Review: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (Second Opinion)

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Plot:  The Road Warrior himself, Mad Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) returns to the big screen in the fourth installment of George Miller’s Mad Max series.  Once again set in a post-apocalyptic future,  Fury Road sees Max in the grips of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his army of War Boys.  Ever the survivor, Max finds himself reluctantly helping rebel Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Joe’s five liberated wives seek “The Green Land.”  Pursued by Immortan Joe’s minions, Max’s escapades descend into a high-octane race for freedom.

Review:  Oh what a  movie!  What a lovely movie!  After a thirty year hiatus from the silver screen Mad Max returns with a vengeance in director George Miller’s superb film Mad Max: Fury Road.  It’s rare that you see a film live up to the buzz, but Fury Road not only lives up to, but exceeds the hype.  Fury Road packs a narrative heft rarely seen for films in this genre.  It operates on so many levels, that it becomes a film that begs for repeat viewings.  And believe me I will be watching this film MANY times in the years to come.

George Miller has always done an excellent job of creating the dried out post nuclear war future inherent in the Max Max series.  However, with Fury Road, Miller has taken it to a whole new level.  You’re literally immersed in the world of Fury Road, so much so that you can almost taste the desert dust.  Miller is very much in the vein of directors who prefer a “show don’t tell” approach and it works superbly here.  And it’s not just about John Seale’s precise cinematography that masterfully captures the arid landscapes.  George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris’ script relays an entirely unique society, one where Warboys like Nux (Nicholas Hoult) worship V8 engines and believe that if they die in service to Joe they will enter gates of Valhalla.  This quasi-religion is the heart of Joe’s dictatorship and he uses that power to dole out water like a benevolent demigod and claim the prettiest women to satiate his desires.  If religion is the opiate of the masses, Joe is the anesthesiologist.  Jim Jones has nothing on Imperator Joe.

What’s fascinating and unexpected about Mad Max: Fury Road is its feminist tone.  It’s also refreshingly welcome.  The film could easily have been called Furiosa, because Theron’s character is just as prominent in Fury Road as Max is.  Maybe even more so.  Too often we see the action movie where there is the typical damsel in distress that the hero has to save.  Not so here.  Furiosa and Joe’s wives have made the audacious move to save themselves. (What a novel idea for a female character in an action film!  Go figure!)  They wish what any parent wishes–to make a better life for their children.  Written on the walls of their bedrooms is “Our sons will not be warlords.”  It’s a cry to liberate themselves from male patriarchy, a struggle still all too real in many parts of the world.  Although Max helps Furiosa and her cohorts, his sole purpose is not to save them.  They don’t need rescuing.  Max isn’t the white knight swooping in at the last moment.  Additionally, a fight between Furiosa and Max upon their initial encounter doesn’t end because of physical superiority.  On the contrary, Furiosa matches Max blow for blow.  The only reason it ends in Max’s favor is because of an opportunistic moment.

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Fury Road‘s feminist undertones and ruminations on belief and survival would mean nothing without the stellar cast.  Tom Hardy proves once again why he’s one of the best actors working today.  The man is a true chameleon and he brings a gravitas that fans of Mel Gibson’s original character will rejoice over.  Hardy has few lines (when does Max ever?) but is able to convey so much with a look or a gesture that words become superfluous. And quite frankly Max doesn’t speak a lot because he doesn’t have to.  Actions, not words, define the character of Mad Max.  Max is basically an anti-hero when Fury Road begins, (Miller has stated the film is actually set sometime between The Road Warrior and Thunderdome) haunted by the people he’s been able to save, specifically his own family.  He’s a jaded man and is concerned about one thing:  survival.  Yet despite his opportunistic and sometimes callous actions, you can’t help admiring Max’s resolve in a word that’s gone mad.  After all some shred of humanity remains with Max, otherwise he would have walked away from Furiosa’s group and never looked back.

Meanwhile Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is easily her best onscreen performance since Monster.  Gritty, determined, kickass, and desperate to live for more, Furiosa is the embodiment of everything you want in a female protagonist.  As beautiful as Theron is in real life, her sexuality is downplayed in this film, so much so that I never even thought about it.  Much like Max, Furiosa says little.  She’s created walls around her heart as high as Joe’s Citadel.  Hope is something she doesn’t dare to dream about.  It’s this aloofness and emotional distance that keeps her focused on her goal of escape.  It also makes a later scene in the film much more emotionally impactful than it would have been if Furiosa wore her heart on her sleeve.

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And how could I write this review without talking about Nicholas Hoult’s Warboy Nux?  Creepy and loveable at the same time, he goes from a chrome spraying, Valhalla seeking, disciple of Joe to someone who begins to realize his world is a lie. Hoult brings a childlike nature to Nux’s character.  Nux in many ways epitomizes the “boy” part of Warboy, a dutiful son trying to please his father and willing to believe in anything.  Hoult’s character embodies everything that Furiosa and her group are trying to change.  Plus he looks pretty awesome roaring down the desert highway covered in white and black body paint howling at the top of his lungs.

Forgetting about the deep themes of the film, the incredibly acting performances, and the beautiful cinematography, Mad Max: Fury Road is also a damn good action movie.  It’s unapologetic and in your face from the moment the title burns across the screen to the final climactic car chase.  It’s a true throwback to classic 80s action films like Die Hard, Commando, and yes The Road Warrior.  So often now we walk away from movies and never have to ask “How did they do that?”  We know–CGI.  Not so with Fury Road  It’s the first time I’ve walked away from a movie in a long time going “How the Hell did they do that?”  CGI is at a minimum in this film with most of the stunts being done in the traditional way.  Some of the sequences towards the end involving poles vaulting from car to car were particularly awe-inspiring.  Be warned young directors in Hollywood.  You’ve just been put on notice by a seventy year old man.

Presuming Mad Max: Fury Road makes the requisite amount of money I hope to see the titular Road Warrior back on the screen soon.  Fury Road is the start of a new trilogy according to Miller, and the next film Mad Max: Wasteland is already written.  Even if it doesn’t happen though, Miller, Hardy, Theron, and company have delivered audiences a powerhouse of a movie and quite simply one of the best action films ever made.  Don’t wait for the Blu-Ray or digital copy.  Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen.  Don’t miss it.

My rating:  10/10

You can follow me as Darth Gandalf on Twitter at @cocook1978

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