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Mad Max: Fury Road

It has been exactly 30 years since George Miller brought us the seemingly final entry in the “Mad Max” trilogy with “Beyond Thunderdome.” With action movies having evolved since then, the original movies, especially the first one, now look dated. Although stylish for the 80s, they lack much of the pizzazz modern day action movies possess. The newest installment, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” looks to reinvigorate the franchise with the same level of over-the-top excitement we see in cinemas today and it succeeds. Unfortunately, it retains most of the problems from the original films, as it focuses more on chases and explosions than it does story or character development. Like other movies of this ilk, “Mad Max: Fury Road” rings pretty hollow, but it’s fun while it lasts.

The story is simple, nigh inconsequential, as it exists solely as a means to lead to action. All you need to know is that Max (Tom Hardy) is on a cross-desert trek with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is helping female captives known as the Five Wives escape from a ruthless clan leader named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Pretty much everything before and after this part-way through set-up is narratively irrelevant. Sure, lots of things happen, but like the other “Mad Max” movies, nothing really happens.

At its best, though, “Fury Road” is a mesmerizing action movie, with enough impressive stunts to keep any filmgoer entertained. It begins and ends without doing or accomplishing much of anything besides mindless action, but that action is something to behold. Suicide leaps, fisticuffs atop moving vehicles, crumbling landscapes and more give the action an edge few other action films have. Even at the age of 70, director George Miller hasn’t lost a step. One could easily scoff at a man whose last three films were “Babe: Pig in the City” and both “Happy Feet” movies for trying to provide what many other directors have already seemingly perfected, but he has, in fact, surpassed those people, as he delivers some of the most impressive action put to screen in many years despite having not touched the genre in three decades.

Even better, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is an absolute beauty, one of the most gorgeously shot action movies I’ve ever seen, to the point where it should be given serious cinematography Oscar considerations. Couple that with terrific art direction and costume design, where the inhabitants of this post-apocalyptic world sport chapped lips and scarred skin due to an overbearing sun and lack of resources, and you have a film that is a sight to behold. Pure chaos and destruction has never been captured onscreen so beautifully.

If only such praise could be given to the other facets of its production. In a welcome surprise, Theron owns this movie and is even given the expected payoff at the end, but it nevertheless comes as a disappointment that Hardy is so underutilized. A terrific actor in his own right, he is given almost nothing to do except grunt and groan and stand broodingly. His scenes of dialogue are so few and far between that you start to wonder if poor Max somehow became a mute in the time period between this movie and its predecessors. While you can certainly develop a character without dialogue, the attempt here is poor and his lack of speech doesn’t do much to help. He is still emotionally suffering from the loss of his family (though they don’t contextualize it in any meaningful way for those who haven’t seen the first film), but instead of exploring it through character, they give him a few sudden flashbacks and hallucinations in a lame attempt to give his journey meaning.

The movie also suffers from the questionable decision to speed things up, a move done in the previous films to, one can assume, mask budget constraints. Here, it’s completely unnecessary. This world is so vividly realized and the action so stunningly choreographed that it comes as a disappointment that the film so often doesn’t give us enough time to truly appreciate it, as it instead cuts to the next explosion or gunshot. It doesn’t help either when the narrative can legitimately be compared to the frowned upon practice of backtracking in video games, as it gets them from point A to point B only to turn them around and send them back to point A again.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is simultaneously a disappointment and an absolute blast. It’s hard to argue against its visual quality and exciting action, but it’s also easy to destroy its thinner than thin narrative and lack of substance. It’s one of those movies you’ll watch once in the theater and then never watch again, but during that one viewing, boy, is it something.

Mad Max: Fury Road receives 3/5


The Book of Eli

The end of the world seems to be all the rage these days. Everywhere you turn, some nonsense theory pops up. If it's not the Mayan calendar proclaiming Armageddon, it's cries of the Antichrist finally coming in the form of Barack Obama. Both have zero validity, but that doesn't stop Hollywood from capitalizing on them (though we're still yet to see that Obama movie). In recent years, post-apocalyptic movies have flooded our screens. Just in the last few months we've seen director Roland Emmerich blow stuff up real good in 2012, the Oscar worthy picture The Road, and the vampire and zombie apocalypses in Daybreakers and Zombieland. Chalk another one onto the ever growing list with The Book of Eli, a moderately entertaining film that will appeal to the following interests. If you want to see three decapitations in about that same amount of time, you'll like The Book of Eli. If you want to see a guy get an arrow through his crotch, you'll like The Book of Eli. However, if you want to see a post-apocalyptic tale with heart and meaning, you may want to look elsewhere. It's basically The Road meets Mad Max, but it's only about half as good as either of those films.

The movie opens with Eli (Denzel Washington) as he embarks on a trip to the west (as opposed to the trip down south the characters take in The Road—totally different). The world has been destroyed by a war and something they call "the flash," assumably referring to a nuclear war, which blinded many of the remaining survivors. It's been thirty years and a new generation has now grown up not knowing about the times before where, as Eli puts it, "people threw away what they kill each other for now." On his trip, Eli stumbles into a broken down town where he is violently confronted. He asks for no trouble, but is forced to kill a whole bar full of people. Carnegie (Gary Oldman) takes notice. He's the leader of the town and has a slew of henchmen he uses to track down an old book, one he claims will be able to control the lives of those he reads it to, thus giving him power. Little does he know Eli has that book.

What transpires is nothing more than a battle between the two factions for possession of the book. But what is the book? Well, if you have half a brain, you should be able to figure it out fairly quickly, though some still deem a reveal a spoiler, so I suppose I should offer up a warning. I will discuss what the book is and how this affects the overall picture, so if you want to go into the movie in the dark, stop reading.

Now, with that out of the way, the book is the Bible. Again, that shouldn't be too hard to figure out. A quick glance at the poster should be enough to give it away. "Deliver us" isn't exactly the most subtle of taglines (nor is the more succinct Gary Oldman one-sheet, "Religion is Power"). Then again, there's also a giant freaking cross on the cover of the book, which you see very early on in the movie. But why did I feel the need to bring this up? Because it is necessary to discuss the message, one that is admittedly fresh in a business that seems to continuously be at odds with it.

The recent comedy, The Invention of Lying, made it a point to deem religion a falsity. In fact, that was the whole basis of the film. The documentary, Religulous, does exactly the same (given the snarky title). But The Book of Eli is decidedly different. Its message here, without giving away the ending, is that there most certainly is a God and he (excuse me, He) uses people for a greater purpose. There's no doubt about it. He exists and works in all of our lives in ways we cannot possibly imagine. It's refreshing regardless of your religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, I've always been one to lean on the side of thought and interpretation rather than the straight forwardness of The Book of Eli. The Invention of Lying may have been anti-religion, but it posed questions. Would the world be better without it? Would there be war? Would it even exist in a world where nobody could lie? The argument it makes is that religion is merely a temporary solution to life's problems and that speculation about the afterlife is time wasted when we could be doing so many other positive things right now. Religulous, in it's own sarcastic way, does the same. These films make us question our beliefs and the beliefs of those around us, which is fascinating. The Book of Eli doesn't.

Sadder still is that it sets itself up to do just that, but never does. As noted before, Carnegie is searching for the book, knowing full well that it is the only Bible left in existence. He wants to use it to control people, insinuating its power and how it can be, and most certainly is, used for evil. At one point, Eli mentions that some people even think that it was the cause of the war that destroyed their planet. Well, religion is used to justify wars. Why not explore those themes?

Regardless of its missed opportunities, it was nice to see a pro-religion film. It just would have been nicer for it to pose questions rather than state facts, something too many religious people do already. But there's more to this thing than just its religious message and, unfortunately, not much of it is particularly impressive. It may be supporting Christianity, but boy does it get bloody. This is an action movie after all. Though the action is stylish and fun, it usually comes about arbitrarily. One scene that ends with multiple bodies strewn across the floor is initiated by Eli shoo-ing a cat away from his things. The cat's owner is none too happy and attacks Eli. Too many action scenes felt randomly placed in the movie rather than working out of necessity of the story.

The Book of Eli is a moderately successful, sporadically entertaining post-apocalyptic film that borrows from other, better movies ranging from a shot taken directly from The Road to a scene that mimicked The Devil's Rejects. Outside of the admittedly clever twist, which nevertheless is never completely satisfactory, The Book of Eli doesn't offer much other than an unexplored message stated matter-of-factly. This might work for some, but for those who like to think about religion and discuss it rather than have it shoved down their throats, The Book of Eli is a bust.

The Book of Eli receives 2.5/5