Any time a film undergoes a significant name change before releasing to the international market, especially one designed to capitalise on an upcoming blockbuster, it can’t help but ring a few alarm bells in the viewer. Jake Paltrow’s second feature, formerly known as Young Ones (no relation to the anarchic post-modern ’80s sitcom) has been dutifully changed to Bad Land: Road To Fury. Given the desert dystopia setting of the film, and the presence of Nicholas Hoult among the cast, this is pretty shamelessly hitching a ride on the Mad Max: Fury Road bandwagon.
In a post-apocalyptic America blighted by drought, Michael Shannon plays Ernest Holm, a man with a gun, two step-children and a touch of alcoholism, trying to make his way with various jobs from a water pipeline crew. He is joined by step-son Jerome (Kodi Smitt-McPhee, a dab hand at dystopias at this point, with The Road, The Congress and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on his resumé) who is learning the ropes and helping to keep the family alive, whilst Ernest offers nuggets of mutton-headed wisdom and encouragement about becoming a man.
Split into three chapters, one for each patriarch of the family, Bad Land: Road To Fury builds a full world of issues, politics, worries and lived-in conversations and characters, notably Elle Fanning’s Mary Holm dealing with the majority of external emotions throughout, and the film has a great deal to offer visually, with stunning vistas and impressively weighty visual effects. Yet there’s something quite hollow within the film. For all the good of the actors, mostly whenever Michael Shannon is absent from the screen, the film fumbles and stalls, flailing around for someone to step up and take hold of the narrative.
Fleeting action moments are well handled, the drawn-out inflictions of pain can be brutal without being visual, and the landscape fills with gorgeous music and ambient detail, but it’s a lot of style without the substance, and by the time the third act rolls around, it feels as though the film is rushing to make a climax happen rather than finding a natural story progression. Much like the world of the film, after brief glimmers of hope it starts to die a long and painful death, grasping at narrative straws. Bottom line: the real Fury Road has little to worry about.
Andrew Jones (@EthanRunt)
BAD LAND: ROAD TO FURY is released in the UK on May 1 (VOD) and May 4 (DVD).