Mad Max Fury Road: A retrospective

Prior to Fury Road it had been a thirty year gap since the last (and for me slightly underwhelming) Mad Max entry Beyond Thunderdome, featuring none other than the magnificent queen of divas, Tina Turner.

Even with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (arguably the pinnacle of the franchise) I never quite connected with a concept I was very attracted to – one man and his dog, a troubled past, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by tyrant petrolheads.

Immortan Joe on a warpath

Just to be clear on the camp I’m in: Fury Road was and is a masterpiece and a masterclass in rebooted contemporary classic 80’s action with bonkers characters, spectacular pratical effects and a fully-realised world. It’s like someone watched a bunch of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Robot Wars, dropped some acid and decided to make all of the things he’d seen in a live action setting and have them actually crash. So as off the wall and frenetic as the action is, it feels weighty and perilous, because that’s how they filmed it. I suppose you could say it all actually happened!

If this was a modern-day Alien or Terminator sequel it’d be one that against all odds, worked. As it happens it’s a Mad Max sequel/reboot/lone adventure (director George Miller has never been precious with continuity) and guess what? It works.

Bonkers fun. I couldn’t believe how good the trailer looked, and the movie was even better.

The stunning trailer, with a lot of the Citadel based opening sequence thrown in amidst the gorgeous aquamarine blue, yellow and Fury Road’s every-shade-of-earth-and-red colour palette, looked too good to be true. And for some, it clearly was. Some of the most poorly constructed reviews labeled the full movie a four letter word, and the merely lacklustre simply commented that it was all a big car (truck?) chase. Which is of course partly true, but to call it out as such would be to do it a disservice. That’s not to say all of the “against” reviews are poorly constructed, only the ones that provided little to no argument (like arguing Mary Poppins is just a bunch of songs, to paraphrase Mark Kermode’s parody of a fan email review he’d been angry about!). Despite criticism from some, Fury Road actually won a wasteland’s worth of accolades.

I had the pleasure to first watch Fury Road in the cinema with my girlfriend, who somehow endured my excitement at pretty much everything that exploded onto the screen in Bath’s Odeon over the following two or so hours.

The Vuvalini with the Wives, Furiosa and Max

We are introduced to Max shortly before he is captured, shaved, and used as a mobile bloodbank for Nux, a dying War Boy out for his last hurrah who becomes one of the film’s unlikely heroes. Max is plagued by visions of people he couldn’t save, and his few murmored lines sound like he’s been supping on guzzolene (the slang name for petrol/gas in The Wasteland).

A lot has been said about the lack of Max in the movie, despite him being present in most scenes. Although he says relatively little, he does in fact have an arc, and while it is Furiosa’s film to some extent, a great deal could not have been achieved without him. Besides, Hardy gives a suitably twitchy, thirsty, cutthroat rendition as the newest incarnation of Max. He only really shows signs of compassion towards the end of the movie where his blood transfusion is saves Furiosa and in doing so, the Citadel and its oppressed people; at odds with the earlier transfusion used to fuel pre-awakened Nux and by extension the Immortan’s obsessions.

Some absolutely splendid fan-made gif cars from Mazok Pixels and Misha Petrick (https://tinyurl.com/pnkslcx)

Furiosa: central female powerhouse and the film’s emotional heart springs to life like a grungy Ellen Ripley (or just Alien 3 era Ellen Ripley). She is both strong and vulnerable and more than a match for Max, with whom she forms an (almost) friendship. Among the cast of oddball characters we have the Wives – who furiosa has sworn to protect, the “Many Mothers” Aka the Vuvalini – who team up with Furiosa and Max, so it’s matriarchy versus patriarchy headed up by the merciless Immortan Joe. Immortan is one of the most visually arresting villains of recent times amidst what I consider a sea of monsterous let-downs; and for that alone, has become one of the most iconoic. Think Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man with his eye-hands and twitchy shuffle; for every Pale Man and Immortan there are ten forgettable film abominations.

The Awesome Fury Road vehicles designed by Shane Mielke (https://tinyurl.com/y2jmgo7v)

It would be rude not to mention the iconic vehicles in the same breath as the characters, as they are just that. The real star of the vehicular show is The War Rig and despite all of the rounds chucked at it, it fares far better than Max’s V8 Interceptor, which is totalled in the opening sequence. By the time the War Rig finally meets its maker when Nux rolls it – enabling Max and co. breathing space to escape the fleet – it has tranformed into a living thing; iconic like the Nostromo. the sight of the War Rig conjures memories of the first two Terminator films and most of the poignant scenes play out within or around it, and most of the action, too. On the flipside you have Immortan’s big wheeled “Big Foot” and later on his “Gigahorse”, constructed from fused-together cadillacs. There are a literal ton of cool and interesting vehicles and weapons and the best thing about it is that there’s little CG at play in the whole movie; so you’re seeing the work of master craftsmen, stuntmen and practical effects that are far more likely to stand the test of time than the latest Fast and Furious entry (think Jurassic Park, the Orcs and Goblins in Lord of The Rings and Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons). Some of the sequences will beat the breath out of you, pared perfectly with the film’s thundering score. The soundtrack cranks things up to eleventy-stupid with the introduction of the (literally) flaming guitar toting “Coma the Doof Warrior” and his backing drummers on a mobile tower of amps whose sole purpose is to pump up the troops for battle. Mad? Of course! True, you will need to suspend your disbelief with Fury Road but this happens from the opening frames, they don’t just hit you with bonkers concepts halfway through the film. And besides, that’s half the fun. The film would be a non-starter if everyone in it didn’t guzzle absolutely ridiculous amounts of fuel that probably wouldn’t be available after the apocalypse.

Charlize Theron plays the ultimate badass Imperator Furiosa

Fury Road’s plot is pretty straightforward, but also fairly emotionally charged where it needs to be, and weighty for the genre. It is told mostly through visuals, action and dialogue, but rarely through lengthy exposition or pregnant pauses. Not everything needs to be explained, and sometimes you only catch glimpses of things that help build the world (creepy Stilt-Walkers FTW). Following Max’s capture after being run off the road by War Boys, Furiosa takes the War Rig on a supply run from The Citadel to Gastown. The Citadel is ruled by tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe, who controls the water -“Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!”- he also keeps pregnant women to produce milk and multiple wives in an attempt to produce a perfect son and heir. All of the Immortan’s War Boys deify him as he claims to be immortal and promises them Valhalla for their servitude. During the supply run, Furiosa breaks from the convoy, heading to “the Green Place” with immortan’s wives hidden in the belly of the war rig. As a knee jerk reaction Immortan and his fleet go to intercept Furiosa and claim back the wives, when Max is strapped to the front of Nux’s car to pump him full of life. A spectacular storm helps liberate Max and when the chase regains momentum, the Immortan’s forces are bolstered by the arrival of the ruler of Gastown: The People Eater and the Bulletfarm’s Bullet Farmer. the realisation that The Green Place is in fact just more desert causes Furiosa to reasses her options and instead they head back home with her army of women. Managing to finally overthrow Immortan, the survivors (comprising the Wives – the older generation are all cut down, and so symbolically pass the battern) return to The Citadel with Furiosa leading them as a hero of the people.

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road

Since watching Fury Road for the first time I became literally obsessed with it. Easily the most obsessed I’ve been since watching movies over and over as a teenager and during my twenties. I immersed myself in the decided lack of Fury Road books and merchandise. It was a monumental day when I bought a copy of “The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road” in Bath, a fantastic coffee table tome detailing Miller’s proposed second trilogy and the fact there are two more full scripts floating around; he and his team have been working on ideas and concepts for years. This all figures when you begin to absorb the detailed, feature-rich world of Fury Road, which certainly feels like something that has had a lot of time dedicated to it, and that could very easily continue into sequel territory, if just thematically. “The Art of…” feels like it adds something besides extrenious fluff for diehards only which could add fuel to the fire for the “there’s no story” contingent, but sod them! The text and concepts also reveal much more of the minor character’s backstories; take Doof for example – it would’ve been odd to delve into his past in the movie, but it’s interesting to read about him.

Of course it’s a crime there’s no Furiosa, Max or Immortan figures on my shelf, but there are plenty of neat fan made t-shirts, pins, and whatnot should you so desire them.

Also worth a mention are the comic books, which give a bit of insight into the histories of Furiosa and Immortan Joe (among others), but not enough to make them revelatory or even particularly enjoyable. A personal favourite is “Inspired Artists”. This hardback book offers artists interpretations of their favourite scenes from Fury Road and is pretty fantastic, my old misgiving being that some of the artwork is hidden by the book’s binding.

Finally there’s the Mad Max video game which isn’t incredible, but rather good fun all the same. It’s let down by repetition and for me, the fact you can’t clamber around on moving convoys or any of the stuff that makes the film so darned epic. Also if it’d been a game of the movie, rather than a game with a few nods to the movie, it may have expanded on the canon in a vital and awesome way. Still, you get to harpoon cars and pull War Boys off cars, upgrade your Interceptor and blow a whole host of shit up. Things could be a lot worse.

Nux (Nicholas Hoult) doing an impression of me after seeing Fury Road

It’s a sad thing that George Miller and Warner Brothers have had their dispute. Given the time it took to make the last entry and his age, we may never see another sequel. Until an inevitable reboot down the line by some other director, of course -no doubt when the world in the movie feels a lot less fantastical- but if that has to be, what a note to end on. It’s an 8 out of 6 from me.

P.S.

To be clear I ruddy hate loud noise (exception: some gigs) and vehicles outside of movies, especially motorbikes (people in our area seem to know how to turn on the engine but not actually ride them). Plus the world is properly dying and these obnoxious people are not helping!

Mr. Bond (2)

Mr. Bond

You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.

You’re a badly-glued shoe in an overflowing sewer system, Mr. Bond

You’re a studious hamster in a pen full of rabid dogs, Mr. Bond

You’re 90’s Bowie at a 70’s Bowie show, Mr. Bond

You’re Brexit, Mr. Bond

For the love of Luther

Now that the dust has settled following the fifth season of Luther, here are my thoughts.

***Please note this post contains spoilers for all seasons of Luther.***

Four whole bleak episodes. What a way to start 2019! With a show blighted by ever-reduced air time (season one: six episodes, season two and three: four episodes, and season four: a mere two episodes), it certainly feels like they’ve given us something to work with from it’s meatier, updated titles to Alice’s vastly increased screen-time although season five plays out more like a greatest hits; even with everything ramped up to eleventy-stupid in a rather fantastic fashion. A coda, if not the coda. Season five isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but they’ve committed to giving it more love and attention; especially given Luther’s lean and lacklustre fourth romp. Season four started promisingly with the introduction of DS Emma Lane (Rose Leslie). It also intrigued with Alice Morgan’s supposed drowning following a bungled robbery in Antwerp, but there the wasn’t time (or Ruth Wilson) to play any of it out effectively. It feels satisfying then, that given the four year gap, the creators are able and willing to tie up loose ends. That they can tell a full story without pulling punches, even if it means killing Alice for good this time.

Season five has only one serial killer making it more feature-length as a result. So the first episode with its somewhat gimmicky LED mask and now iconic bus scene plays a little like trailer-fodder (I’d seen too much already to experience any real surprise fright, but it was still cool). If anything the season improves from episode two.

Everything makes sense in the world Neil Cross and co have built

Though a lot of fans share my enthusiasm, season five is not without detractors, who find it overly-violent and generally over-the-top. To me this is misguided given the very first episode’s opening scene in season one saw the titular copper chasing a paedophile off a precipice and into a coma (yes, John’s always commited morally questionable acts in order to solve crimes). It also offered up three brutal murders (including a family dog). That and a bungled attempt to catch a killer John rumbles due to the fact she doesn’t exchange yawns, proving she’s the empathetically bankrupt culprit I’m still not convinced this is a foolproof approach. Everything makes sense in the world Neil Cross and co have built. It feels for all the world like a vast chunk of the British population has gone and pandered to the sniffier verdicts and then formed an opinion which isn’t theirs (see Google reviews to reach enlightenment). There’s been no tonal shift since John madly dashed onto our screens a decade ago. Luther has always had the propensity for at best uncomfortable viewing and at worst brutality and gore. So by now I’d have thought those still watching would have made their peace. The show is pretty highly rated where it matters season five has the highest viewing figures of the bunch in the UK to date. Perhaps then, it’s simply a victim of Idris Elba’s success; and I wonder whether Luther would have found a much more universally agreeable cult audience if not for this. Hell though, Luther is Luther and Idris is Luther and we probably wouldn’t have had a season two let alone a season five without Idris Elba and his dogged persistence at singing the show’s praises, so its fine by me.

London itself has always been one of Luther’s major characters, and season five does not disappoint, but rather expands its locations (and even goes cross-continent at one point). The stark white cliffs and John’s home there (“the days seem to fill themselves” –season four, but we realise they probably fill themselves with Alice and John’s inability to switch off, and indeed, to switch off the news –season five). We revisit Alice’s parents home too –a dusty monument to season one, and where it all began. And then London itself with its wicked streets, askew suburbia and rain-soaked colour palette, transforming double deckers and side-streets into nightmare territory. As ever, the settings are on-point and fit the mood perfectly. 

For the first time I find myself more compelled by what I would ordinarily see as a side-story to the main event, that being the hunt for the killer. You’re really following John, Alice and George Cornelius ((Patrick Malahide), that old-school London mob-boss from the last season). The serial killer/s: Jeremy (Enzo Cilenti) and Vivien Lake (Hermione Norris) are a surgeon and psychiatrist respectively and begin to feel somewhat secondary the more things progress, which I know a lot of people have had difficulty getting behind. Things start out twisty-turny, where the Lakes use James Houser (a disturbed client of Vivien’s) as both a sacrificial lamb and scapegoat for Jeremy’s killings when he is almost caught. There’s intrigue and horror to their story but things culminate perhaps a little too quickly for some viewers towards the end. This doesn’t bother me too much, but perhaps this is why the Lakes feel less iconic compared to some of Luther’s previous villains: I’d argue for the likes of the Millberrry twins (both Steven Robertson), Graham Shand (Rob Jarvis) and DCI Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh) to top the billing in that department. Having said this, what we do get of Jeremy’s character is brilliant, and with two of his major talkie scenes to a patient and also John and Hallidayyou really get a feel for his narcissism, almost to the point of god complex. Despite his wife’s culpability in this crimes, there are some things she just won’t get behind. He drugs her in order to sneak a mistress into his underground dungeon. In a suitcase. She is one of two characters who manages to evade a horrible death at his hands (and there are plenty who don’t).

Unable to parade his killings publicly, the exposure of Jeremy’s incriminating art work doesn’t do him much good, but by this time he’s putting masks of his own face on corpses, and living out his happy families fantasy by inviting plumbers and sex workers to sit around a dinner table being …well…dead. This final Jeremy Lake showdown segment is completed in record time (Vivien’s already safely behind bars), but it’s spooky stuff nonetheless.

Jeremy’s doctor/patient speech is incredible:

Alice turns up with a wound courtesy of George’s shotgun and John patches her up. He’s not pleased to see her, and George wants her head on a spike for kidnapping his boy. We learn through flashbacks of John and Alice’s whirlwind romance at that lush little house by the sea I’d wanted more of in season four. We find out what happened in Antwerp, how Alice faked her own death (with money), and then we witness the full force of the mob bearing down on them both.

Things escalate as Alice kills George’s son and a hit for her goes out (she’d kidnapped him to get what George owed her instead of trading cash for diamonds he’d chosen to take it all, and with it, Alice and John’s getout clause). John pays Mark North (Paul McGann) a visit to drop-off Alice and Benny “Deadhead” Silver (Michael Smiley) in the not-so safe house. The appearance of Mark, however welcome, and the fact Benny is suddenly allowed out of the office, makes me instantly uneasy. One or both of them, I know, is bound to wind up getting killed. That I care about Mark given the manner of his role in season one and his relatively small role since is testament to his likability. Benny too. Both are gentle souls wrapped up in all of the horror. Mark North it turns out, has been vegetarian since he was seventeen (a fact Alice finds entirely unsurprising). He obviously has a nice house and apparently a new wife: “Don’t drink all the orange juice and don’t get blood on the sofa”, he says. Unfortunately he seems to have jinxed the sofa/living room with this statement, but at least he lives to breathe another day. When Benny catches a bullet defending Mark in that selfless/foolish way characters sometimes do? Well, there are no words.

Brand new (and potentially fast-tracked) DS Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) is happy-go-lucky but never evolves into anything more before effectively solving the case for John and catching Alice’s bullet which spirals us into final act territory and ultimately seals everyone’s fate. Which is a shame because although there’s the obvious shock-factor of bumping off Halliday so early into her tenure, we still have a DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) shaped hole that was not filled by either Halliday or Emma Lane, either of whom could have become more layered, interesting characters. Despite criticism, I think the fact John doesn’t have the chance to do much actual police work in this season is more to illustrate how he’s spread himself too thin and that the chaos Alice has thrown at him is simply too big to deal with at the same time as a case (or ever). I  believe that’s what Neil Cross intended. This is escalation; where before things felt tough, now they feel impossible. And they are. Nobody can go on the way John has without consequences. His downfall is trying to save everyone and solve everything and he pays the ultimate price for it. After Alice’s fall, DSU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) removes John’s famous coat (he’s a bit the worse for wear at this point having taken two none-fatal shots from Morgan) and places it over his hands, apparently to cover the cuffs (George killed his own hired hitman, framing John for it with a phone-snap). This derobing has happened once before (at the end of season three, when Alice says “I think you should get rid of it” (his coat) and it lands in the Thames), but not like this. Will we ever see John plunge his hands into his pockets “to not spoil the crime scene” again?

If like me, you’ve recently rewatched all of the seasons (easily the best way to appreciate Luther as a coherent whole), or perhaps for the first time to prime yourself for numero five, you’ll notice a lot of seemingly deliberate repetitions. You’ll have registered the first season with the falling/dropping of Henry Madsen compliments the end of the fifth with Alice’s fall, but there are also plenty of other nods to previous seasons.

“Totally disco” – John Luther

John drinks tea, there are “wotcha”s and a “totally disco” (potentially referencing Jenny Jones (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) from season two). There ard also more apparent character references than in previous seasons; “I had this thing once with brothers” (a nod to the twins, Aka Robert and Nicholas Millberry from season 2) and Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves): “a really good cop”. Which all helps add to the sense of things coming full-circle. We also have all of the usual “now what?” and variations on “it’s not right” / “isn’t right”, which are the Luther equivalent of the Star Wars franchises’ “I have a bad feeling about this”.

Alice Morgan is dead? I must admit, I am gutted. Justin Ripley level gutted, though in a lot of ways this death made more sense to me. Alice has been dead before, and unless they think of some dazzling way to bring her back, it’d just be too silly to do so. Belief-suspending Luther may be, but I’m not sure I’d buy Alice falling from a great height onto concrete and then walking off in the guise of a balaclava-clad officer moments later. If anything the more poetic “fuck you” would surely be to make it look like John had killed her. Aaaand Halliday. Mission accomplished?

The end of the forth episode finishes on Nina Simone’s version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, the same track that left us bloodied and gasping beside Ian Reed’s shotgun-blasted body at the end of season one, accompanied by another “what now?”. Time will tell. I picture John in prison garbs, reviled for being an ex-copper in a distinctly Arkham-esque institute. Fighting to stay alive against a backdrop of larger-than-life grotesques, and potentially one or two he’s put away. Perhaps the first third of the movie involves him clearing his name, before they fast-track his reinstatment so he can halt the nefarious plot/tip-off he heard about in jail. Then he gets the coat back. Or perhaps numero five really was it? Apparently Neil Cross (series creator) gets tetchy whenever he’s finished a season and there are positive rumblings from Idris who spoke out about a film follow-up akin to Seven. Fingers crossed!

You can watch Luther in its entirety (season 1-5) on Netflix, for for a limited time on BBC iPlayer.

The Revenant

The Revenant is both a treat for the senses and a visceral ordeal, representing revenge storytelling at its most bleak and compelling. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, 21 Grams, Amores Perros), The Revenant revolves around the solid, spittle-and-blood flecked performances of Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Hugh Glass -a haunted frontiersman- and the venerable acting chameleon Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald -hunter and massive wanker.

 

You’ll get the heft of the plot from the trailer below, so I would tend to avoid it and take a punt if you haven’t watched it already (plus the rest of this paragraph). It’s a simple story – Glass has a son who is Native American, Fitzgerald has beef with them for various reasons, including race. Glass gets attacked, Fitzgerald does some bad bad things and leaves Glass for dead. Glass then, almost utterly broken, battles the elements (nature and man) to hunt Fitzgerald down. There’s a little more too it, but not a lot. I found myself in suspension of disbelief mode a little given all of the blows that nature and man deal Glass throughout the film, but; due largely to the acting and in no small part due to how the excellent camerawork makes you feel you are there, nothing quite seems beyond the realms of possibility.

The Revenant feels at times like a brutal and unforgiving, yet beautifully-shot nature film with two scene-stealing actors at the helm. The lead performances are unsurprisingly terrific, with some great support from the Native American and (un-?) Native American contingents to boot. As far as inhabiting a character goes, Tom Hardy, as ever, delivers in spades. He’s a twitchy, half-scalped irritation with nervous eyes, who escalates to become another beast entirely at the first mention of money. He’s about as far away from (mostly) mild-mannered John Locke or (fairly nuts) Bronson as you can get. He’s also the instigator of the film’s few laughs. Very possibly he steals the show, but then nobody can deny the physicality DiCaprio brings to his performance. You suffer along with him through every bump, scrape and mauling. Thanks in part to injury, he’s less vocal than his coin’s flip-side and arguably more psychologically damaged. In all his soily, bloody, spitty, death-stuppory glory DiCaprio delivers, even if it’s still, at times, simply Leo (let’s face it, Tom Hardy’s way more Lon Chaney in his character transformations, you’d be forgiven for not recognising him).

 

While this film deviates from the true story of Hugh Glass (though he was indeed mauled by a bear and had beef with a chap named Fitzgerald), tonally the film feels spot-on. Obviously I wasn’t around during the bleak times the film depicts, but accounts steer towards them being dark, bloody and wholly unforgiving. Great costumes aid authenticity and breathtaking scenery makes it feel like you are there back when, inhabiting that land at that time. I don’t have all the words for camerawork, but having seen a lot of movies, there’s a lot here I haven’t seen before. Artistic while still entirely watchable, The Revenant is allowed to feel, breathe and generally world-build thanks to expert, sweeping cinematography. I could watch an hour of the opening shots with the trees growing from the river (or is it a flood?) or the high peaks dwarfing the speck that’s Leo out in the distance, or the horse’s glass-like eyes, or the tops of the trees creaking as their branches rub together. You inhabit this land for the duration and it’s glorious. Mercifully there are few noticeable special effects besides the bear, which looks pretty good and convincingly menacing. Anything else effect-wise has passed me by because everything looks the part and feels palpably real.

 

For quite a lot of the film (especially the last 20 minutes) I realised I had a less than flattening grimace I couldn’t quite alter (my face is a bit like that anyway). It’s not for the squirmish, or indeed the weak-bladdered, clocking in at 157 minutes. The themes, as you’ll have come to realise, are pretty heavy. Revenge, intolerance, respect, loss and brutality are all explored to great effect as Glass struggles for a foothold in an unforgiving world, driven only by rage. For me, this film conjures images of The Grey (2011), a (proper) Liam Neeson-led film, but -perhaps minus scale- comparative to any adeptly handled, and elegantly polished revenge-based flick.

 

Trudging back from the cinema to the car on a none-too-exotic Bath Spa evening felt like a sinch after what we’d endured. ‘Its’ on the list’ my girlfriend replied, when asked for her verdict. And by God, not a lot makes it onto the list. See it, now, but if you’re after a laugh-a-minute, or something heavy on plot, don’t. Then wrap up warm with a cup of tea and then seek a little quiet by the fire. You’ll need it.