Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

It is quite common in this day and age to find old franchises given a new burst of life via a reboot, sequel, or remake. Much of the time any such announcement is met with derision from the fans, and nonchalance from the general public, resulting in many people already making up their mind to hate the film before it even starts filming. Strangely this has not been the case with this new Mad Max film, which has been embraced by the whole community from the offset. Perhaps it is the fact that the original creator and director is still involved, or perhaps it is that people realise that tales of Max are timeless and can be told for each generation to enjoy. Either way, it is safe to say that there was a lot of anticipation from the fan community for this new entry into the series.

Real stunts by real madmen!

Real stunts by real madmen!

This new film kicks off right into the action. Max stands alone, haunted by memories of those he failed to save, when he is ambushed by a gang, resulting in him being used as a blood-bag for a warrior in a great kingdom built into rocks. The leader of this domain, King Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the first film) rules from high up in the rocks, where his control of the water has given him power over all, and allowed for him to build trade routes with nearby fuel and ammunition tribes. When one of his regular trade runs, led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), diverts from the route, Joe discovers that his Five Wives have been taken and sets off in pursuit. Caught up in amongst the carnage that follows is Max, hooked up as a bloodline to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a War Boy intent on proving his worth to Immortan Joe and entering Valhalla in the afterlife.

Much has been said of the fact that the stunts and carnage were done with as little CGI as possible, and this staple of the franchise not only works well here, but has some of the most spectacular action moments on film this year. The explosions, carnage, and destruction are all brutal, and unlike certain CGI fuelled action films of recent years, believable. But it isn’t only in the destruction that George Miller shows his skill at direction and visualisation. Beautiful shots of sandstorms, swamp-walkers, and cities built into rock flesh out his mythical future world even more, and serve not only the story, but the whole franchise well. On top of that there is the expected bizarre vehicle design, all beautiful in their twisted construction, but none more so than the drummers, wall of speakers, and guitarist on a vehicle serving as mock buglers,sounding the battle chimes. Comical, and stunningly impressive, this one vehicle alone represents the madness of this future world – a world gone very wrong.

Seriously awesome!

Seriously awesome!

With a character as iconic as Max, it was always going to be a hard job to follow Mel Gibson’s take on the part. After all he made the role what it is, and anyone attempting to copy him would be under severe scrutiny. Maybe this is the reason that the character doesn’t have a lot to say through this film, as it gives a chance to redefine the physicality of the character in the form of a new actor, rather than forcing us to compare mannerisms and voice inflexions. Suffice to say, Tom Hardy rises to the challenge, and aside from adopting an Australian accent, doesn’t attempt to copy Gibson’s take, instead making the part his own for a new era. Charlize Theron also steps up to the plate as Furiosa, and the film is more about her than Max. As the one-armed driver of the rig who goes off-mission and starts the whole chase off, her character begins as cold and empty, but as we learn her story she grows more depth. As, too, does Hoult’s character, who at the early part of the film we want killed, but as the film progresses you start to root for him. Such character growth in what is essentially a 2 hour action extravaganza put many recent blockbusters to shame.

It has been thirty years since Beyond Thunderdome, that’s 30 years in the wilderness for Max Rockatansky. But it has been 30 years well spent if this is anything to go by, and with Miller saying he already has plans for two more films (at least), then it is a welcome return. We may not need another hero, but we do need Max to show action cinema how to really do it.

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Review: John Wick

In this post-Taken landscape many films have tried to emulate what made that film about a guy with a particular set of skill work, and pretty much all of them haven’t come close to it (especially the laboured sequels).  So, when a film is announced which will see a retired hitman seeking revenge against those who stole his car and killed his puppy, you would be forgiven if you initially laughed and then dismissed the whole idea as ridiculous.  With first time director who was previously a stunt-man things got worse.  Then the casting of Keanu Reeves in the lead role was the perfect finishing touch to confirm the film would be a disaster.  However, against such odds, John Wick instead defied all expectations to be one of the best revenge thriller films since Old Boy (the original adaptation, not the reasonably good remake).

John Wick, played by Reeves in cold and calculated mode, retired from his profession as a hitman for the underworld in order to settle down with the woman he loved.  Five years on, his wife passes away and part of her will gifts him a puppy for him to care for and help with his grief.  Unfortunately the son of a Russian mob boss, Iosef (Alfie Allen, who most will recognise from his role as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) takes a liking to John’s car (a 69 Mustang, so you can understand the desire) and decides to steal it, not knowing who the owner is.  During the theft Wick is beaten and left lying next to the corpse of his puppy, and thus begins his return to his former self as he sets about tracking down those who stole from him and killed his dog.

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What works so well in this film is that at the start we, the audience, have no idea of the reputation Wick has.  Much like Iosef, we dismiss him as a quiet, unassuming guy who poses no threat.  It is as the revenge plays out and we see the reactions of those who he worked with and for that we start to understand why taking anything from him was a bad idea.  Over the course of the film, Wick goes from reluctantly seeking retribution, to fully embracing his old lifestyle, and seemingly enjoying the hunt and the kill.  Reeves, who can rarely be called anything other than an average actor, is perfect in the role as his cold, blank, emotionless expression matches the dark nature of John Wick.  In addition, the action (and there is plenty of it) benefits from Reeves’ years of training since he worked on The Matrix, and the director Chad Stahelski worked as a stunt coordinator on those films along with David Leitch who is uncredited  as a co-director on this film.  Well choreographed action that doesn’t resort to fast cuts and close up shots is refreshing to see these days, and the swift and brutal violence is sometimes poetic to watch.

The support cast lend well to the proceedings, with Michael Nyqvist as Viggo,  the head of the Russian mob, particularly standing out.  His previous knowledge and admiration for Wick makes it almost seem like the character is choosing between two sons when he has to decide whether to allow Wick to complete his revenge.  Throw in the likes of Willem Dafoe as a sniper who worked closely with Wick in the past, Adrianne Palicki as a hired assassin, and Ian McShane as Winston, the owner of the Continental hotel (a safe zone for all agents and assassins where business is conducted without threat), and a script that knows when to drop some subtle humour to break the tension, and the result is a tightly plotted and well woven revenge piece in the style of Hong Kong action films such as A Better Tomorrow, or The Killer.

John Wick is a fine example of why Reeves shouldn’t be dismissed because of flops of recent years, and also shows that there is still life in the revenge thriller despite how dull other franchises have made it out to be.  The only disappointment is that in the UK we had to wait 6 months after the US release to finally get to see it.