Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted by Joel Copling on May 14, 2015

The journey through the "Mad Max" franchise has been an odd and wildly uneven one. The 1980 original was a pretty simple affair (sometimes to a fault), and it was strange to see what quickly became series grow more outlandish as it went, with 1981's excellent first sequel cranking up the action element to 11 and 1985's dreadful "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" completely going off the rails. In pure roller-coaster form, here we have the next peak, with co-writer/director George Miller putting one foot on the gas and likely cutting the brake line with a couple of toes from his other foot. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is pure forward motion, relentless and electrifying in ways the filmmaker never quite evinced before, even in the best moments of the beloved second film.

After a brief, narrated recap of his character's family's fate at the end of the first film, we pick up with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, a fine stand-in for original star Mel Gibson) as he is captured and held by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who coincidentally played the heavy in the first movie, too), destined to be a forced blood donor for Nux (a completely unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult), one of the tyrant's mindless servants. During one of their usual supply runs for gasoline (a term become slang, as per usual, into "guzzoline" for this world), Furiosa (Charlize Theron, fierce and forceful in something of a role of a lifetime), one of Immortan Joe's imperators, makes a dangerous bid for freedom.

That freedom is not hers but that of Immortan Joe's sex slaves (played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton), whom she means to free and bring to "the Green Place," wherein Furiosa was born. Unfortunately, the road there is fraught with complications as it is enemy territory, so the entire rest of the film is an extended chase sequence with barely any time for chitchat (The few moments that Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris' screenplay pauses to talk are moments of such visceral clarity that they cannot help but to achieve the effect for which the writers are going) and with such brutish force that the 120 minutes feels like half that.

But in no way, despite the description of the film given above, is this a simple creation. It's a multi-layered beast, a ruthless thing that grabs its viewers by the throat and maintains that grip throughout, while storming through whatever doors of convention it can to offer something new and fresh in nearly every shot. There is enough danger, menace, intrigue, and impact here to reduce even seasoned fans of the action genre to joyous, tearful glee. Excuse the childish comparison and statement, but it's more than enough to make people ask, "Ultron who?" after stumbling and staggering out of the theater room. This is the big-budgeted movie to beat in 2015.

And that is in just about every aspect, from the wild and wacky production design (The sets, vehicles, and eccentric weaponry are top-notch across the board, including a flame-throwing guitar) to John Seale's vibrant cinematography (Even the 3-D format can't fully hinder the gorgeous grit of the imagery) to Margaret Sixel's exhilarated editing (Some of the beats within the action sequences are downright exhausting) to the exceptional blend of CG and practical effects work. Junkie XL's score, meanwhile, throbs without doing so intrusively, and the soundscape elsewhere is incredible, all crunching steel and crashing cars. The thing is a marvel of technical innovation and achievement.

Moving past that, there is a bevy of ideas here, not least that the film takes place in a world wherein gasoline and water are luxuries for a dying species (humans) that inhabits a world that seems to hate them. The simple construct of an extended chase is the perfect springboard from which to let loose a gold mine of thematic threads (Indeed, its now-pointlessly-controversial feminist tendencies are all earned, unforced, and built through action--not speech or stereotyping--not to mention fully potent). All the actors, though especially Theron, are fully committed to these performances. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is elemental and ferocious and far from machine-tooled, nearly bursting through the screen in an act of breaking the fourth wall that would not, as it happens, be entirely out of the realm of the possible.

Film Information

Tom Hardy (Max Rockatansky), Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa), Nicholas Hoult (Nux), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Immortan Joe), Josh Helman (Slit), Nathan Jones (Rictus Erectus), Zoe Kravitz (Toast the Knowing), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (The Splendid Angharad), Riley Keough (Capable), Abbey Lee (The Dag), Courtney Eaton (Cheedo the Fragile), John Howard (The People Eater), Richard Carter (The Bullet Farmer), Iota (The Doof Warrior), Angus Sampson (The Organic Mechanic), Jennifer Hagan (Miss Giddy), Megan Gale (The Valkyrie), Melissa Jaffer (Keeper of the Seeds).

Directed by George Miller and written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris.

Rated R (intense violence throughout, disturbing images).

120 minutes.

Released on May 15, 2015.