Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Early signs were distinctly unpromising for this beyond belated fourth entry in the post-apocalyptic car wars saga. Delayed from its original 2013 release date, dogged by tales of an overrunning budget, and losing its original leading man years ago, FURY ROAD seemed destined only to be the runaway favourite at next year’s Razzie awards. Surely nobody could fill Mel Gibson’s boots as the antipodean anti-hero? Surely the Max franchise had run its noisy late 70s/early 80s course? Surely director George Miller could have little else to say about the world with his most famous creation?

Let this be a lesson to all of us: never trust those early signs again. MAD MAX revs back on to the big screen in extraordinary style. At the very least a shoo-in for most exciting film of the year, FURY ROAD is both an instant action classic and a reminder of how cinema can refresh the parts other artforms just can’t reach.

Neither a sequel nor a reboot, Miller sidesteps the whole question and simply reintroduces the character afresh. Max (Tom Hardy, succeeding Gibson) is a variation on the Man With No Name, haunted by the death of his family, wandering aimlessly through the ruins of the world. As in the two previous sequels, he falls in with a group of innocent people seeking to escape the gang of thugs and psychopaths who rule the roost in the absence of any sort of government or law enforcement. In FURY ROAD he reluctantly teams up with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a “breeder” belonging to nutcase warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who has made a bid for freedom with Joe’s other female slaves/wives/concubines in search of her childhood home – the “Green Place”. Joe doesn’t take too kindly to her leave of absence, to say the least, and what follows is one of the longest and most memorable chase sequences in film history.

The formula might be unchanged and the plot as flat as the scorched landscape, but that doesn’t matter one bit. Once FURY ROAD gets going it barely stops for breath; with the basic set up out of the way, Miller is free to create the kind of inventive explosive mayhem that only a massive Hollywood budget can buy: bad guys pole vault across cars, explosive-tipped spears pierce cars and people, vehicles flip in every direction. The wide open spaces and clear blue skies of the Namibian desert, beautifully captured by cinematographer John Seale, mean there’s nowhere to hide. The view is spectacular.

But Miller doesn’t sacrifice everything on the altar of spectacle. The breathless set pieces follow one after another so quickly that there’s little time for much else, but he has still sketched a few significant roles, the meatiest of which goes to Theron. Shaven headed and sporting a mechanical prosthetic arm, her Furiosa nonetheless brings a compassionate, human dimension to the story, counterbalancing Max’s empty fatalism and Joe’s regressive patriarchy. The latter’s society treats women as livestock and keeps the general populace satiated with the occasional promise of water (perhaps the first time that water has merited as much importance as fuel in Max’s world). The other women, including Zoë Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, are each given enough time to register independently as different victims of Joe’s abusive regime who have chosen to make a stand. The film ultimately suggests that women, and only women, can save civilization – a somewhat unlikely message to come from conservative Hollywood.

Max is almost relegated to a supporting role in his own movie; though Hardy does well, he isn’t given much opportunity to put his stamp on the role (and his Aussie accent comes and goes with a mind of its own). Nicholas Hoult fares better as Nux, one of Joe’s minions who tags along for the ride, but this is still a Mad Max movie through and through; as explosive and radical and fresh as he and his director have ever been.

Prometheus: the second viewing

PrometheusRidley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster (which it now most certainly is) seems to have really divided audiences. There are those who are willing to look past its faults and enjoy it, and those who aren’t and don’t (as far as I’m aware, it has yet to be hailed as flawless). I’ve already reviewed Prometheus at length (over at The Digital Fix), but I’ve now seen it a second time, so for what they’re worth here’s a few additional thoughts which occur to me.

Firstly, I stand by my original view that this is a beautifully crafted and entirely gripping slice of science-fiction. There’s no need to restate the obvious by praising its visuals – Scott is an artist above all else, and even the film’s detractors concede it looks the business. Its willingness to think big and not pander to the lowest common denominator makes Prometheus the most cinematically rewarding sci-fi vision this century has produced thus far.

The two-hour running time for me simply flew by. Indeed, if anything the film is too short. There were several moments where I wished Scott had lingered a little longer, especially in the run-up to the landing on the planet/moon. Remember how unwelcoming that original planet was in Alien? How that ominous mood was gradually built up? This is a film that needs to breathe a little more slowly and a little more deeply, to let the atmosphere really envelop you. I suspect it would be all the more satisfying for it.

Equally some of the characters could have benefited from being fleshed out more. It’s the one area the film genuinely falls down on, which is a shame because Alien is a text-book example of how to sketch memorable characters in a genre film. I liked Idris Elba’s Captain Janek, for example, but without adequate screen time he remained little more than ‘the guy with the accordion’. A script polish could have made all the difference – where’s Dan O’Bannon when you need him?

As for those alleged plot-holes, I didn’t have any significant problems with the narrative. On a second viewing I think the film flows more smoothly, and nagging details about character motivations became less bothersome (although they don’t recede entirely). As for things like ‘Why didn’t Vickers run away to the side of the crashing ship?’ (SPOILER), it seemed to me that she WAS running away to the side, albeit at an angle; the sheer size of the Engineers’ ship doesn’t make it clear how futile her actions were.

This is all just idle fan nit-picking, of course. I suspect Scott is an astute businessman and recognised the need for a tight theatrical cut that came in as close as possible to two hours. But I also suspect a longer version of the film is done and dusted and waiting to be shipped on dvd and blu-ray. I can’t wait to see it, and I’m willing to bet that it will come to be seen as the definitive version of the film, just as the special edition of James Cameron’s Aliens is now viewed as the superior cut of that movie.

Incidentally, you’d be forgiven for thinking early on that Prometheus is actually a remake of Paul W.S. Anderson’s unloved 2004 spin-off Alien vs Predator, which similarly posited the notion that the Xenomorphs had connections with Earth’s long distant past, and that a man called Weyland had known of their existence long before his eponymous company sent Ripley and her crew to investigate planet LV-426. In fact, the AvP films are not only ignored by Prometheus but are cut loose from the franchise altogether (which one suspects won’t be the cause of too many shed tears).

Oh, and if/when the sequel is eventually announced, what are the odds it’s going to be called Prometheus Unbound? You can have that one for free, Sir Ridders.

Review: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott’s return to the massively popular Alien franchise he helped launch in 1979 shoulders an enormous burden in audience expectations – this is his first science fiction film since Blade Runner, after all – and it’s little short of a miracle that he succeeds in delivering a worthy follow-up. It may not be the equal of its classic progenitor or his landmark 1982 future noir, but Scott proves he still has it in him to deliver a beautifully crafted, mature slice of sci-fi while keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. Raising as many questions as it does answers, the director and Twentieth Century Fox have successfully resuscitated one of the studio’s key properties by delving in to its origins (much as they did with last year’s X-Men and Planet of the Apes reboots) instead of churning out a redundant remake, managing the difficult act of keeping long time fans onboard without (ahem) alienating newcomers.

Full review: Prometheus | Cinema Review | Film @ The Digital Fix