Heart-stopping and weird. Mad Max: Fury Road rockets past exposition and hurls us into the most extreme of wasteland futures where men kill for gasoline. Insane killing and maiming, this is the meanest of action flicks! But ahh, it’s something more. Director George Miller, at age 70, hasn’t directed that many films as he should have since his 1979 debut “Mad Max” (he has 9 major credits), but he has vibrantly resurrected his franchise brainchild as well as used it as a lesson to teach Hollywood: Hey, this is how you make action films. Use wide lenses! Blow up the size of the image! Accelerate the frame rate speed but don’t cut up the images too fast! Bring in some unique fetishes to the skies, the vehicles, the weapons, and – how about for background characters – dreadlocked fashionistas who play guitar and drum death metal music!
Quickly, we pick up on how the dystopian future is divided. Different clans are perpetually with war with each other and lone dissenters are picked up to be blood banks or organ transplants. Max (Tom Hardy) is about to be wasted by becoming a human blood bank at an evil citadel populated by white-painted crazies. Then we cut to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, who brings incomparable strength to the role), who is the driver of a rig sent out on a mission, only to dissent against her empire – she is rescuing five immaculate beauties that were held for breeding by their tyrannical master Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, whom we rarely glimpse his gruesome face behind his mask). The destination is a salvation called “the green place,” but first they have to outrun Immortan Joe’s army.
Consider something usual here: the female characters have as much, maybe stronger, narrative interest than Tom Hardy – whom by the way, is more imposing as a dangerous man than Mel Gibson was.
The few complaints against “Fury Road” is that it’s one long chase through a treacherous desert. But what a visionary chase! I’m not counting the tricked-up “Fast & Furious” movies or the slice-and-diced “Transporter” movies, but seriously, there has been a movie drought when it comes to good car chases in the movies in recent years. The “Bourne” and “Dark Knight” series had them, and Ben Affleck’s “The Town” had a zig-zaggy one through narrow Boston streets. “Fury Road” might be the ultimate chase film of this early century.
Out in the desert, the bad guys can’t just shoot down the rig because they need the women aboard which are the salvation of the future. There are few women. The unspoken goal is turn over the vehicles, kill Max or whatever men are aboard, and reclaim the women. Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley are among the beauties. Theron plays Furiosa like a woman who was once beautiful until she decided a shaved and savage look would allow her to assimilate with the boys.
All the males are savages, most have never touched a woman or have hope in ever touching a woman. Some of them become kamikazes by spraying their mouth with nitro-glycerin and lighting themselves up as bombs – the ones that fail, I still figure, will one day die young of cancer. In Miller’s world, the men are possessed by violence, and because of that somehow, the chase is infused with crazed psychological interest.
I nearly disagree with the story direction in the last third, but the more I’ve thought about it, I suppose it’s what these characters would choose to do. Heroically, the film pays off and triumphantly the characters get what they want on their terms. But Miller, even in the last shots, never forgets the madness. And Hardy plays Max like he was born to play him.
This is the fourth Mad Max film. The first “Mad Max” (1979) had a good concept but I never felt it coherently came together nor had a substantial enough pay-off. “The Road Warrior” (1982) is an action masterpiece to many and considered unsurpassable – it’s sensational, but there was always one flawed shot that bugged me, this ungainly static shot in the climactic action sequence juxtaposed with other fast-moving shots. “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) has such internet bad rap for some reason that I humbly raise my voice and offer my opinion that much of it is brilliant, albeit the movie has uneven story construction.
“Fury Road” to me is the best of the franchise, and because of the cast of crazies and portents of doom, it’s also one of the great artistic achievements of the year.
120 Minutes. Rated R.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / ACTION FANS / BLOCKBUSTER WEEKEND
Film Cousins: “Mad Max” (1979); “The Road Warrior” (1982); “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985); “The Road” (2009).