Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Mad Max: Fury Road

Be on high alert. Max is back! Better yet, director George Miller is at the helm in "Fury Road," this fourth chapter of the Mad Max story that made Mel Gibson made famous. Here, the enigmatic Tom Hardy more than fills Gibson's existential boots and does not disappoint for one second.

As strong and wonderfully nonverbal as Tom Hardy is, the real star is the camera itself in showing us a world that is apocalyptic, yet also as literate, colorful and eccentric as Dante's Inferno.

All is now desert after a great war. Both man and beast have burrowed underground. When they venture out for water or chrome, everything is saturated by sand.

The people are shackled and brainwashed by a sadist dictator, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who is a bit like Hannibal Lecter in wearing a huge skull muzzle. Once in a blue moon, he toys with the masses by letting them have water for one minute and then shuts it down.

He goes through considerable torment in fitting a plexiglass exoskeleton over himself as his body is covered with tumors that impair his lungs. His neck is covered in leather.

This Joe is a fearsome creature.

Max is held captive by Joe's minions who are painted entirely white and used as zombies.

Periodically, Max is consumed by survivor's guilt and he is punished and haunted by children who ended up slaughtered or half dead. These flashbacks are some of the film's best moments as George Miller accelerates the film making it appear a liquid form with one image covering the other almost like acrylic or watercolor paint. This technique is similar to Stan Brakhage or Maya Deren, as the images often blur and twist upon the other becoming a nuclear Rorschach test of demonology and disease, one part Poe and Artaud.

Rest assured Max is on the road once again this time as a human figurehead on the prow of a war vehicle.

He encounters a soldier, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is working for Joe in carrying fuel across a border. Furiosa is a female mirror of Max, savage and direct.

The action is quite literally nonstop and Tom Hardy gives the character of Max a refreshing and peculiar charge as he is mostly monosyllabic, yet still possessing of an ironic nonchalance, a sort of Indiana Jones for the End of Days.

More than the action though, this installment is at its best when it simply shows endless stretches of blazing butter-colored sand. Rabid people scream over it like ants, pumping their arms and pouring fountains of fire upon the dunes like the water that is in short supply. Driving demons roar and rage and speak in tongues as they spray their mouths with silver paint to give courage.

There is an electric guitar player who screeches on and on, playing ever more frenetically as he is thrown as a projectile from one car to the other.

The single most arresting image however, may be that of Max buried under a huge mound, his own physical body becoming a slab of unforgiving nature. When he awakens, Max is a gruesome Gulliver left in a world of little people who use slabs of recycled metal to make themselves tower over the other with small hearted intimidation and greed.

There is humor too. When Max is left with one quiet moment, he yearns to get free of his face
restraint. He is within reach of every weapon imaginable but can do nothing to liberate himself from his mouth prison, even after dispensing scores of villains with his bare hands.

Despite his strength, Max is reduced to guzzle water and scratch at his neck like a dog.

Even if the meth amphetamine action is not your bag, George Miller's unique and eye popping maelstroms, very near to the stuff of Milton, is impossible to ignore. Along with the staccato camera there is a fair amount of perilous poetry, and something akin to  melancholy in the vast stretching fields.

In "Mad Max: Fury Road", Tom Hardy gives a solid tribute, while all but out-madding Mel Gibson with a face that is truly spaced out though full to the brim with hyperactive angst.

Write Ian at

No comments: