Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie about dry, stark insanity, where life is worthless and man is reduced to one instinct: survival.
And I’m reduced to one question: “How did they make a movie that worked perfectly for the moviegoer like me?”
The opening monologue, provided by Max’s new actor Tom Hardy, is a dry relation of the films general background; a post apocalyptic world where, after unending wars, nuclear devastation and humanity being driven to anarchy, the world has become mad—the most mad it has been in the entire series.
From beginning to end, Fury Road holds onto a particular tone that is never quite so mournful that it can’t bask in its 12-year-old sense of joyful havoc. Hardy stares out into the desert, a dry color palette that will not change in the next two hours. Everything is dirty, from the cars with their rusted exteriors to the people who drive them; the character designs in this film are top notch.
Fury Road is an extension as well as a degeneration of director George Miller’s previous films in the series. While those drove with similar themes, they were much more subdued than this latest adventure. While Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was responsible for greatly influencing the modern post-apocalyptic genre, including leather armor and insane marauders sporting bondage gear and screaming at the top of their lungs, you never truly got to see the depravity of their society, nor did you have so much on-road carnage as the latest adventure. Mad Max: Fury Road revels in it. When the action comes, it comes on fierce like nitro. CG effects and Framerate tricks, which in other films might have been used to fill out the vehicle carnage, instead the real cars and explosions they used here give the film an otherworldly sense, like the moviegoer is suffering from their own madness.
Scenes of broodmothers literally being milked like cows, starving masses of hundreds of people bowing down to a man placed into god-like status and rooms full of live humans being used as blood bags drive by with little fanfare or question. The movie displays the sedentary life of such a society driven to the brink, which is then juxtaposed against the violence set on the road. It is satire in the same vein of George Romero’s early zombie films. Characters are gross representations of real life counterparts, from The Bullet Farmer (Richard Carter), a man riding around on a tank made out of a car chassis on treads screaming about vengeance, to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) as the self proclaimed demi-god whose grotesque mask puffs air behind his back in large bellows, literally inflating himself.
A majority of the film takes place on titular “Fury Road,” essentially one long action sequence where the moments to catch your breath are still filled with a gripping tension. The movie has the main characters on the run from Immortan Joe, an egomaniacal, self-proclaimed messiah in control of huge water reserves with which he uses to keep the surrounding area under his control. Huddled into one 18-Wheeler truck, the main characters face huge hoards of souped-up vehicles trying to catch up and murder them. From beginning to climax, not one scene dragged. The moments of pure brilliance, such as the scene driving through the storm, could have been the end sequence to any other action movie. Here the climax is reached steadily and with confirming satisfaction. With all the fears of production troubles before the film was released, none of that shows up here. The film works.
What is interesting, especially compared to the previous films in the series, is that Max is not even the main character. That title goes to Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who takes the concept of “femme-fatale” and steps on it, grinding it into the dirt with her heel. Others have already related Fury Road to a feminist crusade destroying the concept of the patriarchy, and in many ways is a rather good interpretation. It is a great example of a film whose subtext is expressly feministic. This is perhaps the best feminist action film to date.
Max becomes less of a character and more of a framing device. Strangely, even though the two previous films had Max seemingly deal with the death of his family in the first film, he still has hallucinations of his young daughter’s death. This is never truly explained or even dealt with except for one scene towards the end, which has the hallucinations save Max’s life. The film’s lack of character development is rarely so detrimental, but character motivation is not touched on in any real sense. Max’s only motivation, “survive,” has less impact than it had in The Road Warrior when the movie focuses less on his personal baggage. The movie never delves into Furiosa’s mind as much as it should to give context to her actions. Most emotional baggage is carried by the supporting cast riding in the rig with them. The actors do fine jobs all around, but the lack of character development is the movie’s most derisive factor.
But what Mad Max: Fury Road accomplishes cannot be understated. It is more than a summer action film, takes a grand idea and rolls with it. The metaphor does not supplant itself to the detriment of the viewer, instead it goes all the way around and engulfs the movie in a sense of importance. This is a movie where the style takes precedence, where a large thumping drum drives the story towards its end in an extremely satisfying way.
Other high-octane action films have a new bar to reach.
4.5 out of 5 Stars.