Tom Hardy takes point in this revival of director George Miller’s iconic Mad Max series, delivering exploding cars and fist fighting lunatics by the bucket load. Miller cranks the hyperactive mayhem up to eleven on this one and the results are nothing short of glorious.
In the thirty years since the last Mad Max film, Beyond Thunderdome, George Miller’s leather-clad, hyper-violent vision of the post-apocalyptic world has been riffed on, remixed and copied a thousand times over. It’s nigh impossible to find a post-apocalyptic world in cinema that doesn’t, at the very least, make some sort of reference to the world of Mad Max. In many ways, the insanity of Miller’s original films has been surpassed; video games such as Borderlands, for instance, take the concepts of the films and amp the ridiculous-level even higher in gleeful homage to Miller and his work. Now, he’s back to show the world that, while they may have had a fun time playing in his sandbox while he was off making animated children’s fare, it is Miller and Miller alone who remains King of the Post-Apoc Wasteland, and boy does he stick the landing.
Mad Max: Fury Road is, to put it simply, completely insane. It has no limits, it has no boundaries, it has no concept of “too much” in it’s head. It hits “the top” and then, without blinking, proceeds to go over it, leaving “the top” as a speck in it’s dusty, chrome-y rear view mirror. The results are gleeful and shamelessly ridiculous, a mesmerizing circus of characters and visuals that, on their own, would be the most absurd element of any other film but, together, mesh into what must be the filmic equivalent of the world’s most unhinged heavy metal concert.
The story is simple: the concubines of the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keats-Byrne) escape with the help of a hardened, but empathetic warrior named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and flee into the wasteland, pursued by the warlord and his personal horde of fanatical “War Boys”. Along the way they join forces with the titular “Mad” Max Rockatansky (a gruff, largely untalkative Tom Hardy) and together fight to make it to a fabled “green place”, where they will be free from the clutches of the warlord. It’s a very straight forward narrative with one simple drive: run. Naturally, the film is a chase movie, with most of it’s runtime dedicated to high-octane car chases and fights against the backdrop of the Orange deserts of the wasteland. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Miller manages to dedicate so much time to action without the film ever feeling rote or particularly exhausting. The characters are simple but sturdy enough to emotionally invest in with ease, giving the protracted set pieces a real sense of tension and urgency.
Hardy owns the role of Max with a a surety that proves an easy match for Mel Gibson’s original incarnation of the character. He rarely speaks in Fury Road, the role largely left up to expression and physicality. It’s a refreshing move away from the chatty, smart-mouthed antics of many a summer blockbuster hero. Max isn’t particularly charming or fun or friendly, though the character does possess a very dry sense of humor about him. Miller’s screenplay smartly allows for !ax to be something of an enigma. His personal journey being his need to come to terms with lives he was unable to save in his past, what the exact story details of this personal history are are left intentionally abstract and vague. Whether or not this is truly a sequel to the Gibson-starting trilogy is decidedly up to the viewer, it can be seen as the fourth film in one series or a standalone venture, it works either way.
Though Max shares his name with the film’s title, the real hero of Fury Road is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa; an instantly iconic action heroine with the steely-eyed intensity and combative capability to stand her own against the best of cinema’s long list of action icons. What many others have noted, which has become one of the film’s major talking points, is that Fury Road’s portrayal of women is distinctly feminist in it’s demeanor. Though undoubtedly a pretty sight, the concubines, or “breeders” as they’re referred to here, are never particularly sexualized during the course of the film. Even less so Furiosa, who is an action hero plain and simple. Not a sexy assassin, not an angelic flowy-haired Amazonian, but a gritty battle-hardened badass who is every bit the equal (and possible superior) of Tom Hardy’s Max. This is, ultimately, Furiosa’s journey, with Max just along for the ride.
Gender politics are really the central thematic focal point in Fury Road, though this is rarely addressed head-on. What makes the film important and unique is that it is the story of women saving themselves from a patriarchal tyranny. Miller intentionally avoids falling into the trap of having Max become a savior figure for the young “breeders”, which would undermine the central message of female empowerment. Furiosa is the savior here; standing up for herself and the other women and defying the life of objectification and commodification forced upon them by the chauvinist Immortan Joe. Fury Road is a female-driven movie, and is wonderfully unapologetic about this fact.
Mad Max: Fury Road is important, excellently crafted and, best of all, tons upon tons of fun. The rare, special blockbuster that absolutely owns it’s own premise and makes good on it one hundred-percent. It is destined to become an action classic and it will stand as one of the absolute best pieces of action cinema the twenty-first century has to offer. See it. See it soon. See it multiple times.