Mad Max: Fury Road is a beautifully strange, violent and thrilling cinematic composition that proves George Miller is a more brilliant maestro than ever.
Mad Max: Fury Road brings us back to filmmaker George Miller’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world, where we once again find former cop/drifter Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) driving through the wasteland, trying to stay one gear-shift ahead of vehicular marauders on his tail. That fight for survival takes a bad turn when Max is captured by “The Wild Boys,” a fanatical cult led by Immortan Joe, a ruthless (and hideous) warlord who controls the water supply – and therefore, the people.
Max’s fate soon collides with that of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), one of Joe’s prized lieutenants and driver of the fearsome “war rig.” As yet another slave of Joe’s cruel rule, Furiosa executes a brazen plan to smuggle Joe’s harem of girls (“The Five Wives”) out of captivity, and hopefully to the freedom of her true homeland. Joe and his War Boys set off in pursuit of Furiosa (with Max in tow), but as the “lovely day” grinds on, and pushes them all across the scathing harshness of Fury Road, Max slowly recognizes that Furiosa and her crew are a cause worth fighting for – while the girls discover a lethal (and insane) ally in Mad Max.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a beautifully strange, violent and thrilling cinematic composition that proves George Miller is a more brilliant maestro than ever. It firmly swats down the stigma that soft reboots or long-coming sequels are an inherently bad idea, and proves what can happen when old films are updated in a creatively authentic way.
On a directorial level, Fury Road unfolds like a visually stunning and well-crafted cinematic short story – one where every image and sequence is at once iconographic in composition, but also utilitarian in its job of conveying a larger story beyond the image itself. That level of visual sophistication gets superimposed onto the uniquely pulpy sci-fi world that Miller created in the original Mad Max trilogy; a world so fully imagined and realized that it is able to transcend B-movie kitsch to become something more artful.
The opening act of the film is a perfect example: Miller deftly and beautifully establishes much of the world, supporting characters, and story arc using well-selected images and very little dialogue, while we simultaneously reconnect with Max through voice-over monologue that (like the film itself) teeters the line between poetry and camp, but somehow works in the context of this dystopian opera. Miller has also constructed one of the most gender irrelevant action films, ever. When the bullets start flying and the cars crashing, the girls mix it up as bloody and violently as any of the boys, and even the “Five Wives” are developed well enough to have interesting individual personalities, rather than being simple ‘damsel in distress’ MacGuffins.
On the action front, Fury Road is a wonderfully refreshing throwback to the days of practical filmmaking and stunt work, which action fans will no doubt appreciate. The vehicles, characters, and sets are mostly tangible and real, and the few CGI-heavy sequences (like the desert storm) are visually stunning and well-executed (especially in immersive 3D). The stunt choreography is truly top-notch, and combined with Miller’s directorial eye – and some gorgeous cinematography from Oscar-winner John Seale (The English Patient) – Fury Road’s non-stop car chase is one of the most thrilling and exciting action movie experiences in years. The soundtrack by Junkie XL sets the rhythm and keeps the pulse of the film racing – as is humorously referenced in the film itself, by the colorful freaks who serve as musicians in Immortan Joe’s war caravan.
Miller’s script with original Mad Max actor Nick Lathouris and longtime storyboard artist Brendan McCarthy (TMNT, 1990) is not quite as tight as the visual composition of the film. That fact is denoted by the amount of episodic starts and stops in the story, which are clearly marked by the many fade outs and fade ins that Miller uses to break things up.
Somehow, within the restrictive space of a truck cabin – set within one long, frantic car chase – there is still an overabundance of characters and subplots, some of which never develop into anything all that necessary or relevant (ex: the Nux and Lady “Capable” romance). This slightly bloated narrative results in dragging the film out slightly past its welcome, whereas slimmer trimming would’ve kept things tighter. As previously stated, the dialogue (or monologues) in the film teeter on a line between campy and poetic, and don’t always land on the right side of that line. But that’s largely forgivable, since Miller’s mad world is so convincingly established that deciphering slang or listening to/watching overly grandiose moments is still a kitschy sort of fun.
Tom Hardy builds on The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless to once again turn in some impressively memorable “mush-mouth” character acting. With a minimum of dialogue (mostly grunts and gestures), Hardy creates a Mad Max that is familiar but still all his own, balancing menace, madness, savagery, humor and deep-seeded pain and compassion all in one wild-eyed stare, and displaying some great action chops. It feels as though even with a new actor in the role, the legacy of Miller’s previous trilogy is still alive in the character, which is a feat unto itself. But Max is not the real star of the film – rather he is the constant of what can now be considered an anthology of short stories about a dystopian world, featuring the Mad Max character.
In this particular chapter it is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa who is the main protagonist, and Theron has never been more badass and shining in a lead role. Furiosa is strong, vulnerable, smart, compassionate, ruthlessly violent and disfiguredly beautiful, and Theron steers her perfectly through her character arc, which happens to be the most dramatic and dynamic arc in the whole movie. Theron and Hardy also play wonderfully off one another, building a convincing partnership through looks and gestures rather than dialogue; the pair also have one of the better fight sequences seen all year.
On the supporting front, actor Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: DoFP, Warm Bodies) continues to be a young standout performer, bringing depth and three-dimensionality to “Nux,” that “What a lovely day!” Wild Boy who starts out wanting the prize of taking Furiosa down, only to end up sympathizing with The Five Wives’ plight. Miller manages to turn The Five Wives’ model-esque looks on their head, transforming beauty into a source of danger and tragedy (rather than titillation) in the scorched earth, while also pulling some of the more interesting performances out of the likes of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers 3), Zoë Kravitz (X-Men: First Class), Riley Keough (The Runaways), and Australian models-turned-actresses, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton.
The other supporting cast members are made up of fun figures that may spark some “seen them somewhere” memories. Villain Immortan Joe is actually Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played “The Toe-Cutter” in the original Mad Max. Nicholas Hoult’s X-Men co-star Josh Helman (young William Stryker) plays Nux’s vehicular wing-man, Slit; Australian strongman Nathan Jones (Troy, Conan the Barbarian) plays Joe’s man-child son, Rictus Erecturs; while veteran Australian actors like Melissa Jaffer, Richard Carter and John Howard appear as various allies/lieutenants of both Furiosa and Immortan Joe.
In the end, Mad Max: Fury Road is a an action-movie classic, a “must-see” summer blockbuster, and one of few long-coming sequels/soft reboots that not only deserves to exist, but is blessedly welcome. Consider the Mad Max franchise to be thoroughly revitalized, and if this is the last film that seventy-year-old George Miller makes, he’d have the honor of going out on an extremely high note, having arguably completed the most solid quadrilogy of films ever made by a single director.
Turn summer into a “lovely day” and go see Mad Max: Fury Road in all its mad mayhem glory.
Mad Max: Fury Road is now playing in theaters. It is 120 minutes long and is Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.