Of all the many, many reboots, remakes and revivals of old properties coming out this year, Mad Max was one of the odder choices this side of Poltergeist or Vacation. I like Mad Max but it’s not as well dug into the popular psyche as say Terminator or Jurassic Park, and there’s not a whole ton that sets it THAT far apart from any other post-apocalyptic action films.
Still, it’s not like I was opposed to the idea like I am to…hey, Poltergeist or Vacation. The Australian setting isn’t much, but it’s a reasonably interesting way of distinguishing it, and director George Miller’s visual style is reliably engaging. The first two are considered classics for a reason, and I’ve always been fond of Thunderdome, as incredibly jagged as it is. So I was definitely willing to give Fury Road a chance.
Like Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, the plot of this movie concerns Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy this time) getting caught up in a larger conflict basically against his will. In this case he is captured by the War Boys, a group of soldiers who worship King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played Toecutter in Mad Max), an elderly man who’s been setting himself up as a mix of Charles Manson and…The Humungus, appropriately enough.
Soon after he is captured, one of Immortan’s best soldiers Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to go AWOL, freeing Immortan’s sex slaves and taking them with her when she steals one of his War Rigs. Max winds up being used as a living blood transfusion by Nux (Nicholas Hoult) when they go to bring her back. A series of accidents cause Max to wind up in the company of Furiosa as both are wanted dead by Immortan.
If you want the best way to define Fury Road is by the fact that one of the earliest scenes includes a truck with a rig, with 4 drummers playing huge drums on the back. Oh and hanging on the front of the rig is a guy with a dual necked guitar that shoots fire. If any of that sounds like something you’d find awesome, you should immediately drop everything and go see this movie, it’s worth it.
If there’s one element that really puts this movie over the top in terms of being more than a good action film, it’s the incredibly tight geography. The action basically never leaves the area surrounding War Rig and it makes it easy for anyone and everyone to tell what’s going on and where everything is in relation to everything else. That might not sound like much, but it keeps the action from getting overwhelming and allows the audience to process it.
This combines with some incredibly solid directing. George Miller hasn’t directed an action movie in some 30 odd years but he steps back in like it was yesterday. The cinematography from John Seale is gorgeous when it’s showcasing the scenery and extremely engaging when it’s diving in for the action scenes (Seale is still best known for The English Patient, which looks great, even if it is paced like a river of already dry cement).
Of course, all of this is dancing around my favorite element of the direction: It’s real. I’m not against CGI, at least not in theory, but I didn’t know how much I’d missed real locations and stunts until I hadn’t gotten to see them in so long. The sense of reality granted by the…well reality of it, makes the action even more intense, buoyed by great pacing that lets the film naturally ramp up into an incredible blowout of a climax (seriously, you need to see it to believe it).
The character work (and to a lesser extent, the script; Dialogue is not very subtle) is where problems begin to creep in, but not in any serious way. The film’s sense of continuity with the previous three is basically nonexistent (not a problem, just an observation) and the film doesn’t really do too much with the character of Max, except an increased focus on his incipient insanity.
Neither Max nor Furiosa have too much in the way of a character arc outside of their relationship. Max begins the film working with Furiosa basically out of a lack of other places to go, Furiosa begins working with Max literally because he has a gun to her head, but their relationship does evolve in a smooth and natural way. But that’s not really the same as a character arc, as both of them begin and end the story as essentially the same person and both seem reasonably comfortable with themselves.
But that’s not really that much of an issue, as many good action films (including Road Warrior for example) don’t really do much in the way of character growth. Most of the character growth is reserved for Nicholas Hoult’s Nux. He initially seems to be mostly there to get Max involved in the plot and to help with some world building about Immortan Joe’s cult, but he winds up getting involved and becoming a fully realized and engaging character.
The acting is also above average, if only by action movie standards. Charlize Theron is incredibly into her roll as the badass warrior woman, with the mechanical arm and shaved hair, and he commitment to the part carries a lot of the movie. Hardy is also fairly impressive in a quieter way, a grunting mountain of muscle who only really communicates when he needs to, but even if he wasn’t a good actor (and he is) he’d have been worth hiring just for the imposing physical presence.
Hoult is a little weirder, his character made up of manic energy and semi-psychotic ticks, but he’s still very into it, and I found his performance quite engaging. High Keays-Byrne is also a great physical presence as Immortan Joe, even if the film is leaning a little to heavily on a Darth Vader motif (imposing guy with a voice modulator and a gas mask…well what works, works).
If you’d told me this time last year that I would be telling you that the latest Mad Max movie is a better and more engaging action movie than the latest Avengers, I’d probably have laughed in your face. But here I am: Mad Max: Fury Road is far and away the best action movie of the year, miles ahead of Age of Ultron, and it sets an incredibly high bar for all action movies for the rest of the year. If you’re looking for any good action movie at this time of year, do not miss this one.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s fairly certain he heard one of the girls refer to Max using Smeg, which might be a Red Dwarf reference. And that’s awesome.
– fantastic action, with great stunts
– well paced
– solid acting
– great soundtrack
– mediocre character work
– script isn’t great