by: S. Scott Stanikmas
Mad Max: Fury Road, the latest installment in mastermind George Miller’s post-apocalypse saga, is an insane piece of filmmaking. More action stunt spectacle than anything else, this is still a movie with a great story and interesting characters. Miller shows that while he may have taken few years off to do more family friendly fare (the Babe movies about a talking pig and the penguin-centric Happy Feet flicks) he can still bring the goods when it comes to action and excitement.
In the character’s first appearance on a big screen after a three decade hiatus, we see “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) looking every bit as crazy and wild as his nickname would imply. On the run from the many ghosts of his past, Max soon finds himself the prey for one of the many roving gangs that call the Wasteland home.
The Wild Boys, fanatical followers of warlord and despot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne who played toe-cutter in the original Mad Max), capture our hero and take him back to their home base, The Citadel. Here, Max will be caged and used to “refuel” the wounded soldiers of Immortan Joe. The once powerful Mad Max is now reduced to a breathing blood pack.
While Max is caged and bled out, we get a glimpse of one of Joe’s top soldiers: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). This one-armed soldier is tasked with taking her rig and making the dangerous trek to bring back gasoline from Fuel Town and ammunition from the Bullet Farm. With an escort of War Boys to keep her company, Furiosa needs to find a way to enact her real mission – the escape of Immortan Joe’s “wives.” These five women, being held against their will, are looked at as perfect breeding stock for the next generation of warlords created in Joe’s own image.
Realizing what’s happened, Immortan Joe calls a war party out to re-capture the rogue Imperator and his “property.” Every War Boy standing hears the call to arms, including the injured Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who just happens to be using Max as his personal IV drip. Not yet fully recharged, Nux and his fellow War Boy tie Max to the front of their vehicle as they try to be the first to capture Furiosa and the five escaped women. Signaling for help from his allies in Fuel Town and the Bullet Farm, Joe bears down with all he’s got as Furiosa and her group attempt their escape across the hellish Wasteland to freedom.
Fury Road has been stewing for quite some time in the mind of co-writer / director Geroge Miller. If this is the kind of output we get after waiting thirty years for another trip to the apocalyptic outback, then it was damn well worth it. This film revs its engines and starts the chase early on and doesn’t let up often.
With all this action one might think that this film would be light on plot. While there wasn’t much in terms of meaningful dialogue for some stretches, this movie in no way eschews character development for big explosions. When we do get exposition from the characters not a word gets wasted. In a world where every utterance might be their last, the cast of Mad Max: Fury Road does more with its short, staccato bursts of talking than most films do with five minute soliloquys.
While Tom Hardy takes center stage as out titular hero, Charlize Theron does a good portion of the heavy lifting, acting and action-wise. Her performance is on a scale with Linda Hamilton in the Terminator films and Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise. It’s nice to see a female hero who doesn’t get “damsel-in-distressed” and can hold her own when the shit hits the fan.
Cinematographer John Seale was exquisite in his approach to portraying the dying world that made up Fury Road. The days were unrelentingly and unapologetically bright and blinding while the nights were dreary and bleak, under a blue-grey sky that conveyed the feeling of being on another planet entirely. The contrast was simply beautiful. There’s a scene where everyone is bathed in the color of the nighttime sky as they await the return of Max. Then we see the Road Warrior himself, similarly colored but also soaked in red blood, looking like a panel from a Frank Miller Sin City comic book. It was breathtakingly gorgeous and terrifyingly scary all at the same time.
The score by Junkie XL was a perfect example of how much music can influence the feeling of a film, much like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. His breakneck musical pace made it feel like all cylinders were firing for almost the entire two hours I was in my seat (It pretty much was).
The flaws were few and far between. I felt the overall arc of Nux was rushed and felt a little off-key for what we knew of the character. And Tom Hardy’s accent kept slipping every once in a while. If I closed my eyes I thought I heard a little bit of Tommy Conlon from Warrior and other times a hint of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. But those are minor quibbles when the story and action blended so well together to create a flat-out masterpiece in action filmmaking.
Just a few weeks ago, we had the much anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters. That film managed to use pretty much the whole world as its stage with the fate of mankind in the balance and it still fell a little flat. Meanwhile Mad Max: Fury Road took place on a much smaller scale (if you can call a vast chunk of desert “small”) with far fewer lives at stake, but it still had a much more epic feel to it, which speaks volumes to the level of the filmmaking.
This smash-‘em up demolition derby from hell was a lesson in storytelling and how to develop characters without relying on introspective navel-gazing. In Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller has managed to craft an almost perfect summer action movie.