No Time Like the Present: Mad Max: Fury Road; Tomorrowland

The future is once again playing at your multiplex, but it could also be the present, with isolated warring factions amidst a parched wasteland and rapacious leaders who bully the underprivileged masses by hoarding all manner of resources, including water and gasoline.

Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic action genre after a thirty-year hiatus, has plenty of action in the form of breakneck chases, explosions, gun battles, hand to hand combat; the only thing it’s lacking is Max himself.

Oh he’s there all right, both stoic and heroic as embodied by Tom Hardy but in this latest installment of the Mad Max series, he’s more of a supporting character. The true lead is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, who angers leader Immortan Joe by taking off with his five wives, all of whom have been personally selected to breed future leaders. This causes Joe to send out his entire army in pursuit of Furiosa and the Five Wives, with Max (a shackled prisoner used as a “blood bag” for the first third of the film) an initially reluctant participant.

Furiosa and Max encounter all forms of obstacles in their quest to find the Green Place, an idyllic area that Furiosa remembers from her youth–and where Furiosa hopes to settle with the Five Wives. These obstacles, in the form of treacherous allies, pursuing War Boys, and seemingly everyone who is not Furiosa and Max, provide plenty of opportunities for action sequences that not only supply a fair share of thrills, but seem more plausible than say, the frenetic and impersonal blockbuster action in Avengers: Age of Ulton. On occasion, the action lets up to allow Max to grudgingly bond with Furiosa and the Wives, and while these scenes depicting hope among the despair display some intelligence, my guess is that what most audiences will come away with are the high quality of the action, and the strength of the women. In a cinematic wasteland where females are often relegated to the sidelines, these ladies, led by Theron’s resilient Furiosa, succeed not only in overshadowing Max, but in providing the real hope for this vision of the future.

While we’re discussing the future, as well as top billed actors who are really there to show support, let’s not forget George Clooney as Mr. Grumpy (I mean, Frank Walker) in Disney’s paean to its own theme park Tomorrowland.

Clooney’s there at the beginning—to warn us about the dangers of the future, as well as introduce the main story (told in flashback). We see that in 1964, a young Frank has gone to the New York World’s Fair, equipped with a jet pack that fails to impress bigwig Hugh Laurie. However Frank attracts the attention of Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a girl who is really an “animatronic recruiter,” and with the aid of a “T” pin given to him by Athena, he is transported to Tomorrowland, which resembles more than anything a live-action Jetsons cartoon. Britt Robertson (late of the short-lived Secret Circle and the recent release The Longest Ride—and along with Miss Cassidy the real star) is Casey, a bright, idealistic, scientifically-inclined high school student who has been trying to prevent (sabotage) the dismantling of NASA’s launch site. Casey’s scientific skill and youthful optimism result in her being slipped the “T” pin which instantly transports her, albeit fleetingly to Tomorrowland. Casey’s attempts (with Athena’s assistance) to get to the heart of the mystery of Tomorrowland lead her into some close calls with dangerous droids, and a meeting (followed by a narrow escape) with the now grizzled and grouchy Frank, who had been exiled from Tomorrowland after losing his youthful heart to Athena.

The first two-thirds of Tomorrowland are actually quite enjoyable; the three young leads (including Thomas Robinson as a young Frank) are very winning, and once Clooney enters the scene, he manages to establish a warm rapport with Casey and Athena, despite the character’s own disillusionment. The messages of the film are mixed though; mankind, for all intents and purposes, has screwed itself again (hardly a novel concept), but this Tomorowland hardly seems like a viable alternative; as glimpsed it’s a bright but rather soulless utopia, and one that doesn’t take long before it resembles the future posited in Mad Max. And the film’s eventual solution is at once all-inclusive and inconclusive.

You may want to check it out for yourself—if only for Hugh Laurie (making the most of his duplicitous role), and the quite engaging Roberson and Cassidy.