Monday, July 20, 2015

A Slightly Obsessive Fan's Anal Retentive Review of Mad Max: Road Fury

My name is Kanrei and I have a problem: I can't leave baggage at home when I see a franchise film or TV show.   I am cursed with a clear memory of the canon of the story and I end up falling in love with the most minute  details as I piece together how they combine to form the characters I love.   That is a disclaimer before you read my review.   That said, here we go...

I finally got around to seeing the newest Mad Max movie; Road Fury starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy and written/directed by Mad Max creator George Miller.  I have to be honest: I was mostly unimpressed if I viewed it as an entry into the franchise, but enjoyed it as a stand alone movie.

Now that said, I do go into the series with a lot of baggage and that definitely had a major influence on my enjoyment of the movie.    To give you an idea: my Empire Strikes Back era Han Solo action figure had his left left wrapped in masking tape the moment Road Warrior ended and he was christened Mad Max from that point on.  Every time my Star Wars and GI Joe toys came out to play, it was always a post-apocalyptic setting they were playing in.   The Star Wars figures no longer fought the Empire and GI Joe didn't care about Cobra; it became every man for himself in a battle for survival.   The weaker figures banded together into gangs, but the heroes were always alone.  Even my Matchbox and Hot Wheels toys found renewed value to me as I re-created the final scenes of Road Warrior over and over again and made up my own versions.

Star Wars was huge for me, but Mad Max introduced a new style of story that I just feel in love with much like the Zombie fans of today.   I even dressed up as Max to get a chance to see Beyond Thunderdome a day early for free at Sunniland Theater.   I think I have a photo of it somewhere, but no scanner so no copies here.  Sorry.   Yes, it is safe to say Max and I go way back so it is also safe to say I was very excited to hear George Miller was returning to the world I so loved as a kid.

The baggage one would expect a long time fan to bring to this movie is that a new actor was, for the first time, playing the role of ex-cop desert wandering Max Rockatansky.    The antics of Mel Gibson (the original Max) over the last decade or so made it fairly easy for me to not mind that he was out of the story.  I would probably keep wondering if his "madness" was mostly intoxication and would be waiting for him to ask the bad guy if he was Jewish.   And we all know there would be an extensive torture scene because I think that is a rider in any and all Mel Gibson movies.   I'm getting off subject...

The new Mad Max didn't bother me because this is a new movie introducing a 30 year old character to a new audience.   Mel's Max would be more about a geriatric ex-bad ass and just the fact he was still alive would be impressive enough.   Old men driving could be interesting if you like chase scenes at 15 miles per hour, but I don't think it would be effective in a 2 hour large screen event.   How many bathroom breaks would they have to have?

I don't know Tom Hardy.  I think he played Bane in the last Batman movie, so I had a clean slate with him.   I was ready for a new Max and it was way easier to me to accept that I expected.   To be honest, just the thought of it being George Miller returning to this world made me giddy like a 12 year old again.   The man who made the greatest action movies of my childhood started making movies about talking pigs, so his return was beyond a dream in the shock factor.   Who ever comes back from kid movies?   How would he return from CGI wonderlands and did he even want to?   Can you go home again?   Actually, yes you can on most fronts, but not entirely as even Max is subject to Hollywood trends and other successful franchise influence.

I will try to avoid spoilers, but some are inevitable for me to really talk about the problems I had with the movie.  I promise I will be as vague as possible with plot details and will not discuss the third act at all.   Consider this a review of the first 2/3rds.

The first and biggest problem was that Max was mainly pointless to the movie and the role seemed to be "generic action hero" at times, but mostly just "audience surrogate" so we have a character to follow.   He was mostly in the way and the few times he actually served a purpose to the story, it was out of character for the Max character we have known since the 70's.   While he was the best behind the wheel of a car, his use of firearms has always traditionally been problematic.   I can only think of two times he successfully used a firearm in the first three movies.   It is actually a running joke that the shotgun he waved around in Road Warrior was actually empty and the few times he found a shell, it was a dud.   It was a joke they included once in this new movie, but for the most part this Max was just an amazing marksman with a pistol while driving.

Now I know kids today have grown up in a world where everyone with a gun is a bad ass straight out of a video game, but Max was always more of a "Die Hard" type hero.   He was not looking to save anyone, just survive.  Like John McCain, he would actually go out of his way to avoid a fight if at all possible.   Not so with this Max.  They try to have a scene where they want you to think he doesn't care for anyone, but you knew given the time it happens in the film that he was going to go against the character we knew and help out of the kindness of his heart and not for the reward of his actions.

The plot of the movie revolves around a harem being stolen from a warlord and the warlord's attempt to get it back, but is wasn't Max who stole them; it was a new character to the series and actually the main focus of the action for the most part.   When the action needed it, he would become the uber hero of action movie mythology, but for the most part it was Charlize Theron's movie.   They even altered Max's back story from a dead son to a dead daughter to try and make some sort of empathetic bond with the plight of the harem.  I wouldn't mind him helping them if he got fuel, weapons, or a car out of the deal, but helping them just to help them doesn't fit a character that was willing to let an entire colony fall in Road Warrior if they didn't give him all the fuel he could carry for his help.   Maybe George Miller did make children's movies for too long and forgot how to make a truly cold hero in the style of Eastwood's "Man with No Name."

The main problem I had with the film was that there was nothing to tell me this was Max.   It really could have been anybody in Max's place and the story would have been the same.   I'm not even totally sure this is Max's world either to be honest.  Robotic arms?  Villains in cartoon skull masks?  Blood transfusions on cars?   A rock band on a car?   Fuel is no longer an issue (the central theme of the Mad Max movies) as there seems to be tons of it, but water is in short supply and mutations and tumors are running amok.  

I know the opening credits said Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and I briefly saw the famous V-8 Interceptor and he did have a brace on his left knee, but that was about it.  The brace on his knee due to a shotgun blast removing his kneecap was an issue in the movies that followed the shot, but not in this one.   He could run and catch up with cars, leap from exploding vehicles, and every other action hero staple we expect from movies today.   This was more Mad Max as envisioned by Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger than as seen by the George Miller of the past.

All that said, the people I saw it with who had no such baggage loved it.   It starts with action and never lets up.   Their only complaint was ironically one thing I loved: they don't give you any real back story or narrative to catch you up on the series.   You really have no idea where in the series this movie takes place and that is a great aspect for people just getting into it.

Mad Max is a great character and I am very happy to see his return.   I am so happy he is back that I am going to see the next one on opening day and try my best to leave all my baggage at home.

No comments: