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About Mad Max...

First, I want to start off by saying that I really enjoyed watching Mad Max: Fury Road during the Memorial Day holiday. Before entering George Miller's dystopian car chase through a barren wasteland, I had not seen the original Mad Max films, so I was coming in as a newbie and therefore, judged the film on its own merits. The image of a man hanging from the front of a moving vehicle, playing an electric guitar that spits fucking fire is an image that will stay with me as long as I'm a fan of the medium. The cinematography by John Seale, who had come out of retirement to help make this movie, is breathtaking from first frame to last. The technical aspects of the film - Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Editing, etc. - are all first-rate, and are worthy of celebration come Awards season. It's almost something of a revelation to watch female characters contribute to the story and to the main protagonists, rather than be the traditional damsels in distress who only serve as rescue bait and/or act as the prize for the male lead in the story as a reward for saving the day. There's a great message written on the walls of Joe's underground bunker that serves as a one-finger salute to Hollywood's treatment of female characters in film, especially in summer/popcorn blockbusters which deserves a round of applause, especially if you get the meaning behind those words. And Charlize Theorn gives her best performance in years as Imperator Furiosa a vengeful agent of the wasteland's warlord, Immortal Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne) who kidnaps his most prized possessions - five young wives and intends on delivering them safely to her former tribe. Hell, I'd love to see a spin-off without Mad Max himself (played this time by Tom Hardy; before the role was portrayed by Mel Gibson) and have the story focus on Furiosa and the wives getting into new adventures in the unforgiving desert.

Having said all of that? I liked Fury Road; I appreciate the film for what it is, but I didn't love it as much as the critics raved about it on Rotten Tomatoes. The reason I say this is two-fold: first, on a base-level, there isn't much separating this latest installment/reboot of the Mad Max series from the likes of Furious 7, another action movie with insane stunts and action set pieces almost around every corner. While many will tell me that the way the directors George Miller and James Wan respectively, go about bringing these action scenes to life, the goal is very much the same: to entertain and create a highly enjoyable spectacle, surrounded by characters who the audience cares about, or have come to care about.

Both directors don't just start by jumping the shark - they both start from there, and then go off from one insane action set piece to the next. For Fury Road, it's the guy playing guitar and spitting fire from it and having a car case in the middle of a sand storm. In Furious 7's case, it's the moment where Dominic Toretto and his crew drive out of a military cargo plane, dive out 30,000 feet in mid-air, launch their parachutes, land gracefully onto a deserted road and start a car case with a highly-armored van (filled with armor-piercing rounds) carrying a computer hacker that the team needs in order to find the ultimate hacking device that will allow Toretto to find and locate Deckard Shaw, the man responsible for killing Han in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. And both movies are highly enjoyable as they both revel in the madness and insanity they've created.

Whereas Furious 7 is a PG-13-rated opus of CG carnage and destruction with popular automobiles, Fury Road is supposed to be a hardcore R-rated action film, and the only time I believe it's rating feels warranted is in the third act. Otherwise, it just feels like another action picture that easily could have passed for the teen-friendly PG-13 rating without much incident. Yet it's being hailed as one of the best action pictures in decades, which bring me to my second point: in my opinion - no, it isn't. Granted, the choreography is nothing to pass off as pure GCI-inspired flights of fancy (Miller stated that 90% of the stunts captured in the film were done using practical effects), but for me, there's a few hoops to jump through.

First, your action film damn-well better be every bit as thrilling and exhilarating as Gareth Edward's 2012 martial arts epic, The Raid: Redemption, where a rookie cop has to fight his way out of a building filled with criminals, gangsters, murders and every sort of scum when the plot to take down Jakarta's biggest crime lord goes tits-up after getting a tip from inside sources. I hadn't been that jazzed by an action film since 2003 where I was introduced to Quentin Tarantino with Kill Bill Vol.1. Speaking of, Tarantino's first part of his two-part revenge film paying homage to spaghetti westerns, Anime, and 70's-style king-fu action flicks is another hurdle to jump through for me. Can your movie stand the test of time alongside the Bride fighting off O-Ren Ishii's army of samurai-wielding thugs, the Crazy 88 in the House of Blue Leaves, where the limbs fly just as frequently and as cartoonishly as the blood?

What about The Matrix? Can your action film craft unique and dazzling action scenes, like the kung-fu showdown in the middle of an empty subway station, or the hallway gunfight with Neo and Trinity going up against dozens of private security forces? Or how about Arnold-Schwarzenegger-led flicks like Total Recall and True Lies? Or modern martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers where the fight scenes look and feel so beautifully crafted and thrilling to behold? Granted, my opinion that Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't quite match up to those other films I've mentioned doesn't mean that the film itself is at fault, but rather the critics for building up such high praise for the movie and my own expectations of it.

Is Mad Max: Fury Road a fun picture? Most definitely. Like Furious 7, it dives into insanity head-first and almost no regard for any semblance of a plot. Unlike the latter, the former has truly excellent performances, (especially from Theorn) and a feminist subtext that it flies proudly amidst all the car-on-car carnage. Does it take it's place alongside The Raid, Kill Bill Vol.1 and Crouching Tiger as one of the best and most memorable action films I've seen in the last 15 years? Not really. But I'll always have guitar man spitting fire.

*** stars out of ****


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