Mad Max: Fury Road is the long-awaited sequel from director George Miller to his original Mad Max trilogy starring Mel Gibson. This time, Tom Hardy (Locke, The Dark Knight Rises) stars as the lone hero Max Rockatansky traversing a scorched, accursed wasteland in his Interceptor. When a crazed death-worshipping cult of road warriors seize him as their prisoner, Max must find a way out of certain doom on the desert highways.
The leader of this cult is Immortan Joe, played by Mad Max vet Hugh Keays-Byrne. His convoys bring him the plunders that make up his kingdom and his fiercest lieutenant is Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. When Furiosa decides to take matters into her own hands and absconds with the Immortan’s “wives,” the warlord sends his entire arsenal after her, with Max forcibly dragged along. In order to secure his own freedom, Max has no choice but to ally with the Imperator and Nux (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: Days of Future Past), an escaped minion.
Hardy plays Max as a man of action and of extremely few words. He continues the now mythic hero motif that Gibson perfected, a wandering warrior navigating what remains after Armageddon. Theron gives an equally intense performance, if not more so, as Furiosa. She’s a woman (literally) driven to desperation and in turn responds by blasting all barrels at her disposal. She isn’t a man mapped onto a female body, but a bonafide valkyrie fighting onward past her own pains and miseries.
George Miller returns to live-action directing with a vengeance after helming the Happy Feet movies while preparing Fury Road. Miller’s experience in animation has sharpened his already acute sense of composition and motion, now finely tuned. The action is meticulously composed, storyboarded by British artist and 2000 AD vet Brendan McCarthy who received a co-writer credit for his efforts. WETA Workshop and WETA Digital worked with the director to create the post-apocalyptic costumes, vehicles and sets, no doubt inspired by the original trilogy’s now classic designs.
The movie in short order tells you exactly what it is: a 2 hour chase scene. The narrative is threadbare, one literal thread on which to hoist up a smorgasbord of fiercely creative fight scenes and car battles. The characters are archetypes, representational figures that reappear throughout stories and cultures across the globe. You have the Lone Hero versus the Cruel Ruler. Maidens, fertility mothers, slaves fed on lies and blood, peasants striving for hope amidst enforced scarcity.
Fury Road is also just a very weird movie, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best kind of weird. A new world where planet Earth is reduced to a hellhole and the people have to follow suit, complete with their own mindsets, viewpoints, customs and attitudes, fighting to the death for just one more gallon of petrol, one more drop of water. This is the only world these characters know and they react as such. But to the viewer, it will come as a cumulative shock. As the desolation and dread of this world seeps in, it only makes the film that much more intense.
It’s a harsh landscape, as lush and dense in its design as it is ugly and unforgiving for its occupants. Fury Road serves as escapism only if you choose not to dwell on the ramifications for its people and the torture they call daily existence, where each and every single individual has been reduced to one sole instinct: survival. This is an ecological horror movie masquerading as a chase.
Outside of the “wives” (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough) being escapees from untold terrors, you have no anchor point to empathize with them; any damage or emotional scar tissue is played deep beneath the surface, but it is there. To be fair, every emotion from every character in Fury Road is played underneath the surface save for panic and rage. But if I’m being honest, the wives aren’t much more than damsels smart enough to avoid further distress, that is until the third act of the film when enough’s enough. Noted playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) acted as consultant to help Miller give the abused wives a more honest portrayal.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a visual feast, with behemoth war machines doing battle on the edge of the apocalypse. It hearkens back to a bygone pre-CGI era of eye-popping stunt work, large-scale vistas and brute force metal smashups. It simply has to be seen to be believed and on the biggest screen there is, especially by the most detail-oriented art lovers and action junkies (such as moi). Tom Hardy is a worthy addition to the legend of Max Rockatansky and George Miller is putting these fools on notice. I’m starting to think Warner Bros. messed up by not giving him Justice League after all.
Imperator Furiosa is the latest badass of note to hit our cinemas in years and it would be criminal for Charlize Theron’s intense performance to go unnoticed and unseen, relegated to home video the same way Emily Blunt was in Edge of Tomorrow. Audiences can’t complain about a lack of female characters in cinema if no one goes to see them in the first place.
Don’t wait for Netflix, don’t wait for Redbox. Go to IMAX or any other large-format screen, and see this sucker as soon as you get a chance. And yeah, you could catch a matinee, but you should go to a late-night showing and get nice and rowdy with it. Fury Road is what happens when you allow a master to do his work.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go have a nice tall glass of water while I still can.
NOTE: One of the first movies I saw on television as a child that made me realize that movies actually come on TV was Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
NOTE: At my job last year, one of my co-workers and I quoted Beyond Thunderdome so often, and because of our height disparity, we became known as Master Blaster. I was Master, of course.
NOTE: I was so tall as a kid I actually got away with buying tickets to R-rated films and renting R-rated videos from Blockbuster clerks that didn’t check ID. That first R-rated video was Mad Max. I returned it when I realized I actually wanted The Road Warrior instead.