Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Run Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R
Action movies aren't really my thing. I can muster up an appreciation for them, as with most films, but when a new action flick comes out in the theater, I usually just leave it to my friend Zach at Better Clear On Out the Back.
And I'm no Mad Max fanboy, either. In fact, I haven't seen any of the original three films in the franchise (though that will be swiftly rectified this summer).
I'm telling you these things so you can properly understand the gravity of my statement when I tell you that Mad Max: Fury Road is the best damn movie of 2015 so far. Hell, I'm going to go ahead and call it right now as the best movie of the summer.
Unless San Andreas pulls the rug out from under us all.
Mad Max: Fury Road has a plot. In fact, it's quite involved, taking place in a lush world that's teeming with detail. But the tricky part is distilling it into a couple paragraphs, because so much of it takes place at the fringes of the main action, informing and instilling life into it, but not necessarily playing an active role in the goings on.
I want to make it clear that this is not a detraction. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The true narrative of Mad Max: Fury Road is buried within every detail of the production design, every line of dialogue, and every line in the sand. It is a film that not only assumes that you - the audience member - are intelligent and demands that you engage with it as an active viewer on every single level, but richly rewards you for doing so.
Anyway, the bare bones of the thing is this: Max (Tom Hardy) is a guilt-ridden wanderer through the post-apocalyptic, irradiated desert of what we can assume through franchise pedigree is Australia. Haunted by the ghosts of the people he couldn't save, his only instinct is to survive the barren terrain. The only ample source of water is the Citadel, which is ruled by the diseased despot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his mutated brood.
So, basically it's California in three years.
When the town champion Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) diverts her war machine on what was supposed to be a routine supply run, Immortan Joe realizes that she has absconded with his wives, the enslaved healthy women which he uses for breeding. Max has been captured and used as a human blood bag for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a member of the sickened, brainwashed slave race known as the Half-Lives. As the nobles of the Citadel pursue Furiosa along with their Half-Life army, Max escapes and reluctantly joins forces with her. She wants to take the girls to the Green Place, a safe zone across the continent, and he just wants to survive, but for the time being they find it mutually beneficial to work together.
I mean, she needs someone to help make sure her super awesome makeup isn't smudged. The ass-kicking she can handle herself.
The most definitive aspect of Fury Road is its outrageous sense of style. Its dominating aesthetic is downright lunacy, pushing so far over the top that it's visible from space. From the bulbous, fleshy creatures inhabiting the Citadel to the wraithlike Half-Lives who run staccato like they're in a Keystone Cops short, the film constantly prods and challenges the traditions and tenets of film costuming and design.
And they ain't afraid to be disgusting.
These delightfully insane characters populate a world of ramshackle glories: souped-up cars with porcupine spikes, massive green towers with waterfalls that flow over the unwashed masses, men dangling on pikes, and just about everything you can imagine. With a healthy sprinkling of things that you can't, which is what separates the geniuses from you or I. And this world is lit with bold, saturated colors that assault the frame with unnatural beauty.
Da ba dee, da ba die.
It's bloody gorgeous, is what it is, and this ludicrous, beautiful, terrible world is the perfect setting for the most unflagging, high octane action flick I've ever seen. Fury Road hits the ground sprinting and only picks up the pace from there, hardly even stopping to introduce its narrative universe, asking you to pick it up from the flecks of shrapnel that fly through the haze of battle.
As Max, Furiosa, and the Breeders storm their way through one massive action setpiece after another, the excitement never dwindles. Some all-action films can get dull and repetitive, but Fury Road knows the game and plays it with admirable skill. Packing handfuls of story, emotion, sacrifice, and distorted dystopian imagery in between every frame, there is more than enough to chew on aside from the truly astounding, ever-escalating practical effects work that dominates the landscape.
Honestly I'm surprised that director George Miller (of the three Mad Max films and most recently - and bafflingly - Happy Feet and its sequel) received the budget that he did to put this film together at such an unrelenting, raucus level, but the fact the Mad Max: Fury Road exists means that somebody is doing something right in Hollywood.
Also whoever designed the flamethrower guitar has an automatic pass to marry me.
As if we needed anything more to like about the film, the acting is across the board superb. Charlize Theron shows no cracks as a dauntless warrior, the villains are uniformly and unequivocally menacing, and Nicholas Hoult utterly inhabits a role as screamingly high octane as the film itself, but the unbeatable standout is Tom Hardy.
With nothing but a few choice words and a series of animalistic grunts, he paints a detailed and nuanced portrait of a man broken beyond his own humanity. His impressively physical accomplishment completely transforms the actor, ripping him out of any sense of reality and throwing himself directly into the heart of the Mad Max universe. If any performance were to permanently break the barrier between summer blockbusters and Oscar nominations, it's Tom Hardy right here, right now.
The cherry on top of the towering ice cream sundae that is Mad Max: Fury Road is that it's a remarkably feminist and progressive action piece. The large amount of women in the film leave a safe, but enslaved life for the dangers of independence and claim their personhood. One of the Breeders says "We are not things,"and she is absolutely right. The women of Fury Road are an unstoppable force of good, fighting against a world that devalues them.
Also, ableism be damned.
It's a fascinating, energetic, wonderfully realized action film that never loses fuel, and it's spectacularly unlike anything you've ever seen before. Fans of more sit-down, low key dramas are best advised to sit this one out, but I think its unrelenting, explosive charm should appeal to just about anyone with a pulse that needs racing.
Should I Spend Money On This? Yes, unless you really hate exciting movies.
Word Count: 1195
Reviews In This Series
Mad Max (Miller, 1979)
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (Miller, 1981)
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Miller & Ogilvie, 1985)
Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, 2015)