Mad Max: Fury RoadMonday, June 1st, 2015 4:09 pm—Film
Mad Max: Fury Road (USA 2015, Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi), Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris; Director: George Miller
I can attest that you don’t have to know anything about the original Mad Max movies to appreciate writer/director George Miller’s latest entry to the franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road.
The 2015 installment features Tom Hardy in the role Mel Gibson made famous in the late 70s and early 80s. I don’t know what Gibson’s portrayal was like, but in this round, Max Rockastansky is a damaged yet fierce warrior who is incapable of giving up. As he says, he’s been reduced to a single instinct: survive.
Mad Max: Fury Road is set 45 years after the world falls apart. So we don’t know exactly what year it takes place, but we can pray that it’s much, much later than 2060.
The world in which Max exists—barely—is a fiery desert (he calls it a wasteland of fire and blood), where he is “hunted by scavengers and haunted by those I could not protect.” I keep quoting the script because it’s surprisingly poetic; it really sticks with you.
In the opening sequence, Max is captured by the greedy scavengers, in spite of a ferocious and amazing attempt to escape. Chained and strung upside down, he’s used as a “blood bag” (just imagine) for the warlords who serve Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the first Mad Max movie).
Immortan Joe is an aged dictator who keeps women prisoner so they can bear his children, or pump “mother’s milk” for his adult sons to guzzle. He starves the masses living below his kingdom, the Citadel—although he’s good enough to take time out to warn them of the perils of becoming addicted to water.
It’s a hellish world, and therefore an unsustainable one. Many are angry, and many more are dangerously unhappy.
One of the angriest is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). When she steals Immortan Joe’s most prized possessions (his wives, or “breeders”) in the hope of setting them free, a feverish chase ensues—one that gets Max out of the shackles. And one that lasts nearly the full two hours of the movie.
Now, I like action, but only if it’s well done and not if it goes on too long. At some point fairly early in the film, I realized that the entire thing was going to be a prolonged chase scene. I was worried for a minute, but Fury Road pulls it off. Yes, I wouldn’t have minded a few more quiet conversations between characters, or more of a reprieve. But this film is so exceptionally made that it absolutely won me over, even as someone who doesn’t love uber-long action sequences.
Miller is as much a dedicated perfectionist as he is a brilliant visionary. The effort and talent that went into making Fury Road is simply astonishing. The patience and perseverance, the stamina it would take to spend seven months in the Namib Desert, giving everything to each shot, each take, maintaining the creative energy required to deliver such an explosive and innovative final product… It kind of blows my mind to think of it.
Pick any aspect of the film to focus on and you’ll see how exceptional it is. Great genre story that creates characters and settings so established, they feel almost legendary. (Names like Toast the Knowing, and Cheedo the Fragile, are assigned with such authority; while watching, I wondered whether Fury Road was based on a series of graphic novels.) Amazing effects and stunts, inventive props and costumes, meticulous direction, stunning editing, excellent cinematography. The sound! The frenetic, pounding score by Junkie XL!
The acting. So many impressive performances. Sticking to the main three: Hardy fits the image of the classic action hero, but he brings much more than muscle to Max. Here’s a man with a great gift at conveying his depth and soul, even when barely speaking. Theron, who has to be one of our best living actors, nails it every time (see The Road review from September 2010); Fury Road is no exception. Nicholas Hoult, as young warlord Nux, delivers a layered and complex portrayal, treating his seemingly sleazy character with compassion, rounding him out with powerful subtext and heaps of personality.
It’s amazing how much depth the actors convey, given the sparse script they worked from. Fury Road relies on expressions, gazes and body language to capture much of its story, its pulse. Even in intimate moments between characters, the film is still more about action than dialogue.
That’s a big part of why Fury Road works. Though it may be one prolonged chase scene, it has a solid heart at its core—one that keeps you caring even if you’re far past your “action sequence” threshold (if you have one). Oh, and the action itself is spectacular.
Hats off to the filmmakers—cast and crew alike. What an achievement.
Fury Road’s follow-up, Mad Max: The Wasteland, was recently announced, with Hardy resuming the title role. I’m in.
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The Fury Road panel discussion at the Cannes Film Festival offers some great insights, from the film’s cast, as well as from Miller, his producing partner, Doug Mitchell, and his editor (and wife), Margaret Sixel. Worth a watch.