  It boils down to Ma and Pa Kettle on a rushing stagecoach, fending off the natives, in this case grossly-cancerous and cankered War Boys and Warlords. The ending, which is essentially a classic restoration theme of the good sheriff reclaiming the town, despite its biblical milk and honey theme, is an uplifting commencement for a debacle yet to be enacted - the Imperator (Theron) who will or will not hold back the male gaze and evil inherent in the bleak system established at the start.

Max does little but suffer, a Christ/Shane figure, and act as shotgun backup - until his decisive final reel Brando interdiction - rebelling against whatever the world's got. It's hard to see as feminist any story that requires a man, however silent, to speak for the women; or invent the daring final plan (which is of course the return to the castle/ death star/ throne of blood). Meanwhile, the one-armed Theron outdoes Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver or Jennifer Lawrence, as a boy's fantasy of what a perfectly sculpted beach-ready kick-ass action woman could be.

Regardless of how connected to or deracinated from theory and geo-politics, the film is relevant precisely in its propulsion - its contemporaneity is in its kinetic ferocity; it is as well-made, as exciting, and dynamically unstoppable as any film ever before made. This may prove a false prediction, but possibly only the new Star Wars, and the new Bond, will make more money this year at the Box Office.
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