Not that it needs it, but I’m going to add my accolades to the reception of Mad Max: Fury Road. This. Is. Awesome. Although we’re mostly right to decry the seemingly endless circle of reboots, remodels and sequels that Hollywood inundates us with, Fury Road says that you can make something that feels familiar, but fresh and engaging and endlessly exhilarating at the same time. Just when you think that director George Miller outdoes himself, he outdoes himself again with seemingly endless action, no exposition, and a baroque sense of art direction. This is a huge summer movie in all the best possible ways. A victory for simplicity of purpose and flawlessness in execution.
Haven’t seen any of the three other Mad Max movies? Doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that this man named Max (Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson) is a wanderer of the dystopian wastes where both gas and water are scarce. Captured by the cult of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the villain in the first Mad Max), Max is scavenged for his supplies and branded as the property of Joe. Seemingly trapped, Max gets the chance to be a reluctant hero again when one of Joe’s people, a war rig driver named Furiosa (Charlize Theron), aims to free Joe’s five wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton), who he is using as breeders.
Miller, who was the originator and the man behind the three previous Mad Max films, shows little regard for explaining himself through a lot of voice-overs and dialogue. Fury Road is nearly a completely visual viewing experience. So many movies like this feel the need to over-explain, to stop the action and describe the reason, rationale, and function of every vehicle, prop, or piece of equipment. A lesser filmmaker, or a weaker script, would have felt compelled to lay out the religious nonsense that Joe uses to manipulate his various slaves and “War Boys,” but the movie highlights well without words the extent of its villain’s cruelty, not to mention his ingenuity.
Hardy as the new Max? He’s effective. I can’t say that we get any real sense of him as the character, but as someone who can play mildly threatening and permanently gruff, Hardy gets the job done with aplomb. I’m not sure what kind of voice or accent he was trying to there, kind of a Vin Diesel meets Christian Bale‘s Batman but with good annunciation, but you have to have mad respect for an actor who wears a spiky metal mask in the middle of the desert for what must have been weeks. Hardy does have gravitas though, and he walks and talks like a hero and that’s basically all the script requires of him.
Theron is the real star of the movie. The major character arc is her’s, the emotional throughline of the story is hers, and between her and Max she has the most to sacrifice and the most to lose if the adventure goes wrong, as it inevitably will. Theron can definitely handle the part of the tough chick, she’s proven it before, but she ably makes herself right at home in the world of Mad Max, and dare I say she comes across as much tougher and heartier than, oddly enough, Hardy. The movie is called Mad Max, but it’s Furiosa’s story, and Theron wears it extremely well. It’s unsurprising that Theron’s name has already been tossed about for being the focus of a follow-up.
Rounding out the main cast is Nicholas Hoult as Nux, one of Joe’s War Boys, a group of young men who say they’re “half alive” and are looking to do their best to finish the job. Hoult takes a lot of punishment in this movie, but like Furiosa there’s still a story to tell there. I’m not sure if it was Miller’s intention to tell a story that makes hard implications about the cost of blind faith in a world with big issues to solve, but Fury Road can be read as a pro-atheist piece, and Nux is the chief character is its morality play. To Hoult’s credit he’s able to convincingly turn his character’s story from one of fanaticism to one of redemption.
But none of this is to suggest that Mad Max: Fury Road is a complicated think piece. Any heavy thinking is quite incidental because the film is nearly a two hour chase. An unrelenting, ever escalating chase through the desert where Max and Furiosa’s war rig is in constant pursuit by Joe and his allies, outnumbered and outgunned but with lots of moxy. It’s hard to say what’s real and what’s computerized in terms of effects, but the film does seem to rely a lot on what’s practical, a veritable army of customized, souped up automobiles built for functionality and fearsomeness.
The technical skills of the film crew exceed all expectations. Director of Photography John Seale outdoes himself capturing both the carnage of the chase, and the magnificently desolate vistas of Miller’s world. This is a film that deserves to be seen on as a big a screen as possible, and if you’re so inclined, it also earns permission to be seen in 3D. The film’s music by Junkie XL also adds to the ambiance with a driving, epic score that ratchets up the tension to match the on-screen action. Joe’s caravan includes rhythmic drummers and a guy with a flame-throwing guitar on a mobile stage with a hundred amps. I’m not sure that’s at all practical in world with resource scarcity, but it’s a perfect marriage of image and sound for these purposes.
When you hear about action movies, the term “edge of your seat” gets thrown around, but as the film climaxed through it’s final chase, I know that I was sitting on the edge of my own seat. There was an audible sigh of relief from the audience as each scene closed, which is a pretty good indication of a) just how intense each action sequence is, and b) how effectively the crowd, even those who weren’t even alive when the last Mad Max movie came out in 1985, got sucked into the film. That’s power, that in spite of all the latest big spectacles that fill our movie screens weekly, a movie can still draw us into its weird world so thoroughly. Even when, in essence, it’s about cars driving.