Movie Review: Mad Max Fury Road
Mad Max returns, after having wandered through the Hollywood wastelands for 30 years. George Miller returns to the helm as director for the 4th movie in the franchise he created. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as the titular Max Rockatansky, and while he gives a game performance, he seems completely overshadowed by the real star of the film: the cinematographer. Fury Road is a visual masterpiece that contains breath-taking shots, one after another. These shots don’t always add up to a smart plot, but they never cease to be creative and eye-popping.
Mad Max Fury Road (2015)
Max Rockatansky (Hardy) is driven to madness by the visions of all people he couldn’t save when the world went to hell. Added to that list of loss is his freedom: within seconds of appearing on screen, Max is overwhelmed by a raiding party that serves Immortan Joe, a warlord who ruthlessly guards his monopolies on food, water, gasoline, bullets, and most importantly, fertile women. The radioactive fallout from the last war has caused sterility and horrendous mutations in the population, and Immortan Joe keeps any females who can breed true as personal prisoners to extend his own bloodline. One day, his war general, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron,) helps these women to escape, causing Joe to chase the fugitives with every vehicle he has…including the one that is currently using Max as a hood ornament.
Who Killed the World?
Fury Road walks a fine line between a sequel and a reboot. You don’t need to know anything more about Max’s history than he tells you himself, and his recollection of his own story neither confirms nor contradicts anything he’s done in previous movies. Likewise, the back-stories for the other characters we meet don’t add or detract from the old films. Miller opts instead to expand the pantheon of murderers, gas guzzlers and mad-men horizontally instead of vertically: this is another pocket of the wastes that Max is wandering through, and it could take place at any time in his storyline. There are lots of hints about things that happened to Max that we may well learn about in the planned sequels or in the licensed video game coming out this fall.
That being said, there are two take-aways from this approach: it allows the film to move forward with minimal baggage, but also leaves Max as a vague character, more important for what he does than who he is. He’s not the savior of the wasteland or the guy who beat Thunderdome, he’s just a guy who is good with guns and cars, and has a whole host of mental health issues. Similarly, there’s not very much history for any of the other leads, which is a shame because both Furiosa and Nux (Nicholas Hoult) are amazing creations that could have whole movies made just about them. Even Immortan Joe seems like he deserves more room to exist, and hopefully we get that in the future (some of the sequels are rumored to be prequels.)
What a Lovely Day
While the story and characters are somewhat undercooked (though tantalizing) the real attraction of Fury Road is the breath-taking action and visuals. Miller excels at creating visions of the post-apocalypse that have really set the standard for the whole genre. His locales are absolutely iconic, from Immortan Joe’s fortress, to the haunted salt-marshes, all the way out to the edge of the world. The settings are unique and vibrant, peopled by unique factions that each have a look and feel that is distinct, yet still works as a whole in the ruined shell of civilization we essentially get to tour as Furiosa and Max flee.
Besides the locations, the set-pieces of Mad Max are master-works. When Furiosa leads the pursuing forces into the mother of all sand storms, I was floored by the cinematography. It felt alive and visceral to me, and I thought to myself “you will never see a movie like this again in your life.” Anyone who tried to recreate it, even Miller himself, would look like a plagiarist. This is the definition of creative film-making, and the movie is full of moments like that. Each time the pursuit catches up to the fleeing war-wagon, a battle breaks out that is unique and incredible. It’s like going to see Cirque Du Soleil, but instead of whimsical costumes, they’re wearing spiked shoulder pads and firing machine guns. It’s a circus of insanity that manages to never repeat itself.
Gas Left in the Tank
The final accounting for Mad Max Fury Road is that is a visual treat and exhilarating ride, but that it leaves a bit of meat left on the bones. As soon as I was done watching it, I wanted to see it again. There was so much to see, I’m sure there are going to be moments I missed the first time around. It was exciting and fun, and even though I desperately wanted more time with my favorite characters and to know more about them, I was still impressed. I won’t say satisfied: this movie makes me hungry for more Max, more Furiosa, and more time spent learning about this world. I’m glad George Miller was able to recapture the fire and fury of his earlier works, and I’m eager to return to the wastelands with Max and company.