Film Review: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (spoiler free)

Let the madness commence…

Starring:  Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne

Directed by:  George Miller / Written by:  George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris

What’s it about?

In the post-apocalyptic wastelands, the lone warrior Max Rockatansky forges an unlikely alliance with the Imperator Furiosa as they are pursued across the barren deserts by the tyrannical warlord known as Immortan Joe…

In review

Coming 30 years after the release of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and surmounting the pitfalls of a troubled and protracted production, Mad Max: Fury Road marks the return of director/writer George Miller’s cult anti-hero, the ‘road warrior’ Max Rockatansky.  The title of this newest chapter in the Mad Max ‘odyssey’ is both apt and telling for Fury Road is as mad as it is furious…and all the more fun and exhilarating for it.

Tom Hardy is a suitably gruff and slightly more psychotic Max, an extension of Mel Gibson’s original portrayal that doesn’t stray sharply from what has come before yet allows Hardy to make the role his own.  Despite this being a Mad Max film it’s actually surprising that Max himself largely relinquishes the stage to the Imperator Furiosa, right-hand women of central villain Immortan Joe (original Mad Max actor Hugh Keays-Byrne) whose subsequent betrayal initiates the film’s narrative as Furiosa escapes with the Immortan’s wives (amongst them Transformers: Dark of the Moon’s Rosey Huntington-Whitely and X-Men: First Class’s Zoe Kravitz) in search of salvation and redemption in the green promised land of her origins.  Theron gives her all to present a tough as nails and reasonably defined action heroine, kudos to both the creativity of Theron and Miller (also serving as co-screenwriter).

Keays-Byrne is appropriately deranged as Immortan Joe, spouting manic sermons as he leads his band of rabid albino followers across the barren wastelands in relentless pursuit of Furiosa.  Amongst those minions is Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past) as the devoted Nux, another of the film’s eccentric characters that is granted an appreciable amount of screen time.  He’s a joy to watch and is as much a part of the piece as Max and Furiosa.

Much like the desert landscapes Fury Road depicts, dialogue is sparse and storytelling kept lean and simplistic.  It’s not wholly important in the grand scheme of things for this is an outrageous and pounding attack on the viewer’s senses as Miller runs riot with a not-so-modest production budget (rumoured at around $150,000,000) to deliver some of the most elaborate and exhilarating vehicular action sequences ever realised – the smashing and grinding of metal complemented by the surging electronic symphonies of Tom Holkenborg’s (aka Junkie XL) music.  It’s all the more impressive considering that the action was largely achieved practically with only the merest hints of CGI enhancement.

Needless to say then for Mad Max: Fury Road, the dial has been turned up to eleven as the wall to wall action refuses to allow the audience to catch their breath.  There is however the odd patch of calm to allow an appreciation of the subtleties of character and the desert vistas, presented by some beautifully striking cinematography.

Ultimately Fury Road doesn’t quite match up to the greatness of Mad Max 2 but director George Miller delivers a solid continuation of the Mad Max series that retains the niche quality of those original Mel Gibson outings whilst expanding the appeal to modern blockbuster audiences with its non-stop action and raw energy.

The bottom line:  Mad Max: Fury Road is a brutal mash-up of deranged madness, delightfully eccentric characters and adrenalin infused action that will exhaust the senses and boggle the mind.

Mad Max: Fury Road is in cinemas now.

George Miller's iconic road warrior returns in the relentless and exhilirating 'Mad Max: Fury Road'.

George Miller’s iconic road warrior returns in the relentless and exhilirating ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.

Film Review: ‘The Expendables 3’

Out with the old and in with the new?

Year:  2014

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz

Directed by: Patrick Hughes / Written by: Sylvester Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

After disbanding his original crew, Barney Ross recruits new blood for a new Expendables team with a mission to take down notorious arms trader and former Expendable, Conrad Stonebanks…

In review

Following comeback hits Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), legendary action star Sylvester Stallone returned yet again in 2010 with The Expendables, the first instalment in an ambitious, ludicrous, yet highly entertaining and successful action film franchise.  With the series, Stallone has sought to unite the biggest cast of iconic action stars of yesteryear (with newer faces such as Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) in a no-nonsense mashup of the plethora of mindless popcorn action flicks of the 1980s and 1990s.

Stallone succeeded and healthy box office returns secured the production of 2012’s even bigger, more ridiculous The Expendables 2 another enjoyable and financially successful hit that guaranteed audiences a second sequel.  Unfortunately the release of last summer’s The Expendables 3 proved less successful reflected by more modest box office takings and lukewarm opinion.  Yet, the film still offers plenty of entertainment value if you’re willing to forego its underlying flaws (more on that shortly).

The Expendables 3 opens with the ‘rescue’ of Wesley Snipes’ ‘Doc’ from a heavily guarded train in an exciting and adrenalin fuelled opening sequence.  From there, Doc joins Ross, Lee Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the Expendables on a mission to prevent the completion of an arms deal in Somalia.  Events go awry as Ross is shocked to find that the arms dealer is the corrupt former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson) and an ensuing battle results in the severe injury of Caesar (Crews).  This leads to Ross disbanding his regular crew in favour of recruiting new, younger, teammates with a mission to stop Stonebanks at all costs.

With the casting of The Expendables 3, Stallone has outdone himself once again with Harrison Ford (as CIA man Max Drummer, replacing Bruce Willis’s ‘Mr. Church’), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammar joining the established troupe.  The true coup though is Mel Gibson as Stonebanks, who succeeds previous Expendables villains portrayed by Eric Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme.  Gibson manages to deftly straddle the fine line between ridiculous and captivating in a manic performance that is one of the film’s biggest draws.

The flaws of The Expendables 3 arise from a misjudged attempt to draw in a wider audience with the reduced certification allowing younger viewers to participate.  The injection of ‘new blood’ (including MMA star Ronda Rousey) is not necessarily an unwelcome addition, however it’s when the focus of The Expendables 3 shifts to those new characters that you may find yourself yearning for the return of Statham, Couture et al (luckily it’s not long before they do).  At the end of the day The Expendables should not pander to commercial sensibility and recognise that it’s those who grew up on a healthy diet of the films of the likes of Messrs. Stallone and Schwarzenegger that will get the most enjoyment out of it.

With the reduced certificate in mind, the violence of The Expendables 3 is a little softer and slightly reduces the film’s edge, yet despite this the body count remains high and the action sequences are as explosive and exciting as the previous entries.  Director Patrick Hughes skilfully stages the numerous, huge, action sequences from the afore-mentioned opening scene and the subsequent mission in Somalia through to the bullet-ridden, knife-thrusting and tank-laden final battle.  It’s a shame however that the inevitable face-off between Ross and Stonebanks feels a little tame, lacking the punch of Stallone’s bout with Jean-Calude Van Damme in The Expendables 2 – maybe a victim of the reduced certificate?

The film’s script is perfectly adequate and has the expected mix of drama, cheesy dialogue and laughs that made the first two Expendables the enjoyable guilty pleasures that they are and quite rightly, The Expendables 3 finds the time to poke fun at itself and its cast with zany turns from Banderas and Gibson woven between reference to Snipes’ Tax evasion troubles and another of Schwarzenegger’s iconic quotes.

The bottom line:  The Expendables 3 is simple, effective entertainment that despite its weaker elements still manages to be as fun and as action packed as previous outings.

The Expendables 3 is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.

Sylvester Stallone assembles another impressive cast of action stars in 'The Expendables 3'.

Sylvester Stallone assembles another impressive cast of action stars in ‘The Expendables 3’.