It’s funny how Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that takes place in a dystopian future, plays to our most primitive, basic instincts. Instead of evolving like progressive beings in the face of adversity, we devolve into power-hungry tribes once chaos and anarchy rear their ugly heads. In this case, it’s George Miller’s waterless world.
Revving engines, beating drums, whizzing bullets and a crunchy electric guitar become this road’s bleak soundtrack, and furthermore, the beating pulse of Miller’s bombastic creation. There’s something magnificent in the way that the director envisions his updated, highly-defined wasteland, but what’s even more impressive is that a major studio LET him inject his “no fucks given” attitude into every dusty scene. Mad Max: Fury Road boasts minimal dialogue, nipple piercings, a true Steampunk vibe and one seriously badass female heroine. Have I died and ascended into a blockbuster Valhalla?!
Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, a former legal enforcer who now finds himself captured by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his clan. He’s taken to the Citadel, a massive oasis that bares bits of patchy green hope for the festering plebeians below, as Immortan Joe acts as their God and savior. His access to clean water makes him more of a myth than a man, and he strings along his followers with short bursts of water to “feed their addiction.” But when his trusted military leader, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), steals his wives and flees for a utopia she calls the “Green Place,” a chase begins that pits Max and Furiosa against Immortan Joe’s clan of suicidal War Boys.
Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just a monumental achievement in action movie history, this is George Miller redefining the entire Hollywood landscape while shredding a dual-neck guitar that doubles as a flamethrower. Nothing about this furious road is conventional. The title (MAD MAX: Fury Road) is indeed a bit misleading, because this is Furiosa’s film, and she grabs her opportunity (and the entire male population) commandingly by the balls. Charlize Theron earns and DESERVES her time in the blistering, sun-drenched spotlight. A strong female lead character who overshadows Mad Max himself? Blasphemous! Yet Miller doesn’t stop there. Most of the dialogue consists of grunts and battle-ready shrieks, driving forward a story that could have been scribbled on a napkin. There’s Point A, Point B, and two hours of high-octane mechanical mayhem in between. Honestly, Miller deserves an award for even getting this awe-inspiring fever-dream made.
Visually, Miller’s mind is LOADED with monstrous designs and a gluttonous appetite for excess. Mad Max: Fury Road is a finely aged artist’s wish to approach filmmaking with a child-like wonder, mashing together masterful brushstrokes with uncontrollable imagination. Each car and war rig has a distinct personality, outfitted with barbed spikes and secret hatches, as they kick up clouds of clay-colored sand that paint a deadly, oasis-like picture. War parties aren’t just cars, they’re teams of souped-up muscle roadsters that support deadly musicians who pound gigantic drums, carry warriors who teeter on see-saw-like poles and spit venomous flames like snarling, vicious beasts. The whole carnival-esque sideshow is nothing short of superior showmanship, with acrobatic choreography to match.
When Max, Furiosa and the brides find themselves caught in a barrage of fire-bombs and gunfire, we never lose ourselves in the swirling wreck of speeding vehicles and tumbling bodies. Mad Max: Fury Road could have been a bumpy, nauseating trip with far too much metal-munching chaos, yet cinematographer John Seale manages to contain the flurry of flying debris with perfect framing, while gigantic flaming tornadoes snatch up unfortunate victims. The fluidity and steadiness of Seale’s laser-guided eye makes each high-octane attack not just ass-kicking, but poetic.
Characters are measured by their aptitude for killing, such as War Boys like Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who beg for their brothers to “witness” their glorious sacrifice for Immortan Joe, or Max’s brutally understated methods of swift, efficient justice. With such restrained conversations, fighting becomes the only way for anyone to truly let their emotions fly, a point that once again hints at that primal nature buried deep beneath our enslaved societal restraints.
But look deeper and you’ll acknowledge Furiosa’s feminine battle against the white male oppressors who turned women into nothing but child-farming, milk-squirting cows without human value. Furiosa is a beacon of hope, and a badass one-armed warrior, both of which make no difference to Theron. God bless Furiosa’s willingness to fight, scrap, and take charge of any situation, but thanks must also be paid to Miller’s writing team, who never fall into the schmaltzy gimmick of turning Max and Furiosa into a vengeful couple.
After duking it out in a fair little fist fight, Max immediately acknowledges Furiosa as an equal combatant. They fight together, survive together, and live together as warriors with equal motives, and no lustful connection. No forced kisses or random sex scenes take Mad Max: Fury Road down an unforgivable detour, and the mighty women of Fury Road raise their rifles in support of their fearless, unflinching leader. They think like men, fight like men and die like men – just as any sack of flesh and bones would.
Here we are and I haven’t even mentioned the cartoonishly apt costume design that highlights each camp’s features. Mad Max: Fury Road requires your eyes to be your ears, as characters aren’t going to open up and provide depth through chatter. Instead, appearances dictate development. From Furiosa’s greased forehead whenever she must appear to be a friend of Immorten Joe to each bride’s angelic white garb, from the War Boy’s skeletal body paint to any Bullet Farmer’s ammo-laced clothing (and teeth), and even the Gas Town’s philanthropic S&M-business-casual look, there’s a laundry list of tantalizing details that feed appetites like a five-course meal for the senses. And for dessert? Junkie XL’s addicting orchestral-meets-industrial-rock score is the glistening, candied cherry on this blood-drenched, raw, immaculate genre sundae.
Someday, a film professor will teach an entire semester curriculum based on Mad Max: Fury Road. Honestly, you could write a dissertation based on any single aspect of Miller’s production, from cinematography to character work. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Max Rockatansky is a pitch-perfect complement to Furiosa, by simply grunting and acting like an absolute bruiser – which suits Hardy just fine. Within mere minutes we’re treated to a frantic escape attempt that tests Hardy’s physical limits (reminiscent to a F.E.A.R. cutscene), which perfectly sets Miller’s tone before he unleashes a cavalcade of BattleBots-crafted car duels, aerial beat downs while jumping car to car and Motocross bombers raining Hell down on targets below. Hardy can’t be caged, he can’t be contained and once he stops running scared, he becomes a silent brawler who doesn’t need a voice to speak, giving us a lesson in screen presence based on physicality alone.
What a day. What a lovely day it is to be a movie fan. Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially one gigantic middle finger to Hollywood’s Mediocrity Machine, defying the rules that so many thoughtless executives have set in stone. This is the movie that gets you mad about the drivel studios have been churning out for years, and optimistic about a future where money starts being thrown at unwieldy, borderline-insane ambition. George Miller has accomplished what some might deem impossible, guided by the action-loving part of his brain that’s sat unused while movies like Babe: Pig In The City and Happy Feet took precedence. Indulge in Mad Max: Fury Road, bask in its brilliantly psychotic glory and pray that this is the start of a new, illuminating revolution in cinema history led by a one-armed female protagonist with a shaved head.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an artfully crafted adrenaline ride that's powered by Miller's incomparable sense of storytelling through the most primitive, high-speed rawness that's ever been captured on camera.