and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Atomic Blonde (2017) is not the weird disjuncture between the parts of the film that want to be John le Carré (but aren’t), the bits that want to be exciting (but aren’t) and the bits that want to be sleazy (but can’t even manage that) and the bit that wants to be really cool by using George Michael’s ‘Father Figure’ in an unexpected way (but comes a very distant second to Keanu (Atencio 2016)), no, the best thing about Atomic Blonde is the complex set of emotions when you suddenly realise that the bald bloke playing C is a rather dour Peter Wyngarde and that this must have been his last film, and then when you get to the credits and discover it was actually James Faulkner impersonating a rather dour Peter Wyngarde and you kind of feel sorry for him but relieved that at least Peter Wyngarde, dour or otherwise, was spared the indignity of appearing in this piece of shit…
Let there be no doubt. Mad Max: Fury Road is without question the very best film I saw yesterday (the other one was La momia azteca contra el robot humano (1958)).
It is also the very best Mad Max movie since Road Warrior. And like Road Warrior, it needs to be seen on the big screen (albeit for slightly different reasons, which I will get into below).
I can see George Miller’s pitch even now: Ice Cold in Alex (1958) meets Pumzi (2009), but faster. And we’re gonna steal all that crazy shit about pregnant women and bags of seed from The Ultimate Warrior (1975). And just one more thing from Island of Lost Souls (1932). And Dune (1984) was set on a desert planet, too, so we’ll throw in some of the unsavouriness of the Harkonnens, but without the obvious homophobia.
And, the executives asked, will there be an unexpected homage to Duran Duran and fellow ozploitation alumnus Russell Mulcahy?
You betcha, said George.
But even more unexpected than that there will be, when Max comes to desert after the big sandstorm scene, a tribute to Derek Zoolander’s friends who died in a freak gasoline-fight accident.
Except with supermodels.
And water, not guzzle-een. We’ll save the tanks of wet-nurse milk for later. When Max has to wash blood off his face.
But don’t worry, it’s not his blood.
There has been a lot of commentary about how Fury Road gets it right by mostly eschewing CGI in favour of actually staging the action with real vehicles and actual stuntmen. Which is both true and a little misleading. There is quite a bit of CGI, albeit more judiciously deployed than one would expect in a $150 million movie, and there is an awful lot of compositing and post-production digital enhancement. (This is why you need the big screen – not so much for the profilmic car-crunching of Mad Max and Road Warrior, but for the setting of similar action in massively spectacular landscapes.)
There is also – and this is what most people seem to be missing – a lot of attention paid to classical conventions of spatial construction. Unlike in a Christopher Nolan movie, spaces actually make coherent sense, and thanks to John Seale’s camera being held that little bit further from the action and Margaret Sixel’s less-rapid editing you can, unlike in a Michael Bay movies, always tell who is doing what to whom and where they are in relation to each other and their setting.
Don’t get me wrong, this coherence does not necessarily lead to suspense – Fury Road is no Wages of Fear (1953) or Hell Drivers (1957) or even, though it pains me to say it, Duel (1971) – but it is able to produce an awful lot of tense moments. And this tension stems from the careful thinking-through of the action sequences, from the small scale stuff (Max fighting Furiosa, while he is chained to both a broken-off car door and the unconscious Nux and suffering from the interference of the pregnant supermodels) upwards.
Is it one long chase sequence? Not exactly. There are moments of pause, moments when the audience can catch their breath, but Miller does something inspired with them. They are character scenes, but so perfunctory – so hilariously badly written, so utterly lacking in the cheesy charm of the Fast and Furious movies – that you are happy for these layovers to be shortened and the chase to start back up again.
The only thing missing is Jerry Reed singing ‘East Bound and Down‘.
Is it the feminist movie those “Men’s Rights” folks seemed so terrified of? (Assuming all that bullshit wasn’t an ingenious piece of viral marketing.)
The answer really depends on how you define feminism. I think it passes the Bechdel test, but there is so little conversation in the movie it is hard to tell. Charlize Theron, an actress who normally makes me go meh, is implacable as Furiosa and handles a big share of the action every bit as well as the always adorable Tom Hardy. The pregnancy/supermodel/ lactation/seeds conjunction recalls something of that old school hippy female-essentialist feminism. The ageing desert warrior women are just plain brilliant – not exactly 70s lesbian separatists but, in a future where all the men are such dicks, who wouldn’t be in favour of a little wimminz separatism? There is also at times a curious overlaying of female voices, often too quiet to make out many of the words, which made me think of the Kristevan chora –‘Although the chora can be designated and regulated, it can never be definively posited: as a result, one can situate the chora and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form’ – which seemed to be pointing towards something interesting to do with desert spaces and, in this company of women, the pre-symbolic (and to pick up on Max’s traumatic flashback instants to events similar, but not identical, to things that happened in the trilogy).
Do these things make it feminist?
Frankly, you’re having a laugh. It is just less intolerant of women than many other movies made on this scale.
But they do give the movie some powerful and intriguing cross-currents and textures. I will have to see it a few more times to even begin to figure it out.
Does Max have a mullet? That would be spoilers.
Is it worth seeing? Absolutely.
Especially if you can dodge the inflation of ticket prices by distributors/exhibitors manipulating 2D and 3D screenings. My local cinema only had the 3D version at £15+ a ticket. The big-ass fancypants cinema in town was charging less for 3D, but had put the 2D version in the “director’s hall”, which made tickets even more expensive than the local 3D. Fortunately, the third-rate cinema in town was showing the 2D at a price which meant two of us could see it for a fraction more than one of us could have seen the local 3D or the fancypants 2D. It is like a temporally-compacted version of classical Hollywood’s system of ‘runs’ is being reintroduced.
And sadly the cinema we saw it in was just a sanitised pathetic relic of its former self, rather than the grunge pit in which ozploitation, however gussied up, should be seen.