Visions of the Future: Mad Max and Tomorrowland

Mad Max: Fury Road, is just demented.

In a good way.

George Miller returns to his 1979 character, essentially re-imagining him, this time played by Tom Hardy. The film is very high concpet. Max is chased through the desert with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a group of women the crazed leader of the “War Boys” uses for breeding that Furiosa has rescued.

An opening act sees Max captured and then used as a “blood bag” for an unrecognisable Nicholas Hoult’s Nux. But Max is soon free and we then simply get one massive chase sequence.

But that really does the film a disservice. The action is clearly done “in camera” as much as possible, with CGI souping it up a bit. It’s obvious because there’s a lack of physicality to the massive destruction sequences in your run-of-the-mill superhero fare. However much programmers try to build in a bit of randomness to the physics models of their worlds, it never quite feels real. It’s hard to pin down why – and it’s not simply that the setting is unbelievable (Mad Max’s setting is pretty unbelievable).

The first Mad Max film I saw was actually the third in the series, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and I remember trying to build some models at the time. I used Airfix tank model parts, and built them onto Corgi London buses, applied spray cans of sand coloured paint, and voila!

In Fury Road, we have a converted oil tanker. Furiosa is supposed to be doing a run to collect gas, but she scarpers, looking for the almost mythical Green Place.

Cue mayhem, with a production design on steroids. Best of all has to be the vehicle carrying four drummers and guitar player hung in front of a car mounted rack of speakers and giving the whole thing a musical accompaniment.

In fact, the film is edited to its music gorgeously. The action is simply told, and expertly handled. Lesser directors find the audience losing the plot a little and struggling to keep up with what’s happening. Not so here, where we always know where we are.

Overall, a pumped-up B-movie with an A-movie budget. I hope it does well.

Tomorrowland – or more properly in Europe, Disney’s Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, for copyright reasons – is a new film from Brad Bird. It opens with George Clooney’s Frank Walker trying to get us up to speed, interrupted by Britt Robertson’s Casey. And that’s because it’s a complicated story.

As a child, Walker had gone to the 1954 World’s Fair in New York to present his rocket pack invention to a sneering Hugh Laurie. A young girl his own age, Athena (played by a wonderful Raffey Cassidy), gives him a pin badge and says that he should secretly follow. He goes through a water ride and gets transported to… well… somewhere else.

The vision of the future that we see is a wonderful world of jet packs, hover trains, vertical swimming pools and space travel. The production designers (again) went mad, and in a delightful way.

Meanwhile in a present day, Casey is trying to save her father’s job, and the NASA space program, by delaying the destruction of a Florida launch pad. She’s caught and spends a night in the cells. On coming out she finds a strange pin-badge. Touching it takes her to another dimension and a fabulous space city – but only for a limited time.

What then follows is a dimension hopping race around the US, as Clooney’s now adult Walker reluctantly gets involved with Casey, and the still child-like Athena.

There’s a great action set-piece in a Sci-Fi collectors’ shop in Houston, and we have evil smiling androids, and all sorts of technological do-das.

At times the film reminds you of The Wizard of Oz, and at others of Home Alone. The cast are all excellent, especially the younger cast members who have quite a job on their hands.

If the story sounds complicated… well it is. But then if the audience can understand Doctor Who then they’ll understand this. I’m not quite sure I bought into the film’s overall ethos, but it has its heart in the right place. And it’s a smart film, which is to be applauded.

I must admit that it wasn’t until afterwards at a Q&A, that I realised that Tomorrowland is an actual Disney theme park ride (I’ve never been and have no desire to ever go), otherwise I’d have said that it was nice to have a film that wasn’t based on a franchise. Whether this becomes one is another question. Good half-term fun for those not quite old enough to see Mad Max.