Last week an online movie columnist posted an early review of Kent Jones' documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, and in the comments section there was a lot of "they-don't-make-'em'-like-that-anymore" sighing over a perceived ebbing of Hitchcock-influence on contemporary filmmakers. Now, I suppose that if we're strictly talking about a dearth of filmmakers interested in crafting movies that play and feel like Hitchcock movies, or that specifically treat what we refer to as Hitchcockian themes, then maybe, yeah, we don't get a lot of that.
If, on the other hand, we're talking about filmmakers who combine a virtuosic grasp of technique with an avid passion for testing the elasticity of film language, we aren't doing so badly nowadays. Certainly more than a few of the directors who participate in Jones' documentary—I'm thinking of David Fincher, Wes Anderson, and, yes, Martin Scorsese among the Americans, for instance—fit into that category. (I admire the work of James Gray, yes, but I also think he's less bravura by design than the aforementioned.) Steven Soderbergh, too. Sometimes Steven Spielberg. Sometimes Francis Ford Coppola. Michael Bay even sort of fits into this category, in a "Bad Kirk" kind of way. And there are other examples, old and young, dotting the cinema landscape, all over the world.
George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road is a really magnificent slab of cinema language at its most effectively elasticized. I've seen it twice within four days, once in 3D, and again in super-big-screen 2D (I prefer the latter, but the 3D wasn't bad), and both times I felt positively transported. The speediness and the suspense of the simultaneous car chases/firefights/hand-to-hand combats and more had, for me, the effect of being suspended; metaphorically holding my breath and waiting to get pulled out and up into a place to exhale. Every shift of cinematic gear accomplished by Miller does that job of manipulations perfectly.
I also love the movie's unapologetically bizarre and grotesque imagery, which draws a straight line all the way back to Lang's Metropolis and provides, as A.O. Scott pointed out in his New York Times review, a bracing rebuke to the bright corporate blandness of the Marvel Universe films. I love the way it lets it images do the talking: showing the lumpy, pasty, tumorous torso of Immortan Joe semi-camouflaged by a ripped and rippled and medal-covered plastic exosuit is a far more vivid way of saying "The Patriarchy is rot" than, you know, saying "The Patriarchy is rot." I love the cleanliness and, yes, the logic of its circular narrative; to anyone who finds the final quarter of the movie exhausting, I'm tempted to drag out the old classic rock bromide "if it's too loud, you're too old," or something.
Miller and his crew and his money and his actors bring to life an unreal world that, as exhilarating as the action contained within it can be, one is glad to be watching from the remove of a movie theater. As with Alexei German's great Hard To Be A God (the only other 2015 U.S. release I'm as excited to see multiple times as this one), one admires all the performers, down the the last extra, not just for their work but for their seeming ability to withstand the depicted environment.
As for the movie's much-vaunted feminism, it didn't really register for me as such. Which is one of the most commendable things about it, in a sense. There's never really any question in the movie as to the capabilities of Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa; there's never a moment in which she has to "prove" herself, or "earn" the respect of a male. (While Max's interaction with her is initially adversarial, any inclination Max might have toward underestimating her is corrected very quickly.) Which isn't to say she doesn't represent an ideal; the scant information the viewer is given about her history makes that plain. Miller doesn't strut his progressive ideology in any way; he doesn't end the movie with some kind of bald statement that, for instance (implied spoiler alert) a matriarchal order is going to make The Citadel a paradise on earth for the previously downtrodden. He presents Max and Furiosa as equals, damaged warriors who manage to help each other out. To say that the movie is more Furiosa's narrative than Max's is maybe a little too easy; true, Miller purposefully sets a scene in which Max goes on his most effective rampage off-screen, but there's also the fact that Max is the only character in the film whose consciousness the viewer is made to inhabit for brief periods (not a comfy place to be, as you might have guessed).
You should see this film soon, and often.