Mad Max: Fury Road ★★★★½


I don't believe in action for action's sake--that capturing movement is somehow an ontological virtue regardless of context, that it's a cinematic effect somehow worth more than other effects. But I loved this film which never stops moving and which never fails to direct the camera to a movement. A few notes:

1). I don't know if spatial coherence is really George Miller's jam. There are stunning compositions, of course, where a plan is laid out for where each of the players is--the set-up for the 3rd act, those camera tilts that rev up the next danger to our heroes. But his cuts often seem to do one of two things: establish something physical as having happened (flesh pierced, bones cracked, bodies run over) or impart action a mythic, iconic feel (those throwback ultra-high-speed zooms). Often he saves a little room for characterization. Primal things, like how does Max react to this death? How does Furiosa? How do these girls react to these threats? That one's dead, now what? --that somehow create a emotional urgency on top of survival instinct.

2.) This is why the opening sequence threw me a little. Clearly Miller wants to get to his vroom-vroom mayhem with as little exposition as possible, but launching so much chaos without a character to shape the tone left me groping for stable ground (although Max's psychological labyrinth and hilarious incapacity helped, eventually). I was a little worried I would never catch on, until like magic everything clicked together at that SOTY storm sequence: Nick Hoult, Tom Hardy, Furiosa, these guys are gonna be the triangle locus of the film, and all this beauty is going to whirl around them. When the flare drops into blackness it's as if the Creation storm has ended and life is ready to seep back into the world.

3.) Action is not the only virtue here: Miller is really even more sly as a storyteller for creating a tale that looks simple but is really quite canny about what sorts of emotional effects it can go for. Despite the action a-go-go, the middle section is almost lyrical with the central gang finally reaching a sort of Hawksian unity by the time of the gorgeous blue scenes; moreover, there's even a spare moment to characterize the warlord, with the pointed cut to his eyes when the baby's found dead, and another to his presumably unsatisfactory first son: these are the problems of primitive monarchy. By the time we reach the fated Green Place, there's every expectation that things might turn out well. Here is something I think is remarkable: Miller plays up the disappointment for Furiosa's emotional catharsis; then creates a moment for the gang to bond once more despite devastation; then seems to imply the high tragic ending, where despite failed goals a band of brothers marches on while the lone wolf sees them away. This is a pretty respectable conclusion to reach about the state of affairs: but Miller is kind of an idealist, and wants more. There are a lot of grand metaphors in this movie, many of them operating at subterranean levels, keeping the tone epic and allegorical; but I like this smaller metaphor: you leave to find a home, find it nothing special and pretty disappointing, and return to conquer the old one, armed with a new found sense of value and dignity.