Imagine the sprawling & cynical political bite of John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy filtered through the pulpy hyper-reality of the John Wick movies and starring Charlize Theron as James Bond: that is Atomic Blonde.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a visionary post-apocalyptic adventure that uses the frame of a chase movie. After a brief prologue setting up this awe-inspiring far-future wasteland of survival and savagery, characters are in motion and rarely stopping. However, you never get worn-out or annoyed. The film may be breathlessly paced, but it is entirely coherent and there’s always something either new or interesting being brought to life on screen. Filmmaker George Miller (Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet 1 & 2) broke ground in the 70s and 80s, having developed his craft during filmmaking eras that were more classical in comparison to our own quick-cut/jostled camera time, and he applies that mentality to a film while still feeling very forward-thinking modern. Practical stunts (we’ll get to those in a bit), wide shots, long takes, and an emphasis on visual communication and storytelling make this film feel as much as a return to form as it is hopefully a precursor to what’s to come in cinema. The demands of modern blockbusters are that the pace keeps going but he doesn’t bow to the tricks of other films simply by never escalating the insanity onscreen until everything becomes a cacophonous mess of attempts to one-up the last action scene. It would be a tremendous spoiler to attempt to even describe the action sequences in any detail but make no mistake; every sequence has the filmmakers (everyone from the director, cinematographer, stunt people, choreographer, even the grips) exerting an inordinate amount of control over every moment. All the more profound is that the action isn’t even the endgame of the movie. The film successfully uses action as a means of expressing story, characters, themes and genuine emotional arcs. The default of most action blockbusters is to escalate the scale and complexity of action sequences; here it’s the emotions that come first.