Speechless. Breathless. Pulse pounding. “Mad Max” began in 1979 as a B-movie that eventually developed a cult following, but “Fury Road” is something new. George Miller, I’m forever grateful you returned to the post-apocalyptic world you know so well. As Nux (Nicholas Hoult) says, “What a day. What a lovely day.” And may we enjoy many more thanks to multiple viewings of the year’s best actioner in both narrative depth and insane visual splendor.
Max (Tom Hardy) might be the titular character, but Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is the driving force. We waste no time — no need for exposition. Desert blankets the Earth, and Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) leads his War Boys, loyal to the end and ready to enter Valhalla if their time comes. But rather than fall in line, Furiosa, tasked with gathering supplies, decides to go off mission and flee with the big bad’s five wives: Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast (Zoë Kravitz), Capable (Riley Keough), The Dag (Abbey Lee) and Cheedo (Courtney Eaton).
Furious and ready to get fast, Joe takes his entire army in hot pursuit, including the recently imprisoned Max, who’s strapped to the hood of Nux’s car, supplying blood for the weakened War Boy.
Following a glorious chase sequence, Max escapes and begrudgingly joins Furiosa’s cause, all the while haunted by the demons of his past (see the original “Mad Max” for more context on that one).
“Mad Max” created a visual aesthetic all its own. Just imagine 1980s punk rockers taking over the world. In “Fury Road”, they cranked that one up to 11. You don’t understand love, pain or insanity until you’ve seen a custom-made car with drums on the back and a flame-throwing guitarist on bungee chords announcing every war cry with metal licks (but he never does touch the bass portion of his double-necked ax).
It’s all so wonderfully outlandish, but nothing I say can truly convince you to see it. Everything just sounds so preposterous. And it is. It’s so satisfyingly preposterous that you really need to watch and re-watch it several times to catch every incredible stunt and piece of production design. At $150 million, Mr. Miller finally got the budget he deserves (the previous highest budgeted film in the series was “Max Mad Beyond Thunderdome” at $12 million), and he uses it all on automotive hardbodies and their fiery demises.
After experiencing something that gave me more anxiety than saying, “I love you,” action packed seems like such a juvenile description. Out of the two-hour runtime, you won’t find more than a couple verses of “Happy Birthday” to take a breath before the chase starts up again.
Miller doesn’t even bother to explain his world. You’re in or you’re out.
If you want a deep philosophical discussion about how the world fell apart and how evil people took over, I’m sure Albert Camus can give you a few suggestions.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is what lies beneath every exploding vehicle. “Fury Road” might just be as heavy on character development as it is on epic “epicness.” Miller just knows how to do it all on the go. This isn’t overbearing machismo. I mean, it is, kind of.
But with a leading cast that’s mostly women (they meet up with many others too), it’s refreshing to view something that breaks the Bechdel test. (Simple test: Does a film have more than one female character and, if so, do they talk about something other than the leading men?) And let’s not forget that Miller brought in Eve Ensler, playwright of “The Vagina Monologues”, as a special consultant. This movie rules.
As for Max, he’s always been a character of few words, especially in a film that highlights his traumatic past. We all know the poor guy has seen some things, so it’s entirely OK that he just sticks to himself, speaking when needed, following Furiosa’s lead. Don’t worry though. He’s “bad-A” when he needs to be. And he needs to be a lot. Hardy replaces Mel Gibson nicely.
But Hardy’s Max is nothing without Theron’s Furiosa. With a prosthetic left arm and an endless supply of black oil to cover her eyes and forehead, she’s a corrective for women’s absence in summer blockbusters. And I really want her crossbow gun. No clue how it works — it just rules, like this film.
It took Miller 10 years to bring his beloved creation back to the big screen. That green light couldn’t come sooner. With a sequel in the works currently dubbed “The Wasteland”, I might just start my own apocalypse if I have to wait another decade.
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