Nutshell: Fury Road is a worthy successor to the original films, thanks to a dedicated director, incredible performances and tons of on-screen stuntwork. Grade: A+
“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood.”
No, this isn’t a secret Targaryen scion looking to take over the Iron Throne (not that that isn’t always a possibility with GRRM). It’s Max Rockatansky, former cop and current loner badass. AKA Mad Max. Yep, it’s reboot time, and before you roll your eyes and sigh know this; Mad Max: Fury Road is helmed by George Miller, who directed the original trilogy. And he’s still got a whole lot of post-apocalyptic throwdown left in him. Fury Road is the kind of high quality popcorn fest that should have folks lining up to see the glorious damage of a world gone to hell. At two hours, at least 90% of that is driving, blowing up while driving, chasing someone who’s driving, or running over things in gigantic machines that make Odd Rods look like believable concept cars.
At the start of the film, Max has given up on everything but simple survival. Constantly haunted by the visions of those who he was unable to help — including his wife and daughter — he’s struck a deal with himself; go it alone, and survive. Help no one, or risk more death that he can’t prevent. Being a solo operator, he’s a prime target, and gets picked up by a group of WarBoys, led by Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne; Toecutter in the original film), a creepy Svengali-like leader who demands fealty while parceling out water and letting the bulk of his subjects live in squalor. When his head gas-getter, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) ditches her orders and takes off on her own, Joe finds she’s got precious cargo; five of his young “wives” that he uses for breeding stock. Max gets pulled into the chase when WarBoy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) straps Max onto the front of a war machine so Nux can keep using Max as a “bloodbag”. Seems Max is a universal donor (info courtesy of an incredibly detailed tattoo on his back), and Nux is recovering from the last WarBoys outing, but is still keen on the chase. As the chase goes on (and on), Furiosa and the wives unite with Max to get to “The Green Place” Furiosa has promised. When Nux becomes attached to Capable, a renegade wife, he joins in the effort. But is this promised land a fairy tale?
Miller has a way with overseeing the process, making this out-there apocalyptic film feel realistic, even when we’re dealing with chrome-paint-huffing bleached-white rabid apocalypse survivors. The movie production nerd in me loves that this film was shot in sequence, which I didn’t know beforehand but really does lend to the character development (and exhaustion, as the journey goes on and on.) Then he hired playwright Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues) as a character consultant, and “to help the female stars better understand their roles.” That Miller took the time to fully form his female characters — especially important as the overwhelming majority of the heroes in this film are women — helped give Fury Road a lived-in je ne sais quoi that helps this “People Driving Fast” film to truly resonate beyond the stunts and pyrotechnics.
The term “feminist action film” has been bandied about for Fury Road, and it’s not off the mark. In this film it’s a group of determined, headstrong women who decide to buck the oppressive system by taking matters into their own hands. It’s women who literally have the seeds of a new civilization in their hands; Max and Nux are merely helping them achieve their goal. Miller never lets you forget that this film is about the women and their drive to succeed. And in today’s world of Gamergate and “Men’s Rights Activism”, it’s a powerful message. In fact, MRAs are already getting their delicate panties in a wad over this film. Bless their little…hearts.
But beyond the fact that this is a film with a powerful message? It also kicks all sorts of ass. Practically all the ass that ever was. What really blew me away were the absolutely crazy, all-out gonzo stunt FX. Except for one small thing; they’re not effects. Over 80% of the stuntwork were real, “practical effects”, which means folks were actually hanging from loooooong poles, driving like crazy people, and generally putting their lives at risk for our enjoyment. Are you not entertained? I sure as hell was.
Lest you believe that it’s all action and no art, the performances here are top-notch too. Theron is suitably badass as Furiosa, but with a hidden frailty in her eyes that made me want to know more about her past. As Max, Tom Hardy doesn’t have that hard glint that Mel Gibson had, but in the 21st Century it’s good to see a shift from complete shutdown to a hardened PTSD-is-my-BFF personification. Makes it a bit more believable that this Max would indeed stop to help, even if he’s cursing himself for doing so. Hoult has the biggest character arc in the film, but remains a bit of a cypher. He’s a helluva lot of fun to watch, especially when he’s in full WarBoy mode. But his scenes with Riley Keough’s Capable are touching, and the two have a believable chemistry. (Oh, and that “where have I seen her before?” thing you’re getting with Keough? She’s Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, and obviously inherited his charisma.)
Loved the Ozploitation feel of Fury Road, even though chunks of it was actually filmed in South Africa and Namibia. (But how could it not be Oz-y, with Miller at the helm?) But there’s a whole lot to love here. Cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient) shows the beauty and the horror of the desert, and creates a sort of metal ballet from the scenes of monstrous cars mashing into each other. Though there are scenes of blinding light, Seale never lets the view become washed out. Junkie XL’s soundtrack — booming notes that hold and echo, minor chords that rumble doom — adds an overall malevolence to the story in much the same way he did with Divergent. And Colin Gibson’s production design goes from bleak wasteland to fetid swamp, with a look that channels Pink Floyd, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and The Dark Crystal, and wraps it together with beige, red, black and white. There’s a scene in the beginning of the film that looks like an establishing shot (that tells us where we are), but is in fact a close-up. It’s brilliant, and sets the bar for the rest of the film.
Fury Road definitely have a groovy 70s feel to it, and that’s a good thing. This is all-out war, and there are no punches pulled when things get violent. Can you pause to catch your breath? Absolutely not. But with a screenplay that allows the action to take precedence without sacrificing character development, that’s not a bad thing. Trigger warning for gore lightweights; though there isn’t a whole lot of Dead Alive flinging viscera here, there’s plenty of blood shed, and one scene has a man’s breathing apparatus (apparently in the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, breathing sometimes requires more than your own lungs) ripped off of his face. It’s so realistic that I found myself clutching my face. Yeow! And also, yurgh. (As with the stunts in this film, the FX are also on-screen; kudos to the always amazing WETA Workshop!)
But is it worth the 3D, you ask? With stunts like these, you really will want to see ’em coming right at you. Plus, there’s a wink to the old 50s-style 3D at the end of the film, and though it may not be worth the entire price of admission, it’s a whole lot of fun. And do stay to read the credits; some of the names of the characters in this film are an absolute hoot. All of ’em would make kickass band names, if that’s your thing.