You don’t know crazy until you’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road. Coming from “mastermind” George Miller, this full tilt adrenaline rush of a feature is an absolute knockout, one of the most in-your-face action movies in recent years. This is a perfect example of what an action movie needs to be in the twenty-first century (plus a great deal of insane looking crazy people and guitars that shoot flames out of the tip). Yeah, this movie is nuts, and that’s just how we like it.
Picking up after the events of Beyond Thunderdome, Fury Road continues with the adventures of Max Rockatansky, a lone drifter who spends his time wandering the deserted plains of the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland. This is, of course, how each of the three Mad Max movies begin, clearly showing that Max is a character hell-bent on traveling alone, searching for water, oil, and whatever else it is that the crazed lunatics running the deserted sanctions of the wasteland are searching for.
And just like in the original Mad Max movies, he doesn’t get his way. Even when there’s a ridiculous amount of vast, empty space surrounding the characters, someone in need always comes across his path. In Fury Road, it’s Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a badass fugitive imperator carrying a group of other female fugitives across the wasteland and away from King Immortan Joe. Joe is a religious figure of sorts who is worshipped and feared by a colony of uncivilized savages (among which are murderers and cannibals and other disturbing crazy folks), decked out with a spooky mask that gives him a demon/human-hybrid look.
This is just a taste of what Fury Road has to offer, and much of what comes after it is almost impossible to sum up in words. You have to see it to believe it. Seventy-year-old director George Miller, who created the Mad Max franchise and directed all three films (the last of which released thirty years ago), returns to the action genre with a vengeance, rubbing his talent in the face of unsuccessful young action directors and showing them up, proving that age isn’t a factor when it comes to making a quality movie. After a thirty year break in which he directed ki-friendly films like Babe 2 and the Happy Feet movies, Miller drops himself into the desolate universe he created with an uncompromising level of authenticity and intricacy. In Fury Road, Miller proves that this is his world; he knows it better than anyone, and he also knows action better than (maybe?) anyone in the entire industry.
And there’s no overstating the action. The seventy-year-old Miller has constructed an action movie of absolute brilliance, with a level of brutality and filmographic risks that directors half his age wouldn’t dream of taking. From scene one, Fury Road doesn’t stop, mimicking the style of James Cameron’s first Terminator film which was essentially one feature length chase sequence. In the case of Fury Road, this chase sequence, which does last the entire running time, is on wheels. We track with Max and Furiosa, who drives a massive rig (it’s called the War Rig), which suddenly becomes the main point of scenery for the film’s larger than life action sequences, which roar to vigorous and strangely unique life when things like flame-wielding guitars are used as weapons. This is a Mad Max movie front and center.
From the minute we meet Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, we can only guess what we’re getting into. In this particular movie, George Miller takes what could be a “the-girl-needs-the-guy-to-help-her-across-the-land” kind of story and switches things up, giving Furiosa a bulk of screen time and giving her the big rig that Max needs to get across the land. As most critics have pointed out, the movie does have a feministic crutch, which holds it up to a higher level of quality and originality.
As Furiosa, Theron, an already iconic female screen presence, is the Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow for the 2015 movie season. From the minute we meet her, we recognize just what George Miller has up his sleeve, taking his Mad Max franchise and giving it a timely update, giving a woman the center stage. But it never feels like a call for political correctness. No, this feels as if Miller has been wanting to work with Theron for ages, and she dominates the screen with a magnificent performance that evokes energy, sympathy, and badassery.
But despite Charlize Theron’s kickass female desert warrior stealing the show (as far as acting is concerned), this is a Mad Max movie, and who better to step into the shoes once worn by Mel Gibson than Tom Hardy. The London-born actor treads similar ground for the first act of this installment as he did in The Dark Knight Rises, with his mouth being caged by a kind of metallic barring, but Hardy is terrific as Max, deftly stepping into Gibson’s shoes without fear, and giving a performance of impenetrable stillness and submission.
Max is a quiet character, but in George Miller’s world, actions certainly speak louder than words. From the minute this freight train of a movie begins, the action is primary, hearkening back to the good old days when a good action movie was made with a passion for good action. Even though Mr. Miller hasn’t made a Mad Max movie in three decades, he comes back unscathed and fully loaded. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been sitting back quietly for the past few decades, watching action deteriorate and taking notes, preparing for his triumphant return in hopes to make it as remarkable and fresh as possible.
It isn’t only the action that is great though. As we all speculated from the release of the original poster, this is simply a gorgeous movie. Nearly every shot is lit with a beautiful sense of precision and ionic, robust colors. The movie is stuffed with welcome surprises, ranging from a strong performance from Nicolas Hoult, surprising character depth, kickass cars/tanks, fiery explosions, a vibrant and effective musical score by Junkie XL, and a creepy central villain that really works. But when I walked out of it, I was thinking of nothing but the action. Believe the hype. This is some of the best action we’ve seen in movies in quite some time. It’s too early to say if Tom Hardy is as good as Mel Gibson in the role of the titular character, but know this: he’s great, and so is Theron, who steals the movie as the heroine of all heroines.
And all hail the return of George Miller, who brings his style of action back with a wrathful hand that is shaking at the wealth of incompetent young action directors. Those directors should look to old action directors like John McTiernan (Die Hard) and new ones like Gareth Evans (The Raid). And if they want the best of both worlds, here’s George Miller. He’s back, and he’s brought a new action classic with him.
Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicolas Hoult
Written by George Miller and Nick Lathouris
Directed by George Miller