Greetings from the untamed waste, my good prospectors and bandits! The summer blockbuster season has only just begun as we’ve seen a couple familiar faces either be teased (i.e. Jurassic World) or make their way to theatres everywhere (i.e. Avengers, Poltergeist). Among those beloved franchises is one that has stood the poisoned sands of time, Mad Max. Despite speculation over being a reboot or sequel, George Miller himself described it as more a return to the universe’s mythology instead. As to how this film fits in the series, it’s left relatively vague. In fact, the date the series take place has been altered by speculation and retcon alike. Likely picking up somewhere after Thunderdome (since it’s not really described when), this film focuses on Imperator Furiosa’s rebellion against tyrannical leader and slaver, Immortan Joe. In fact, while Max gets plenty of time to explore how his character continues to handle the empty Outback, Furiosa’s story takes center stage. So, how does the film handle? Well, let’s take some war rigs down Fury Road and find out!
To simply get this point out of the way, the film looks simply fantastic. With the combined vision of George Miller and (previously retired) John Seale, they managed to turn an ugly wasteland full of greasy raiders and rusted metal into something beautiful to look at. The cinematography captured a sprawling barren desert world with the occasional ruined bits of old civilization perfectly. One scene that I thought truly captured the mood was when Furiosa was on her knees lamenting as a slow breeze brushed the sand below what looked like a cool night’s sky. The lighting and background atmosphere complemented the scene in a fantastic way, really bringing the emotion home. Other scenes, like the cramped spaces of The Citadel, the winding road leading to “Green Place”, and the distant lands of Gas Town and Bullet Farm each painted an excellent variety of settings and moods. One thing that proved to be quite the joy for me was the fact that the film was made with predominantly practical effects. The usage of CGI was very sparse and tasteful at that, reserved for effects that would have otherwise been exceedingly challenging for practical work. The aforementioned scene with Furiosa above had only a little bit of computer alteration, to really bring the sands to life. While sort of noticeable, it worked in the scene’s favor. And speaking of desert, there was almost a peaceful ambiance in the background during the Many Mothers scenes, at least after a heated argument settled down. The night’s sky upon a quiet desert perfectly complimented the Mothers’ recollections of the past with that yearning for home. One could argue the grimiest and dirtiest looking scenes (especially at the beginning) looked pretty sweet too. The winding halls of citadel, the rebuilt industrial park overlooking a large cliff fall, the dusty “temple” space where the car wheels were kept; all of these really helped to build a chilling and ominous setting that only Joe could call home. Even the clean spaces where he kept his slave wives had something unnatural to them. All in all, there’s tons for the eyes to delve into alone. That said, one can’t talk about Mad Max without talking about the action.
While the film amounts to a really like series of car chases, each one was different and brought a variety of awesome shots to the show. Each group of people fought with their own means; whether it’s the Rock Riders’ ramp jumping and grenade throwing combination, the spiked cars off the Gas Town road trying to ram and slice anything in their way, or the weird tethered swinging poles from the Gas Town group; the action was weird, exaggerated, and all in all very fitting for the strange universe of Mad Max. The fights between vehicles were almost as surreal as the endless lists of eccentric characters to be seen in the series over the years. The action is unrelenting, but in a good way. You get enough time to catch breath before Joe’s assault continues. The characters themselves barely get a moment’s rest before the chase picks up again and chaos is unleashed upon a makeshift battlefield of gas, metal, and fire. Sometimes, the onslaught leads into another related scene of tense action, brutal stuntwork, and showcasing of some really badass cars!
That said, a couple of the decisions and action sequences didn’t really hold the weight of the rest. In an effort to speed up footage that was obvious meant to be played at a slower pace, parts look more so cartoony rather than simply cool. These kind of baffling bits detract from the overall cool factor the film otherwise has going for it. And while I’m at it, the weird flashback sequences that were mostly seen in the introductory bit looked more dated than strange. I get they were trying to harken back to that 1980s vibe, but the flashbacks were more hokey than dramatic. Though, one could argue they did a decent job at checking out Max’s torment and debatable madness (which makes sense given title context.) But, when you have an army of guys that look like 1990s Marilyn Manson, having visuals that look like something out of his music videos seems par for the course. Also, before the slave wives helped fight back, why were they in the car (doing nothing) while crossfire was whizzing past them? It didn’t help there was a small assortment of guns right in front of them.
A wide variety of talent brought post-apocalyptic Australia to life. Charlize Theron really took the show with her portrayal of Furiosa. Combined with the fact she felt like one of the more fleshed out characters in recent cinema history with a stellar performance, her character was likely the best in the entire movie. Whether it is her being an action badass like the film calls for or her anguish from her constant trials, desire for redemption, and the desire for home, she truly felt the most real. Her arc from frustrated commander to crusader for freedom and liberty was an awesome one. Granted, she had been planning for this moment for a long time, working her way up in Joe’s army, for the moment she could make her way away from the Citadel hell hole and back to her original home. That said, I wish we saw more of her past. I’m not asking for exposition, so much as a few more hints about what her life was like before breaking away from Joe’s legions. Even though things will probably turn out horribly in the end (considering Joe was really strict on conserving resources), I wouldn’t be surprised if Furiosa found a method around her upcoming plights.
Second to her was Hugh Keays-Byrne who played Immortan Joe. Byrne is one of the few veterans who fans may remember from the original Mad Max, where he also played a maniacal gang leader. This one went by the name of “Toecutter” and was more interested in mowing down Max’s family rather than trying to “own” his own. Granted, we’re comparing the early days of the apocalypse to years and years later. While he seems like this over-the-top bad guy whose more obsessed with “his property” (i.e. slaves/brides/war boys) than the well being of the people he looks over, his backstory helped to put context to the movie version. He’s a strong commander with a military background trying to preserve what’s left of civilization, even though his quest drives him out of control. His desire to lead civilization into a new age also creates this pseudo-religious zeal that allows him to command not only his slave army and wives, but legions of starving people who see him as a cruel but helpful god. However, once the veil was lifted and he was dead, the “peasants” saw him as mere scraps as he’s torn apart like that scene in Day of the Dead.
Of course, Nux the War Boy was a great addition too. A mix of naivety, a warrior’s pride, and an upbeat attitude made for a great foil-turned-protagonist… and a lovely day! While all the slave warriors wanted to make their master happy, he was the oddball misfit of the bunch who wasn’t quite as adept as the others. He had dreams of riding to Valhalla as a warrior champion, earning freedom in epic death in battle. In the end, his constant failure nearly destroys him until the protagonists turn him around. Certainly the cool anti-hero of the bunch. As for the build up of his failures, most of them were pretty comedic, until Joe witnesses him failing, as Nux watches in shock as his master discards him as waste. The transition from an amusing recurring element into a dramatic story changer was pretty cool.
While Theron and Byrne did excellent jobs at portraying their characters, there’s one character that I can’t help but say is my favorite. You should know, based on the picture I decided to use for the review. I’m talking about the crazy guitarist guy that acted as both signaling and morale boosting for Joe’s army. The dude’s strapped to a bungee cord, playing a twin-guitar which is also a flamethrower, wears some weird jump suit as well as a mask made from the face of his murdered mother, and rides on a massive truck/stage hybrid lined with stereo systems and a line of war drums. Plus, the guy’s name is “The Doof Warrior.” Seriously, what’s not to love!! Plus, this is the theme that’s used for when he appears to rock the battlefield! To make things better, he’s played by an actual heavy metal musician who goes by the name of “iOTA.” iOTA really made the character, describing him as “Keith Richards” but on more drugs and lost in the desert for months with a raider group. The stunts where he was on the high speed vehicle, as well as the actual flames flying off the guitar makes this character embody all that is awesome about Mad Max. Plus, the dude’s so awesome, they made a T-Shirt in his likeliness, spoofing Iron Maiden.
Despite some great main characters, Tom Hardy’s take on Max just didn’t quite do it for me. Call it nostalgia for Mel Gibson’s original portrayal, but I didn’t quite get the full Max feel out of Hardy. Sure, he played as maniac dealing with a handful of crazy people (some of which are very noble and heroic), while wearing a mask and talking about semi-nihilistic and apocalyptic subject matter in another movie, but I didn’t feel like I got enough of that umph in this movie. In that regard, I’m kind of glad Furiosa eclipsed Max for a good chunk of the film. As I said, Hardy wasn’t bad as Max, but for reasons I can’t quite gather, I don’t think he captured what made the Road Warrior a fun and awesome protagonist in the first place. He felt too broody, pretty much like Furiosa’s initial arc before switching into action hero. Now, I realize Max has dealt with disappointment after disappointment and never left the Outland wastes when he had numerous chances to do so, but I couldn’t register much emotion in his character until later in the film. But, for all we know this could be the “Feral Kid” from the second movie taking up the roll of Max many years in the future. Also, a good chunk of the movie involved him trying to get out of slave shackles, which didn’t exactly prove to be the most exciting part.
As for the film as a whole, it’s a return to form for Miller. After being mostly out of the loop in terms of action movies for nearly 30 years, he finally returned with a new look at Mad Max mythology. And before that, he had a couple films here and there, but mostly sub-par family movies. The fact he had full reigns over the project with a 100+ million budget is astounding and truly shows throughout the film. Set designs and cinematography are magnificent, acting is great, the choreographed fights were some of the coolest I’ve seen in a while, and the stunts were simply marvelous. Beyond the massive budget and total control, the film delved into all sorts of gutsy ideas. Rather than traditional action, we saw a focus on car chases and vehicular combat. Granted, for a series like Mad Max, it works out really well. And you could say traditional action takes a back seat to car chases! (Yeah, I’m sorry for that pun too.) Though, the first couple scenes of the movie pretty much set up for a different kind of movie. Furiosa’s development highlights that she’s one of the main focuses of the film. Though, what’s pretty shocking is we see Max’s original car destroyed not once but twice in the same movie, pretty badly at that. But hey, the same could be said for Bond’s classic car in Skyfall. Also, the transition from independent Australian arthouse (or grindhouse, if you prefer) to major Hollywood blockbuster stripped away of that DIY punk feel the originals had. While this movie is certainly more polished than the originals, it’s no doubt a Hollywood production. This is by no means a bad thing, but the film none the less feels a bit different.
Back to the main topic at hand, Mad Max Fury Road is overall a great movie. The action is intense, the breather scenes are tense, and the other scenes were surprisingly dramatic. The actors did great jobs at portraying their respective roles within a world that had nothing, even though there was still plenty to look at. While this film is basically a long run (and fight) to freedom, the journey of the characters is a great one. Some shed their masquerade in hopes of a better future, some change allegiances, and others try to regain a lost sense of empathy. The world presented us with a dried up hell, the remains of a broken world, and some downright sweet Frankenstein’s monsters of cars! Considering the influence this series had on pop culture, it’s good to see Max return to the nuked and shattered Outback deserts. Despite the mad ramblings from around the webernet, I found this to be a great summer film that many will enjoy.
Overall, Mad Max Fury Road receives 8.5 exploding hodgepodge cars out of 10!
Now, whose ready for that Mad Max video game? Guess we’ll see around E3 if it’s actually good or not?