Movie review: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’Movie Review Thursday, May 21st, 2015
Before I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, I spent a weekend watching George Miller’s three previous films about Max Rockatansky, all of which were filmed more than thirty years ago and starred Mel Gibson in the role that made him a superstar. I’d never seen them, and it hadn’t occurred to me to do so until now. This is a little odd, considering my taste in movies, but it happened. I watched them in order, first Mad Max (1979), then Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981), then Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). All of them feature Max (Gibson), a stoic hero who tries to avoid a conflict between good and evil around him but then becomes its hero; the films are progressively more expensive and more explosive.
The first film, a low budget Australian surprise that for many years was the most profitable film in history, is an exploitation film; a hyper-violent revenge fantasy about a nearly lawless near future that happens to be directed by an auteur. It’s stunning and unnerving and brilliant. The second is a Hollywood-budgeted post-apocalyptic spectacle so stylistically influential that we cannot imagine dystopian depictions without the mutant vehicles, steampunk machinery, the clothing made of leather and feathers. The third is more of campfest, with Tina Turner as an evil queen and an army of abandoned children that make the film more family friendly. It was the only one of the films not rated R, and that was clearly a deliberate attempt to bring in more money.
Decades later, after Miller made Babe and won an Oscar for Happy Feet, he’s returned to Max, recast him with the wonderfully intense Tom Hardy, and paired him with an astonishing Charlize Theron, and made a film as surprising as Mad Max was. It’s the best action film in years. I haven’t seen a movie so jaw-dropping, so bold and ambitious and thrilling, since The Matrix 16 years ago. And by jaw-dropping, I mean my jaw actually dropped as I leaned forward in my seat in giddy awe.
At the beginning of the new film, Max is again a loner on the run in the barren wasteland left by a nuclear war. He’s captured by the more-or-less insane followers of a disfigured megalomaniacal water-hording warlord known an Immortan Joe, who is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played Toecutter, the villain from the original Mad Max. While Max is being drained of his blood to transfer Joe’s henchman Nux (Nicholas Hoult), Joe’s trusted Imperator Furiosa (Theron) absconds with four of Joe’s young wives, hidden in a tanker that was meant to take water to Gastown, where it would be traded for fuel. Joe and his army chase after Furiosa, with Max stuck to a poll on the front of Nux’s car, their veins still hooked together. Eventually, Max and Furiosa reluctantly team up, and some of the greatest chase scenes in film history ensue.
The genius of Fury Road is not in its story, which is ultimately a simple good versus evil, overthrow the tyrant, overcome the misogyny, and avenge the dead tale that hardly breaks any new ground in continuing the themes of the other Mad Max films. Yes, Furiosa is a fantastic character, and more interesting that the simple and taciturn Max, but we’ve had great female action heroes before, though few as well acted as Furiosa, who Theron has made already iconic with physical and emotional, um, ferocity. It is Miller’s visual storytelling, from the wrenching and dusty roller coaster chase scenes to the still moments of sometimes horrid desert beauty, a mad combination of David Lean and Terry Gilliam, Lawrence of Arabia crossed with Brazil, which feels totally new, even if it is all a clear descendent of Miller’s previous work. This is operatic action, so bombastic and intense and engulfing that I felt physically exhausted at the end of the film, as if a woman with massive lungs had belted “The Ride of the Valkyries” right into my face, the force of her voice flattening my hair and numbing my skin.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller
Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult
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