Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that knows its audience, which is not surprising given that George Miller returned to direct this new chapter of the franchise that began his career. He proves that even after directing two installments of Happy Feet, he has not forgotten the sense of anarchy that made the original Mad Max films so memorable. With Fury Road, Miller replicates the insanity and unrelenting action that defines the series.
The film begins with Max (Tom Hardy) asserting that he’s a man with nothing to lose who is fighting to survive. That’s all that is needed to enjoy what follows, which includes many action sequences full of cars racing across the desert and explosions jettisoning maniacs into the sky. Much has been written about Miller’s decision to use practical effects, a decision that ultimately pays off—the stunts are all incredible, and being able to see a real human actor perform each jump, flip, and punch increases the tension and the stakes in a way that exhilarates like nothing else.
Fury Road introduces Hardy as our favorite warrior of the road with a brief explanation of how he used to be a cop until his world was reduced to a single desire to survive. Hardy is excellent as Max, not only because he has a powerful on-screen presence, but also because the character of Mad Max is somewhat of an empty shell. We know Max’s tragic backstory (Miller inserts enough references to it through startling hallucinations that we understand the emotional effect the loss of his family has had on him), but he has little dialogue and no real character arc. For this reason, Max is mainly a vessel for the audience. Still, Hardy commands the screen with intensity and drive (ha); he knows how to handle a gun and look cool doing it, and can hold his own in fights both on his feet and behind the wheel. These traits are all we need from Max and Hardy knows it.Despite his name making up fifty percent of the film’s title, Max Rockatansky isn’t the star. That honor belongs to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who perceptive viewers will notice has taken up most of the film’s marketing. Fury Road’s story is hers; Max is only along for the ride as Furiosa rescues five sex-slave ‘brides’ of the treacherous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne’s second turn as a Mad Max villain) whose gang of War Boys has captured Max in order for him to be used as a blood bag (an early scene has his back tattooed to denote that he is a universal blood donor). One of Joe’s War Boys needs an infusion and takes Max along as the War Boys race across the desert to reclaim Joe’s ‘property.’ Though Max manages to escape his shackles, he is only permitted to journey with the brides after Furiosa outsmarts his attempt to hotwire the war rig she originally stole. She is smart, cunning, and Fury Road is her movie. Even though Furiosa handle conflicts with brutal efficiency and more than a little bit of style, she’s more than her tough exterior would suggest. Fury Road gives Furiosa more emotions to play with than simply ‘shooting’ or ‘driving’—which is more than can be said of Max. Fury Road follows Furiosa and the brides as they journey to an oasis known only as “The Green Place.” Max joins them and shoots his fair share of bad guys, but Miller makes sure the audience knows this film is not about him. For Furiosa, this exodus is more than just an escape from tyranny, and it’s fascinating and devastating to see the ways hope and redemption have survived the apocalypse as well as the limits to which they push desperate people.
It would be impressive enough for Miller to try and include so many weighty themes in a movie that seems content to blow stuff up for two hours, but the fact that he is able to include them in a movie that is so technically and viscerally exciting is the sign of a truly skilled craftsman. Miller’s direction is steady and his attention to detail is equally impressive. Each costume and vehicle is detailed and unique in a way that is grotesquely beautifully and mercilessly efficient. The entire film boasts a style that portrays the brutal and sadistic nature of the wasteland.Thankfully Miller exhibits one quality that is necessary to efficiently create the kind of energy that the world of Mad Max calls for— restraint. There are moments when he increases the frame rate, causing everything to move quickly enough to show the deranged energy necessary for surviving this version of the wasteland, but not so much that the images would fit better over a soundtrack of Yakity Sax. Miller knows how to up the ante, but draws the line just past the tipping point, creating a feeling of chaos and insanity that pleases his fans and only slightly exhausts his detractors. Even though some may wish for a breather, it’s difficult to deny the beauty that comes together when action and energy is combined with detail and love for adrenaline.
Ultimately Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie that should be respected as much as it is enjoyed. It not only manages to breathe life into a franchise that some would say hasn’t reached its real potential since 1981’s The Road Warrior, but it also harkens back to a time when action scenes were made on set instead of on a computer. Even more remarkable is the way George Miller subversively takes the focus away from the prototypical action hero and puts it into the hands of characters who experience issues that are pervasive today. The result is a kind of excitement that is difficult to describe, but easy to recommend. Fury Road is a movie that needs to be seen, if only to be reminded, along side Max Rockatansky, that no matter how hard the apocalypse may seem, there are others who will be harder hit by it but just as unwilling to give up.