Here it is, America. Someone heard your complaints about endless blockbusters with no substance, full of fight scenes of CGI creations punching each other repeatedly, while shot in simulated shaky-cam, and has decided to gift you with an action spectacle for the ages; one that excels in every way. From its jaw-dropping practical effects to the stunning editing to its memorable characters and thematic depth; the work of a true auteur working at the top of his game. You’ve been heard, and now your wish has been granted. You wouldn’t screw it up by going to see a sequel to a movie about singing competitions instead, would you? Oh wait…
All kidding aside, Mad Max: Fury Road is an astonishing achievement. It may truly be the greatest Mad Max installment yet, and possibly the finest of director George Miller’s career.
Fury Road hits the ground running. Someone killed the world; Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) patrolled the roads of this post-apocalyptic nightmare until he was pushed over the edge by memories of those he couldn’t save; and now his existence is boiled down to one instinct: survive. That’s all you need to know going in, and Fury Road tells you in the first three minutes.
Max is captured by a battalion of chalk-skinned War Boys in service to warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and brought to his Citadel, where his top lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is about to embark on a “guzzoline” run. Unknown to Joe, Furiosa is absconding with his five favorite brides to The Green Place, an idyllic oasis from which she was kidnapped as a child. Fate intervenes, and Max and Furiosa are thrown together in an uneasy alliance as they make their way to paradise, with three war parties hot on their tail.
Fury Road plays like the best adaptation of a 2000 A.D. comic that doesn’t exist. Names like Imperator Furiosa and Rictus Erectus sound like they sprung from the mind of John Wagner or Peter Milligan; and Brendan McCarthy, a veteran of the UK weekly comics institution, is credited as the film’s co-writer for the over 3,000 storyboards he created with Miller in lieu of a traditional script. McCarthy’s influence can be felt throughout the film, especially in the inspired character designs and near-psychedelic color grading that infuses every frame with an eye-popping vitality.
Unlike the majority of modern action cinema, Fury Road’s staging is crystal clear. No shaky-cam here: Miller handles the camera with the simultaneous self-assurance of an old master and the giddy verve of a Young Turk. Fury Road’s finest sequences of auto chases and battles with multiple combatants and several story threads are pulled of with ease, making the whole thing look almost easy; emphasis on almost. These passages play as pure cinema, doing things that only this art form can.
Tom Hardy is wonderful as Max, playing him as a more damaged character than Mel Gibson’s portrayal. But as great as Hardy is, this is Theron’s show. Furiosa is the more complex character, whose need for redemption powers the plot and whose emotional arc gives the movie its heart. Fury Road is an unmistakably feminist statement, and gives each of its female characters, from Furiosa to Immortan Joe’s brides and beyond, real shading. The movie is an explicit triumph of a matriarchal society over the patriarchy, the very system that led to the destruction of their world in the first place. Mens’ rights groups are up in arms about the “feminist propaganda” of Mad Max: Fury Road. This can only be a good thing.
For a film to satisfy both the requirements of the most jaded action junkie and the Bechdel test is truly remarkable. Fury Road is a demonstration of what happens when a great filmmaker is given the resources to make his vision, his way. Make the world a better place: see it in theaters and maybe the studios will make more large-scale genre films with vision instead of big-screen treatments of mediocre 80’s cartoons. It doesn’t hurt to dream.