Friday, May 22, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD? Another case of misplaced, if not imbecilic, critical hosannas

If you're a fan of nearly non-stop action, you'll probably go for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, the third in a fortunately not-so-swift (the last one hit theaters in 1981) series of post-apocalyptic action movies about a taciturn non-hero who keeps saving the day. The first two films starred a much younger Mel Gibson; the mantle has now passed to Tom Hardy. The director of all three is Australian George Miller, whose best work is the under-rated but simply terrific Babe: Pig in the City.

Garnering a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, most of the plaudits seem to come from critics who are impressed that filmmaker Miller didn't go the constant CGI/green-screen route but used "reality" in his filming. Yeah, right. There's plenty of CGI here, folk, so don't imagine you're going to see amazing stunt work above all else. What you do see is lots of action and scenes of it that go on and on and on. They're impressive. For awhile. Mr. Hardy, above (and still seemingly wearing that mouthpiece from The Dark Knight Rises), has a nice face. So what's the point in keeping it covered, as it is through about half of this film? In any case, Hardy proves properly gruff with, of course, the required, caring interior.

Along for the ride -- she initiates it, in fact -- is Charlize Theron, above, complete with CGI-effected robotic wrist and hand, along with a flock of young ladies, below, who appear to be brides of

the weird-assed (and faced), power-mad -- gosh, aren't they all? -- dictator, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne (below), who gets to wear his own rather nonsensical facial mask throughout the film.

Tagging along, off and on, and with a very off-and-on sense of loyalty is a bizarre character played surprisingly well by Nicholas Hoult, below, who -- though covered in white paint -- does not have to wear any mask and thus provides the film's most compelling performance. In thrall to his crazy leader, as seem to be the entire populace, Mr. Hoult makes us care a bit about who he is what he is going through, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the film.

The problem here, for viewers who insists on more than mere action, is that the world depicted seems utterly free of  logic. How do these people we spend our two hours with (and the movie is at lest 30 minutes too long: the earlier Mad Maxes clocked in at around 90 minutes) manage to exist? We never see them eating (save a moment featuring a small surprise beetle), and only once does our hero take a drink of water. Mother's milk appears to be the meal of choice -- for the bad guys, at least -- but it that really enough to fully nourish a grown man?

The movie spends its first two thirds with the good guys running away from the bad guys toward some "greener" spot called home. The last third has them running back again toward their original and ghastly location, followed once more by the bad guys. That's the plot. The climactic chase, for all its ferocious action and death, is barely believable, while the result of that chase and the requisite toppling-of-the-villain is so ridiculously simple and easy as to approach camp.

Let me be clear: The movie isn't horrible; it's simply stunted. Sure, the action is well-executed, but a good movie, just like a good life, requires something more. Mad Max: Fury Road -- a B-movie raised, thanks to its multi-million-dollar budget, to something beyond its grasp -- arrived to surprisingly small box-office, considering its hype. I would expect a steep decline in its second week grosses, as well, once word-of-mouth sets in (the cinema we frequented had maybe a dozen in attendance at a late afternoon showing), so if you plan to see the film in theaters, better do it soon. Or wait for the Blu-ray/DVD.

Oh, yes: one more thing. Here's another 3D movie being shown in theaters that don't bother to get the projection right (we saw it at AMC's Kips Bay in NYC). Consequently the 3D looked dark and muddy throughout. And don't use the "Yes-but-this-is-post-apocalyptic" excuse, either, since most the movie takes place in the bright and sunny desert. Theaters are charging us more for 3D (which did not used to be the case), while giving us a third-rate viewing experience: One more reason why box-office grosses continues to decline, even as admission prices go up.

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