The two biggest releases competing on South African screens this weekend are both sequels.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth film in the Australian franchise about an anti-hero roadster, while Pitch Perfect 2 continues the story of a female a cappella group at university.
Fury Road continues the story of “Mad Max” Rockatansky sans Mel Gibson in the lead role. It’s always risky replacing the face of an iconic franchise, but in this case Tom Hardy does a stellar job. The film returns to its roots, with the focus on the (anti-)hero and heroine undertaking a literal journey in the stark, desolate post-apocalyptic Australia, where oil and water are rare commodities.
Rockatansky is caught and enslaved by Immortam Joe, the tyrannical overlord of the Citadel, where the distribution of food and water is controlled by whim. Max becomes a living blood bank for one of Joe’s “war boys”, Nux (Nicolas Hoult). Deep within the fortress Joe also holds a number of women hostage, using them as breeders for new war boys.
When one of Joe’s truckers, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), breaks out some of the rebel wives, she forges an unlikely alliance with Rockatansky, traversing the desert wasteland in a war machine, in the hoping to find her birthplace, “The Green Place”. The film is essentially one long, beautifully orchestrated car chase as the war boys hunt down Furiosa and Rockatansky.
What makes Fury Road stand out is that it is back-to-the-basics action filmmaking. You can tell that the majority of special effects were not done by CGI. Dozens of trucks were blown up and trashed in the Namibian desert during the five months of filming. The actors also performed many of their own stunts (the look of fear on Hardy/Rockatansky’s face, as he’s strapped to a moving vehicle speeding across the sand, is real). Smaller effects, like Furiosa’s bionic arm, were added later.
Much has been made of the so-called feminist turn the traditionally testosterone-filled franchise has taken. Furiosa is as gritty as Rockatansky, the protagonist to his antagonist, as original writer/director George Miller explains. For some bizarre reason though, this has infuriated men’s rights activists, who have boycotted the film in some U.S. cinemas.
Die hard fans need not worry that replacing Gibson with Hardy will be a distraction. In fact, dare I suggest, Hardy (if not for the fact he wasn’t yet born when the first film was made), could easily have replaced Gibson. The latter’s erratic behaviour and anti-Semitism over the past few years meant Miller no longer wanted to associate with the man he made famous. Fury Road will still give petrol heads of all genders their octane-high. It’s Mad Max on steroids and in top gear.
To my surprise, Pitch Perfect 2, has pitch-slapped Mad Max at the U.S. box office so far this weekend, though I have a feeling that in South Africa, it will be the other way around.
The second installment about the “Barden Bellas” is fun, though a little predictable and it doesn’t hit the comedic high notes as much as the first film. Then again, Pitch Perfect was so charming and funny, in part, because many people (myself included) were completely unaware of the often-ridiculous world of competitive a capella.
It’s been three years since Beca (Anna Kendrick) joined the Bellas and the group gained stardom. But after a cringeworthy stunt involving Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) goes horribly wrong at the nationals, the Bellas are suspended from competing or performing in the U.S. However, they are still able to go and represent the country at the world championships, a competition no American a cappella group has ever won. Standing in their way is the fierce German team, Das Sound Machine, whose less wholesome music and circus-type stunts make the Bellas sound a little flat. Determined to prove their worth, the Bellas accept a new member (Hailee Steinfeld), and start working on “finding their sound”.
The soundtrack in this film is as good, if not better than the first one. Das Sound Machine is incredible (watch out for their performance of Muse’s “Uprising”). Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy is once again a comic riot, especially as she resists falling in love, while Hailee Steinfeld adds a new dimension to the group. The delightful duo, John and Gail (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) are also back, with their acid commentary on a capella performing.
Verdict: you decide.
Mad Max: Fury Road vs Pitch Perfect 2
Rating: 4 out of 5. Rating: 4 out of 5
Director: George Miller. Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel
Nicholas Hoult Wilson, Elizabeth Banks.