REVIEW: 'Mad Max: Fury Road'
There’s something basic about the Mad Max films that make them so very enjoyable. At no point does it ever confuse itself for what it is – an unrelenting two-hour car chase set in the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland. It's a world that director George Miller created beginning with Mad Max, the original 1979 film and its two sequels, 1981’s Mad Max 2 (commonly known as The Road Warrior) and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
In the fourth entry of the series, and the first in thirty years, Mad Max: Fury Road tells the story of how the titular Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) helps Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) end the rule of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played a different villain in Mad Max), a tyrannical ruler in an age without law and where one of the only means of survival means worshipping those in power. The theme of survival has always been pervasive in Miller’s blood orange desert world, where animal instincts have dominated in lieu of civilization, and also where simple necessities such as water and gasoline are prized well beyond the lives of others. “My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive,” narrates Max in the film’s opening, setting the tone and constructing an equalizing quality between Max’s life motto, Furiosa’s quest and Joe’s need to remain as the unchallenged ruler of his cult.
It doesn’t take long for the film to kick off with a bang, starting with a car chase and the capture of Max by the War Boys, Joe’s private army, who bring him to their home at the Citadel. Meanwhile, Joe has tasked Furiosa, one of his most trusted officers, to retrieve gasoline from Gastown, but realizes he has been betrayed when Furiosa’s tank truck veers off course. Joe later discovers that she has also taken the Five Wives, Joe’s private “breeders” locked away in a vault, in search of a haven known as “the green place.” With Max in tow, the War Boys chase Furiosa’s crew, setting the stage for the film series’ trademark, and still wildly spectacular, car-on-car violence.
The bizarre designs and practical effects are prime eye candy (the blind electric guitarist providing the martial music as a key highlight), especially with recent films dabbling far too much in CGI, so Miller’s vision comes across as unique and authentic. The visuals are all spectacular, keeping its trademark empty highways as a metaphor for the unknown future and the unknown dangers that lie ahead, with dark skies in various shades of blue juxtaposed so wonderfully with the orange sand.
Miller has crafted a universe so dense that each action and inaction reveals more and more about Mad Max’s dreadful world and the motivations that drive each character. Miller accomplishes a lot in just two hours, a refreshing change from the clunky, exposition-heavy Marvel films or the bigger-than-life action stars in typical summer blockbusters. It also has come a long way from a technical standpoint; the editing in Fury Road is miles ahead of Mad Max, the action much more coherent, the editing much tighter, and the scope much more expansive. No two cars seem to look the same, and the film’s dedication toward fulfilling a single season of 1000 Ways to Die is impressive.
The plot is simple and linear, but yet multi-layered with each action having a significant consequence. Max is already a fleshed-out character after three films, and haunted by those he couldn’t save - including his wife and child in the first film - and so he doesn’t have to waste time explaining why he needs to help Furiosa (in fact, he never really does), so the more intriguing character arc falls elsewhere. Think of Mad Max: Fury Road as an adventure set in the familiar world of Mad Max, with Max serving as an observer and struggling to maintain some form of humanity within himself. It is a film with Max, but not necessarily about Max.
Fury Road is different from the three previous entries, in part because Max shares the lead with Furiosa, and there’s nothing wrong with that, despite what red pill Internet misogynists may say. The narrative is moved by Theron’s strong performance as a true strong female character, driven by physical action as much as emotion. Miller never meant to make a statement about feminism with the film, but did perhaps want to write a story about the unequal balance of power that exists. It’s often forgotten that feminism is geared towards gender equality, not gender superiority.
Theron clearly outshines Hardy, though Hardy’s Max is different from Mel Gibson’s original portrayal; this time, Max is grizzled and hardened, a basic animal that refuses to be caged, one part Forrest Bondurant and one part Bane, rather than the more vulnerable and naïve 1979 version. But Hardy admitted that finding the right Max was difficult, and that only after seeing the final product did he really understood how the world of Mad Max was more important than the character.
Fury Road is altogether enjoyable and one of the rare action movies that doesn’t tire itself out after one viewing. Hardy is signed on for two more Mad Max films, and though a sequel has yet to be announced, there is no good reason why Miller and his crew won’t get the green light from studios.
Rating: 3.5/4, 4/5, 8.5/10