George Miller’s original visions of Mad Max from the ‘70s and ‘80s were never really about one man, but rather an entire desolate world, barely grasping onto threads of hope for sanity in a post-apocalypstic wasteland.
At its best, George Miller successfully recaptures those themes in Mad Max: Fury Road, the first installment in the franchise since Beyond Thunderdome 30 thirty years ago, while serving up some of the most primal and relentless action in cinema today.
Luckily for the audience, whether they are new to the franchise or grew up with Mel Gibson’s version of the hardened road warrior 30 years ago, Fury Road is at its best for virtually its entire running time, offering up two hours of pure carnage and mayhem that is a breath of fresh air at a time when heroes in capes reign supreme, while also subverting gender tropes senseless in its portrayal of the female heroine.
Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Warrior) is the titular Max this time around, and he is as mad as the title suggests; haunted by an ambiguous past that seems to be his only real connection to the world, eating creatures of the desert like popcorn and straying just barely of the insanity that chases him endlessly.
When the white-body painted crazies do capture him and take him for their own nefarious uses, the film’s over-the-top tone and scale are introduced, albeit in a small but effective way. By the time the title card is embroiled on the screen, the audience knows it’s in for something much for lustfully violent and demonic than standard Hollywood fare.
That grittiness later becomes debauchery of the most satisfying kind, as Fury Road eventually evolves into an orchestra of madness and vehicular carnage that is rarely even attempted in modern film. Fury Road isn’t necessarily dark, but like previous entries in the franchise, it strives to be as hyperbolic as it can, presenting a world where steering wheels are weapons, blood is fuel, and minions who call themselves War Boys are devoted to finding salvation in their violent exploits. It’s twisted and elegantly maniacal in a way that makes it stand out amongst more standard Hollywood offerings.
Miller doesn’t want to be standard, he refuses to be. That much is clearly apparent by the time the flame-spitting guitarist contributing musically to the madness is first introduced.
Fury Road doesn’t trouble the audience with establishing these visceral tones on a large scale, focusing instead on the chase between self-proclaimed ruler Immortan Joe, his appearance as disconcerting as his name suggests, and Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron (Prometheus, The Italian Job, Snow White and the Huntsman).
Furiosa is attempting to liberate Immortan Joe’s Five Wives, essentially his property, and to bring them from where she came, a promised land dubbed the Green Place where women aren’t viewed as things and from where civilization could begin anew.
Max is along for the ride, but this is Furiosa’s show as much as it is his. Miller effectively gives the finger to the seemingly universal unwritten laws of modern cinema that women in action flicks have to be the one being rescued, the one who can’t shoot the gun. Theron, with her short hair and lubricant-lathered stare of determination, doesn’t take lightly to those tropes as Furiosa, a character as strong and willing as any Captain America or James Bond or Jason Bourne. She is threatening and unwavering in her pursuit of finding hope where none may exist, and male and female audience members alike will find it easy to cheer her on.
And she isn’t the only one lending the film a feminist tone, which becomes apparent by the time the film’s third act begins. I’ll just say the final action piece is a thoroughly welcome destruction of gender constructs, one which elevates Fury Road to become a statement about our reality and the way women are viewed. In that sense, Miller has crafted this year’s Wild.
Hardy is as memorable as Max, whose lines we can probably count on two hands, but whose character conveys the hopelessness and single goal of survival that is the staple of the franchise. Hardy is influenced by his performance as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, as his eyes have to do all the acting when his face is covered for a good chunk of the film. When he finally gets it off and later finds the humanity he seemingly lost so long ago, it’s hard not to applaud.
The writing is also very strong, vibrant and enthusiastic in its embrace of the masochistic undertones that Mad Max is grounded on. The music plays just as big a role in painting that devious and relentless atmosphere, tense and foreboding all the way through.
But audience members paying ten bucks for a movie ticket are here for the spectacle, and that is exactly what they get. The vast majority of Fury Road is nonstop vehicular warfare of the definite R-rated variety – bloody, visceral and unforgiving. Individual set pieces are pulled off to incredibly satisfying effect, never taking its audience for granted. Fury Road’s trailers tease the action that audience can expect, and it lives up to the hype it places on itself.
Even the hand-to-hand combat is excellently choreographed and executed, the moment when Max and Furiosa meet resulting in one of the most memorable sequences to be had at the movies this year. And it’s just in time, what with Marvel entries starting to becoming somewhat stale and predictable with the type of spectacle that audiences have come to expect for years now.
By contrast, Miller doesn’t go huge with Fury Road, but deep, immersing all the audience’s senses into the chaos. The action in Mad Max is fresh and imaginative, buoyed by its desire to resemble the old action pics of yester-century. Classics like Die Hard, First Blood and The Terminator clearly influenced Miller, who seeks to give audiences a display long forgotten by the (mostly) unimaginative modern choir of industry leaders.
Fury Road truly does look like something out of place. It’s genre bending with its portrayals of heroes and sacrifice, while embracing old-school action and spectacle outfitted with the best visuals that modern cinema has to offer. It prides itself on carnage with levity; a story that, while entertaining and memorable, works to also let audiences know what they’ve been missing, whether they’ve realized it or not. It doesn’t subvert substance for style, but combines them. In that sense, Fury Road is long overdue.
In a Nutshell
Wild meets a version of Fast and Furious for the demonic, Fury Road is one of the most unique films to be had in years, its punk-Western mayhem a sight to behold and its societal messages hinting that the world of Mad Max may not be as much a fantasy as we think.
9.2 / 10
Mad Max: Fury Road is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by George Miller
David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.