Stop what you’re doing, put down that baby, and grab your leather garb and sawed-off shotguns – we’re going to talk all things Mad Max: Fury Road! I have been building up this series for what seems like an eternity, and thanks to an amazing advance screening by our friends over at the
Drafthouse, the long wait for Max Rockatansky’s next adventure is finally at an end. You can rest assured I am still hoarse from cheering so loud and so often during this surreal premiere. Fans of the franchise and newcomers rejoice! Fury Road is nothing short of a masterpiece of adrenaline-pumping mayhem and high-octane action sequences!
Yes, yes – I know what you’re going to say. I skipped the review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when I clearly stated that I would delve into each of the original three films. Trust me when I say you didn’t miss much. Why would I even bother to talk about the weakest entry in the series when I could enlighten you by reviewing the cacophony of sound and fury barreling down a toxic wasteland that is Fury Road? Step aside Tina Turner, we’re sitting on 2000 Horsepower of nitro-boosted war machine and the world is about to go mad with Mad Max fervor! Oh what a lovely fucking day!
As luck would have it, one benefit of the Mad Max films is they are all loosely connected at best, so it doesn’t really matter if you’ve seen any or all of the first three. The character of Max is generally ageless and archetypal as far as mysterious heroes go. Thanks to the voiceover in the opening credits and a bit of exposition by Tom Hardy as Max, we are quickly caught up to speed with the franchise as well as the silent and brooding road warrior. There’s been some ambiguous post-apocalyptic event, fresh water and gas are in short supply, and survivors live a harsh and violent existence. Max is one such scavenger who has lost his wife and child, and has been reduced to one primal instinct – Survive!
That’s about all you need to know to completely familiarize yourself with the series, so it doesn’t really matter where Fury Road lies on the timeline. As the film begins, we find Max and his black interceptor chased down and imprisoned by the goons of a nearby society. The Citadel, as it is called, is ruled by the infamous patriarch Immortan Joe who commands legions of pasty-white ‘War Boys’ and their vehicular war machines. In an almost cult-like manner, Joe is worshipped by a ragged and diseased populous since he and his dynasty control the fresh water supply.
When his top lieutenant – Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – detours into the wasteland during a routine supply run for ‘guzzoline’ (gas), Immortan Joe quickly realizes she has stolen his harem of 5 wives (including a heavily pregnant Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Since they are essentially his breeding stock, sex slaves – whatever you want to call them, he quickly dispatches his fleet of war rigs in pursuit. Meanwhile, one of the War Boys Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult, is receiving a blood transfusion from the then captive Max. Eager to join the chase, Nux straps Max to the front of his car, needles and all, and joins the other hounds of hell roaring into the desert.
During the chaos of a sandstorm, Max eventually escapes and reluctantly joins forces with Furiosa in her desperate gamble to transport her scantily clad cargo to the mythical ‘Green Place’. There they hope to find salvation from the harshness of their captivity in a proverbial paradise. So essentially the movie is just one long chase scene that pits the passengers of a desperate oil tanker against hordes of baddies. Sound familiar? It should. That’s basically the premise to Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. With Fury Road, Miller just strips the script down a barebone narrative of rage and momentum and revs his directorial engines louder than ever before.
If you’re looking for the purest of action films, then look no further as this is just 2 hours of continuous mayhem and more importantly – fun. I honestly can’t recall having a more enjoyable time watching a movie in a theater. This is edge-of-your-seat entertainment that is accompanied by the symphony of cheers and ‘Fuck yeahs’ erupting from your fellow movie patrons. While most modern action films concern themselves with an elaborate or meandering buildup to an ‘epic’ conclusion, Fury Road simply starts off high-intensity and never looks back. I couldn’t decide which was more deafening – the roar of the soundtrack or the pounding of my heart with each passing second.
Despite the character of Max generally being a supporting character in his own movies, Tom Hardy continues his outstanding career as an actor by portraying our title hero. Considering the film blurs the lines between rebooting the series and being a Bond-esque sequel, Tom Hardy steers clear of simply recreating the Mel Gibson Max and instead channels the mythos surrounding the road warrior in a truly spectacular performance. The 2015 Max feels like an extension of the wasteland, and I doubt anyone but Hardy could have stepped into Gibson’s shoes and ran away with the franchise so effortlessly. Long time readers of this blog will know I may have a man-crush on Hardy, but Fury Road is still a testament to the charisma and versatility of the actor.
There are great supporting performances by folks like Nicholas Hoult and Zoe Kravitz, but the real star of the movie is Charlize Theron. Sporting her robotic arm and generally having an affinity for dead-eye marksmanship, Theron is nothing short of astounding as Furiosa. In this writer’s opinion, her character easily upstages Max in his own movie and has shot to the top ranks of female badassery. Sure her character has a little more depth than the others, but it’s Theron shining through the rage and anguish of captivity. Here’s hoping we see more of this Mad Maxine in films to come. Thank god we’re finally getting some quality blockbusters that are overtly feminist. I don’t think I could stand any more travesties like Jupiter Ascending.
Making his maniacal return to the franchise, Hugh Keays-Byrne casts a dominating figure onscreen as the wasteland warlord Immortan Joe. Hugh originally played the absolutely ridiculous and flamboyant villain The Toecutter way back in 1979 in the very first Mad Max film. While there are no canonical ties between the characters, the actor forges a terrifying villain in Immortan Joe reminiscent of the ever iconic Lord Humungous from the second film. The vengeful BDSM costumes may be gone, but the skull mask definitely lends a certain level of horror to an increasingly desperate and maddening atmosphere.
I’ve always considered myself a huge fan of the series, but again, thanks to my friends at Alamo Drafthouse, I was able to be a part of a singularly unforgettable debut of this newest film. Get ready to channel your jealously dear reader, because yours truly got to be front and center for the post-film Q&A with directors George Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and the motherfucking Toecutter himself. It was like a childhood dream I didn’t know I had that suddenly came true. Lucky for me the preferred Alamo response was to simply have us Tweet ‘Holy Fuck’, because that’s pretty much all I could say for days.
While the majority of the Q&A moderated by Rodriguez centered on anecdotal confessions by Miller and Keays-Byrne, there was a substantial discussion about Miller’s artistry and his approach to world-building. Let’s face it, the original Mad Max basically pioneered the Post-Apocalyptic genre, but Miller’s genius is in his continual reinventing of the wasteland. In the first film we see civilization in the throes of decay, Road Warrior introduces us to the magnificent desolation of the Australian Outback, and then finally Thunderdome centers around a society attempting to rebuild out of the rubble.
These films aren’t heavy in dialogue, but rather they are rich in thematic exploration. Fundamentally Miller is constantly reexamining the delicate balance between order and chaos, and it is within this fiery crucible that characters and stories organically evolve. He’s not a visionary because he came up with something no one else did. He’s a visionary because he broke damn near every rule in the production of the first film and masterfully created a world that is believably bonkers.
Attention to detail goes a long way in creating authenticity in world-building, and Fury Road is enriched by its eccentricity. From the very first shot with the two-headed lizard, we as the audience know this is the film Miller poured his heart and soul into. It’s not enough for Miller to simply recreate his past successes and casually place a few throwbacks like Kravitz playing the music box. He has to continuously go further in exploring a universe he created nearly four decades ago. I mean, hell, the guy is in his 70’s and brings more energy to the screen that the majority of younger directors. Even Robert Rodriguez proclaimed in the Q&A ‘I don’t know how the hell you do it!’
As with any reboot, there is an understandable amount of concern around maintaining the legacy of a franchise, but I’m here to tell you that you can leave all that worry behind when seeing Fury Road. All the hallmarks of the original movies still have their tires firmly planted on the ground and more often than not they accelerate the film beyond even the most diehard fan’s dreams. Fast cars and mind blowing action scenes continue to mesmerize despite the occasional CGI augmentation. Much in the spirit of the first films though, the majority of the action scenes are still predominantly shot using practical effects and stunt work.
That scene with Tom Hardy up on the pole-vault looking thing? Yeah that’s actually him challenging a fear of heights for authenticity. Similarly that’s his actual head dangling a precious few feet off the ground whilst going 90 miles an hour. Keep all this in mind when you witness those fiery crashes and hear the screaming sounds of twisted metal – and I’m not talking about the guy with the flamethrower guitar shredding out a nonstop doom-metal ballad. I mean holy fucking shit this movie was awesome!
The only way I can properly summarize Fury Road is with George Miller’s off-the-cuff comment “You don’t have to be mad to make a Mad Max film, but it definitely helps”. After two solid hours of exhilaration and fandom, this was met with thunderous applause by an audience who, after waiting patiently for three decades, was finally rewarded with another Mad Max film. I can easily mark this screening as one of my most memorable cinematic experiences ever and can say without hesitation that Fury Road has dethroned Road Warrior as the best film in the franchise. Go ahead and call me mad for making such a bold claim Mr. Fanboy. You’ll be the crazy one for not rushing out to see this film immediately.
The Bottom Line:
Despite years of anticipation and impatient waiting, Mad Max: Fury Road thoroughly blew away all of my expectations. This film is absolutely insane in every respect and all credit is due to the mastermind that is director George Miller. Longtime fans of the series will be more than satisfied with the return of Max Rockatansky, and I’m hopeful that the film will usher in an entirely new generation of wasteland fans
If I could make a closing request to you my dear reader, I want you to strive to remind your less film savvy peers that Box Office success does not translate into quality. In all likelihood we will have an opening weekend debacle reminiscent of when Grown Ups 2 took home more money than Pacific Rim since it is almost assured that Pitch Perfect 2 will outgross an absolute masterpiece of science fiction such as this. Just remember most folks don’t know any better and it’s up to you and me to ensure the continued survival of Cinema. Don’t turn this into Sad Max by wasting your money on some other movie you’ll forget in a week.