Mad Max: Fury Road is the ultimate post-apocalyptic action movie
It has been a long time coming. George Miller‘s follow-up to his classic Mad Max movies hit theaters last night, finally, after years of development. Does Mad Max: Fury Road stand up to expectations? I saw it on opening night in 3D (and rewatched it in 2D recently), and what follows is my review. To be up front about it: Nothing can prepare you for this movie. When I left the theater I still had adrenaline in my veins and felt like I was just hit by a truck at the same time. Even more so after the second viewing.
Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules over the Citadel, a rock formation that holds water reserves, which he controls. Once more, he sends his Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) off with the war rig to get fuel from a refinery a short and dangerous trip down the wastelands. Shortly after her convoy left the Citadel, she swerves left and takes a detour, to the bewilderment of her war boys company. Does she have other orders? Is she going rogue? While hostile buzzards spot her fuel pod and start attacking her, Immortal Joe sends out a war party to get back what Furiosa took from him: a group of pretty young women, destined to breed offspring for the Citadel. Among his war party, now in pursuit of the runaway war rig is Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of his cancer-ridden, chrome-addicted suicide war boys, and he has Max (Tom Hardy), his backup blood reservoir, tied to his attack truck. As the buzzards, the war rig, and Joe’s war party collide, a huge sand storm approaches, about to swallow everything up….
As the dust settles, Max finds himself still chained and tubed to Nux, stranded in the desert. To his bewilderment he finds a huge war rig, Furiosa, and a group of scantily clad girls showering in cold water…. after some tussle they all band together to escape from the approaching war party, which has grown to the strength of three, after Joe’s allies “The Bullet Farmer” and “The People Eater” have join the pursuit. Furiosa wants to escape to the Green Place, her origins… but the truth is tough, and so the girls, herself and Max need to make a tough decision, all the while being chased by madmen, in a world where the only thing left is the instinct for survival.
When the dust settles (pun intended) you’re left awestruck after one of the most adrenaline-induced movie experiences ever. It is extremely hard to describe how Mad Max: Fury Road leaves you as a theater-goer once the credits roll. You might be rubbing your eyes, or your ears would still be beeping, or you’re just flabbergasted, looking at your peers in disbelief. This movie comes at you like Furiosa’s war rig: fast, hard, loud and with a vengeance. What George Miller managed to pull off here in the Namibian desert, is a no-holds-barred action movie of the purest form. An instant classic. An action movie that does not get boring for a second, that does not seem over-the-top or ridiculous even as a weird guitar player strapped to a truck rushes through the desert, a movie that is essentially one big chase sequence but yet bears a story so full of nuance and interpretation lacking in so many other Hollywood productions today. It is not a shallow movie, it comes with lots of baggage, lots of politics, crazy characters with loads of backgrounds. And on top of that, it is a movie that sidelines its main character and replaces him with the true main character: survival. Mad Max: Fury Road is a bombastic adventure that looks great, sounds amazing (and loud) and is executed in mastery. This is the director’s magnum opus, a movie that both does justice to the original Mad Max stories, and at the same time stands on its own.
In Mad Max, a highway cop faces road gangs terrorizing the outback, as he tries to fulfill both his duty, as well as avenge his colleague and protect his young family. In The Road Warrior, Max has become what the Man With No Name was in the Spaghetti Westerns of old: the lone gunman savior, teaming up with a refuge of decent humans among a war for gasoline. In Beyond Thunderdome he strands in one of the emergent megacities of the wastelands, exploited in a bread and games show, ultimately rescuing children and leading them to a better place. There is hope in this post-apocalyptic world, and it comes in the form of humans determined to make a difference despite the desolate, hopeless situation. Mad Max: Fury Road opens with hints at what happened. War among the peoples, nuclear fallout, war over resources and water. Chaos. Anarchy. Apocalypse. The survivors roam the wastelands of the Earth, rallying behind bizarre leaders, following new occults, succumbing to the supernatural, becoming victim to illusions and grand schemes. There is a citadel, a bullet farm, an oil town. There is an order in all the chaos, and yet it is a fragile, dark and oppressive order.
In many ways, Mad Max: Fury Road is a minimalist piece. Some actors you won’t even recognize, such as Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortal Joe, who is the same Australian who played the Toecutter in the original Mad Max. That’s something you’ll have to look up, George Miller won’t rub in in your eyes. Max has only a few lines of dialogue in the movie. For the first many scenes he wears an iron mask over his head. The entire movie takes place on wild chase, and there are no grand speeches, flash backs, or other material to fill in too many gaps. You’re being put smack dab in the middle of madness. Charlize Theron is great as the calculated Furiosa, who essential becomes the heroine of the movie, and you could even interpret a love element with Max into the film. Nux is the character that is being transformed. From a brainwashed war boy looking for a way into Valhalla, into a redeemed member of the team trying to escape his former leader Immortal Joe, who ruled the Citadel by controlling its water supply and machinery. The interesting side characters are those that serve motivation, comic relief, backstory and depth. The old ladies that illustrate the demographic impact of the wasteland and the forgotten hopes of Furiousa. The pretty “breeders” showering in water in the middle of the desert, seeming like a fata morgana to the parched Max. The Buzzards and Rock Riders, the nameless bandits controlling the territory through which the convoy has to pass illustrate the danger outside the controlled areas of the Citadel, or gas town, or the bullet farm, the latter two are not shown in the movie, but ruled by particularly comic characters. The small details, such as the mad guitar player on top of the amp-laden truck, are not there just to add comic relief to a pretty serious and brutal movie (which hardly ever moves anywhere near the brutality of contemporary R-rated films, it seems almost tame and can do without graphic display of brutality just as well, illustrating how George Miller is above much of that), but illustrate the sheer craziness of the on-screen action, and in a way, this little fella is there, because George Miller can put him there.
Mad Max: Fury Road lives through style as much as it lives through direction. As much as computer-generated effects help bring the barren landscapes of Namibia to live, and make a sand storm a workable backdrop for an action sequence, George Miller brings back what made the original Mad Max such a ground-breaking cinematic experience: wide angle shots, low angles, roaring speeds and quick cuts. Mad Max: Fury Road looks absolutely awesome, lively and out of this world, and it sounds just as good. In fact, I would say the main character of the movie is the sound design and the music. This movie is pumping and breathing, and it is loud, so loud. The first time I saw it in a Dolby Atmos equipped theater and it added so much to the experience. Forget 3D, the audiovisual experience of Mad Max: Fury Road comes from how well it is put together, not how much money was put into the ex-post 3D compositions. George Miller illustrates how a fast-paced, great-looking, loud-sounding and extremely fine-balanced movie can look like, even though it keeps up with today’s action film standards in terms of cuts per minute, explosions and trucks flying through the air. At no point is this movie ludicrous or Bay-esque. It is sheer honest cinematic goodness.
Ultimately, whether you’ve seen or are a fan of the original trilogy or not, Mad Max: Fury Road stands on its own as a monumental cinematic achievement, in a time in which Hollywood is obsessed with big budget remakes and reboots of mostly superhero and comic book fare, blockbusters that for the most part limbo under most cineasts’ standards for good movies, often fail miserably, and perpetuate the dumbing down of the general movie audience. Mad Max: Fury Road is a challenging, high quality, mega entertaining piece of craftsmanship. It’s a movie that shouldn’t even exist, it’s a miracle as a recent article outlined, because it defies so many movie business parameters, it’s a real throwback to the good old days. On an audience level, it’s just a blast. A real night out at the movies, a film that leaves you with an adrenaline rush long after you’ve left the theater. A movie that works well on so many levels, and it is too bad that only weeks after its release it’s already being eclipsed by more Hollywood bullshit about dinosaurs, terminators, singers and other useless crap to attract the millions of clueless teenager. Do yourself a favor and rewatch Mad Max: Fury Road, and take as many friends and family with you as you can. Thank you George Miller for one of the last true mega blockbuster action movies that I as a cineast can truly give two thumbs up and unrestricted recommendation.