By Brett Bunge (Avery, CA)
Mad Max is a curious film series. First debuting with the eponymous film in 1979, director George Miller followed it up with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior in 1981 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Set in a post-apocalyptic Australia rife with scavengers and bandits, the trilogy become famous for two things: codifying and popularizing post-apocalyptic fiction, and making a star out of the then relatively unknown Mel Gibson. If you need an example of how influential Mad Max actually is, just look at the large number of post-apocalyptic novels and films nowadays, from The Host to the Fallout series of video games (in fact, the iconic image from that series of a lone man and a dog traveling the wasteland is lifted directly from the films).
Now, thirty years after concluding the trilogy in Beyond Thunderdome, George Miller returns to the series with Fury Road, with Mel Gibson replaced by Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky. The film also stars Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, and Hugh Keays-Byrne—who also starred in the first film as the evil Toecutter—as the villain. If a comparison is to be drawn, Fury Road is strongly reminiscent of the Kevin Costner film Waterworld, which also focuses on a highly competent loner struggling to survive in a destroyed world.
The plot, which takes place between the second and third films, sees the solitary wasteland wanderer Max captured by the forces of the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne), who controls a massive desert base simply called “The Citadel.” When Joe’s lieutenant and driver Imperator Furiousa (Theron), smuggles his wives away from him in a bid for freedom, Max is dragged along with Joe’s war convoy, strapped to the hood of a car driven by a “War Boy” named Nux (Hoult). From there, the story becomes a long chase sequence as we follow Max and Furiousa, who reluctantly band together to save Joe’s wives and keep them away from him and his war cult.
If the plot seems simple, that’s because it is. And while some films might be held back by a lean, no-frills storyline, it works fantastically well here. The film is confident enough in its story that it doesn’t feel the need to include any meandering B-plots or contrive a love story between Max and Furiousa. Unlike some other movies, it expects the audience to keep up and not be bogged down by backstory. Aside from a few short flashback scenes to explain Max’s PTSD, there’s one objective: get from point A to point B and fend off the bad guys. In Fury Road, what you see is exactly what you get.
This simple overarching story means that the film can devote its time to the action scenes, which are top notch. Filmed using mostly practical effects and real cars, the chase scenes—which are comprised of dozens of different vehicles and characters fighting inside and around speeding chunks of metal with engines attached—are easily the high points of the film.
Special mention must go the many vehicles, which are as varied and unique as the characters. From massive semis to converted roadsters covered in spikes, the filmmakers deserve credit for not only making the cars and trucks look like they leapt straight off a heavy metal album cover (think skulls everywhere and flames), but for also making each one individual enough to make it stand out. Highlights include a tribe that only uses motorcycles, as well as a gigantic dump truck with war drummers on the back and a guitar player on the front that plays a chrome guitar that shoots fire.
For all the simplicity of its plot, the film’s characters are much deeper than they might seem. It helps that the costumes and makeup—all of which contributes to the believability of the war-ravaged setting—really help set apart each “tribe” from the other (Joe’s War Boys, for instance, are an army of bone-white bald young men). Nicholas Hoult’s character Nux is a prime example of a character that starts out simple but gains a vast amount of depth and believability in one pivotal scene during the film’s second act.
It might seem odd, but Max is really a supporting character in his own film. Oh, he’s around a lot and is generally a total badass, but the real protagonist is Furiousa. Charlize Theron, shaved bald and sporting grease eyeliner and a metal prosthetic arm, is not only the driving force behind the entire plot, but also one of the modern “action girls” of cinema, alongside Alien’s Ellen Ripley and others.
In fact, aside from Max and a few other men who aren’t evil, the entire movie is about women kicking ass and taking names (in terms of films featuring empowered women fighting against men, this might be the best example since Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch). This theme is further reinforced late in the film, when the heroes join forces with a tribe of motorcycle-riding women in their sixties and seventies who effortlessly pick off Joe’s forces.
All of this adds up to a strong and well-rounded cast doing exciting things at high speeds, complete with lots of gunplay, crashes, and a bass-thumping soundtrack—resplendent with electric guitars—composed by Junkie XL, who also did the music for 300: Rise of an Empire. It’s not often that non-vocal soundtracks make an impression, but this one certainly did. Finally, the cinematography and lighting, while predominantly set in the sun-drenched Australian outback, also make use of deep blues—which set the night scenes apart in an interesting way—and harsh reds during one memorable sequence during a massive sandstorm.
Simply put, Fury Road has few to no flaws in the grand scheme of things. It knows exactly what it wants to be and succeeds in every way, creating a fast paced, no-holds barred action film. Aside from one scene with obvious CGI, it’s impossible to tell that the film also has a 3D version—there are no scenes where an object flies at the screen, for example.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a superb return for the titular series, which races back onscreen with its engines roaring. It’s been reported that several sequels have already been written, and if this film is anything to go by, there’s a lot more excitement to be had down the road.
Rating: 4/5BEST QUOTES