Oh what a day, what a lovely day! Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie that I feel like I’ve been waiting for forever. This is the fourth entry into the franchise, following 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome a whopping thirty years later. However, unlike most modern revivals of old 80’s properties this one isn’t a remake or a reboot. It’s another stand alone sequel and it’s even got George Miller, the director of the three previous entries at the helm once again. It’s a bit unclear as to exactly where in the timeline this takes place, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Each entry can be taken and digested on its’ own, and Fury Road is no different.
Almost immediately after getting a brief intro to the post-apocalypse and being reintroduced to Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), our hero is attacked and chained into slavery by a group of “War Boys” loyal to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tyrannical warlord that treats humans like property and feeds off of the desperation of the people who follow him. Soon after, Max is caught up in the middle of an attempt by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to smuggle a group of women out of Immortan Joe’s desert fortress, The Citadel. What follows is two hours of pure insanity as they carve a warpath through the desert in a flurry of bullets, fire, gasoline, and bloodshed.Mad Max: Fury Road is basically Chase Scene: The Movie, because once they get going, they never stop moving. It’s a rather simple premise and while it is certainly well-written for what it is, it must definitely lean on the cast and directing to make or break the film. Fortunately, those thirty years of directing things like Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City have not softened George Miller up in the slightest. Every car chase is exciting and completely full of adrenaline in a way that I haven’t seen in big movies in a long time. Miller picks up right where he left off and if you had told me that he filmed this back to back with The Road Warrior, I might just believe you. A lot of which has to do with the fact that much of the film was real. There’s certainly a fair amount of CGI where it’s appropriate, but those vehicles actually exist, and they are actually out there in an actual desert. This makes a huge difference in how the film comes off in terms of grittiness. You can just feel the heat from every explosion and it sucks you into the action immediately.
While the original director came back to reignite the franchise, the titular hero was recast. Tom Hardy had some big shoes to fill, being the first person to play the role of Mad Max since Mel Gibson made it famous. He’s a really solid choice and adapts a “less is more” mantra to his approach. Hardy says very little in this film, instead allowing his actions to speak for him, and it works. At the beginning he’s desperate. He’s untrusting, and rightfully so. Having just been literally forced into slavery while still dealing with the memories of the tragedy from the original Mad Max, he acts almost like an animal and does some rather questionable things that most modern blockbusters would never think to have their hero do. He loosens up and grows as a character in a noticeable, but subtle way by the time the credits roll, and it’s extremely satisfying.
Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is right alongside Max for most of the film and in a lot ways she steals the show. She’s a great foil for him since while he starts out totally selfish and out only for himself, her motivations are much more altruistic. She has hope, and an absolute need to get these women to safety. Don’t mistake her for soft, though. She’s every bit as tough and ready to throw down as Max is and the kind of strong heroine that we desperately need to see more of. On top of all that, this is her story. Max just happens to be along for the ride. Hugh Keays-Byrne is great as Immortan Joe as well, which is fitting considering this is his second villainous role in the franchise after playing Toecutter in the original film. Immortan Joe is a bizarre and completely despicable scumbag. He’s a strange combination of warlord, evangelist, and human trafficker all rolled into one, and not a character I’ll be forgetting any time soon.
Probably the most famous aspect of the Mad Max films, especially The Road Warrior is the production design. And in Fury Road it is absolutely brilliant. Every set, every costume, and every vehicle just oozes with life and personality. Everything fits into the aesthetic that has been established by the earlier movies, but it doesn’t come off like a retread in the least. There are several factions introduced and every one of them has their own unique look whether it be cars that are vaguely porcupine-esque or costumes that are comprised mainly of bullets. Every character, even if they are only onscreen for a second, has an interesting and personalized look. Details like these really help to bring this world to life, and given that they are generally set against an infinite desert in every direction, this was crucial.
Like I mentioned before, this has a very simple premise. It’s a long chase scene involving gangs of grim and cartoonish villains attempting to re-enslave a group of women who want nothing more than to escape their “husband.” Still, the script has plenty of well-written characters and it tends not to go in the direction you might predict. A few times I expected things to go the way I’ve seen other films handle a similar situation, but this is not other films. Themes of hope vs paranoia are prevalent throughout, with Max questioning how far one should go to survive before they’ve truly gone mad and Furiosa representing an alternate approach. Both are fighters, both are survivors, but one of them still has people in their life to care for. So while this isn’t really a deep and complex narrative, there’s just enough going on here to keep me satisfied.
Mad Max: Fury Road is everything I wanted it to be. It’s a straight up balls-to-the-wall action spectacular and it doesn’t let up even for a second. It’s relentless. Is it a case of style over substance? Maybe, but that’s not to say the script is bad by any means. While the plot is simple, it’s well-written and the characters are fleshed out and memorable. The cast does an admirable job with Hardy filling Gibson’s shoes nicely and Theron providing one of the best strong female protagonists in years. It’s gritty, it’s action packed, and I can’t wait for the next one. Go see this movie!
WICKED RATING: [usr 9]
Director(s): George Miller
Writer(s): George Miller, Brandan McCarthy,
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Release: May 15, 2015
Studio/Production Co: Kennedy Miller Mitchell, Village Roadshow Pictures
Length: 120 Minutes