mad_max_fury_road_2Year: 2015
Director: George Miller
Writer(s): George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Region of Origin: Australia, U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 120 mins

Synopsis: In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland. (Source)

Watching Mad Max Fury Road was like discovering what a movie was, again for the first time. The awe, breathtaking spectacle and craftsmanship involved are all unparalleled, making us quickly realize how lacking, big blockbuster films like this have been as an art form. George Miller is a true auteur who hasn’t missed a beat in the franchise’s thirty year gap, and he hasn’t just returned in fine form, he’s reset the standard for intelligent, action packed spectacle. Like the film’s predecessors, which were all products of their time, Miller has updated the titular character to smash blockbuster archetypes to smithereens in a subversive way, bringing a much needed gender equality to what’s long been a testosterone-fuelled medium. Essentially, Mad Max Fury Road injects new life not just into a stale redundant genre, but to films in general – its a primal, stunt fueled extravaganza with strong character work, huge emotional payoff and smart, socially resonant themes.

Sometime in the far post-apocalyptic future, after the earth has reverted to desolate landscapes with scarce resources, Max (Tom Hardy) is a broken, lone wolf survivor struggling with the loss of his family. After he’s captured and used as a blood bag for a dying solider, he gets caught up unwillingly in a scheme which involves freeing the sheltered wives (they’re basically sex slaves) of a tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Held against their will their whole lives, Joe’s wives are making a desperate attempt at freedom thanks to one of his high-ranking soldiers, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Brought into the entire thing unexpectedly, Max ultimately has to choose a side in the conflict, as each party tries to find redemption in a world gone mad.

mad_max_fury_road_1Essentially one long chase scene, the simplicity of the plot couldn’t be more deceiving thanks to a film layered with themes about equality and smart feminist subtext. The film never ever feels like a didactic propaganda piece however, but instead an organic, accessible piece of entertainment that just so happens to have the brains to actually take a stance on something culturally relevant. You can enjoy the film purely on a visceral level, but even without having to dig too deep, it’s lined with a powerful story that will urge you to do more than turn off your brain. The economy of the storytelling and narrative is on point, with nothing ever feeling like a barrage of sensory overload for the sake of it, but instead always building a dynamic group of survivors who transform from an uneasy alliance to a group who finds hope and redemption together.

Visually, Miller’s keen eye for establishing a world that feels believable and lived in is on full display. Photographed by John Seale, the desolate, dirty post-apocalyptic desert feels like a living, unpredictable character. Establishing first the giant scale of tyrant Immortan Joe’s citadel and then branching out into the titular Fury Road, each scene is populated with characters who can’t even fully be appreciated on a first viewing, thanks to the dense minutiae lining each article of dust-caked clothing and the singular design behind each savage vehicle or weapon. Miller tackling the genre he created again shows that no one has been able to replicate it since, and even he takes it to the next level here.

In terms of the action, Miller’s dedication to practical effects and mind blowing stunt work just destroys everything comparable. Keeping CGI to a minimum, the danger and physical stakes have never felt higher or more exciting, and the film is really one of the best examples that stunt work needs to be recognized come award season. You’ll see things you never thought you would here, from a heavy metal guitar player being suspended next to massive speakers on the front of a giant truck, to people flying off of poles and onto moving cars, the road carnage never gives you a chance to take a breath, and demands multiple viewings. Needless to say, the action never feels like it repeats it self and Miller is smart not to make each self-contained sequence bigger or better, per se (it’s always operating at a dizzying 200%), but instead ratchets up the individual character stakes to make each encounter more important.

mad_max_fury_road_3Beyond the spectacle are characters that feel real and relatable amidst a massive, backdrop of extraordinary circumstances. Max is a nice twist to Miller’s original hero’s journey archetype, reworked for the modern age as a bystander caught up in a war for human rights. Gas and water are still scarce, but this time the film is about women being disgustingly relegated to commodities, and the way Max fits into that is hopeful metaphor of both men and women as equals, fighting together for a singular cause. Tom Hardy plays the character a bit more psychologically damaged and with unexpected wit; most of his best moments involve being genuinely surprised by what’s going on around him, although he definitely gets a few moments to show off his no nonsense, hardened resolve. That being said, the real star of the film is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Initially a soldier who betrays the film’s villain, she plays truly one of the best female heroines since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Theron brings gives everything to the role, and she’s the film’s heart, showing vulnerability and strength in ways that women just don’t get to in an action movie. She isn’t merely what men think women should be, but instead a defining type of hero that is all too rare nowadays. As Immortan Joe’s wives, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keogh, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton all make huge impressions, each with their unique stance on what’s happening and all relating a diverse set of ideas to cover all the bases. Each one of them have a really smart arc and stand on their own. Later in the film there’s the introduction of a group called the Many Mothers, which I won’t spoil, but watching them and what they stand for felt like such an achievement. Lastly, Nicholas Hoult as a cancer-ridden soldier named Nux, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as the villainous Immortan Joe round out the film’s colorful characters – they’re both completely different from one another, but are bound to be remembered, towing the line between campy theatricality and iconography. Really, there is no weak link here.. at all.

To put it quite frankly, Mad Max Fury Road is perfection on every level. From the rich mythology, insane action and urgent, empowering feminist message, Miller has made a masterpiece that is accessible yet defines the times with a keen sense of humanity and heart. It’s primal, massive, at times wonderfully silly and strange and sure to become iconic in more ways than one. Using minimal dialogue, Miller shows us directly mankind’s hope for survival and nothing can prepare you for the sheer lunacy that transpires on screen. Just quit reading this right now and go see it.