Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Posted: May 23, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

madmaxfuryroadposterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The plethora of remakes, reboots, and sequels to long dead-franchises in the last ten or so years has been the fuel for many angry film fans who flock to the internet to complain. Of course, such outrage hasn’t stopped many of these same fanboys (and girls) paying for movie tickets and turning these films into hits, but a tangible resentment toward many of these films does clearly exist. And yet, there never seemed to be any grievances with Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth in a series which hasn’t seen an instalment since 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Perhaps it was because Fury Road was not a cheap grab by the studio, but an effort from series creator George Miller, who had been trying to get the project off the ground for years. My theory though is that while the Mad Max trilogy does have a following, only one of the films really lived up to series potential (The Road Warrior of course), and the notion of a film striving to capture that yet again seemed more promising than an already accomplished franchise seeing a forced sequel. Sure enough, Fury Road has proved to be an inspired and creative film which breathes new life to the Mad Max franchise.

The film opens on archive footage, along with narration from the titular Max (Tom Hardy), revealing what has become of the world in this desolate future. Essentially, society has collapsed, with water and oil becoming primary resources for warring gangs. Max is a former cop who lost everything in the fall, now just trying to survive through the wasteland. Early on, he is captured by a gang who use Max as a “donor” for blood and organs. This gang/make-shift society is led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls a fleet of vehicles and possess a group of “wives” he uses to continually reproduce. These wives plan an escape with one of Joe’s key soldiers, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Driving Joe’s “War Rig”, Furiosa escapes, inviting a large scale chase with Joe leading an army of eccentric followers. One such follower, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), needs a “blood pact” to keep him going, and this brings Max into the chase.

Previous Mad Max films have been about what products have become vital resources in the future, with water and energy sources like oil being the most precious. In a twist, the most precious resource in Fury Road is not a product at all, but fertile women. Immortan Joe is using a group of young women in an effort to create “perfect” children and there is also an undercurrent that men specifically brought about the downfall of the old world. The feminist readings of the film are there. The film is essentially about women reclaiming their agency, both sexual and otherwise. I also think Miller did a good job focusing on new thematic content while remaining true to the core of the franchise. That said, I don’t want to oversell the intellectual readings of Fury Road. At it’s core, this is a balls to the wall action movie, and essentially one large chase scene broken up by a few beats. After a few skirmishes in the opening fifteen minutes, the plot of Furiosa and the wives’ escape kicks in and the film becomes about Joe’s pursuit of the women, along with how Max enters the fray. Making such a singularly focused film is not easy, but Miller pulls it off, in large part due to pacing. The film is simple, Miller breaks up the action with more lowkey moments which deliver basic character and plot development. None of this is overly complex, but it works okay and is integrated organically. The action scenes themselves are all kinds of awesome. There is a tremendous sense of size to these chases, with tons of cars smashing into each other in all sorts of over the top ways. Miller never allows these scenes to become too big either. The man maintains control throughout, bringing focus to the insanity. In addition to the scope and skillful execution, there’s all sorts of creative things going on. As an added bonus, it looks like a lot of the action was filmed practically. There’s definitely CGI in spots, but only when necessary.

Despite the simplicity of the story, I did find a lot of creativity in the film’s world building. The previous films were also set in an apocalyptic future, but those worlds were fairly restrained. While there was some exaggeration for the sake of style, it never seemed like much of a stretch for what a real-life post-apocalyptic society might look like. This is not the case in Fury Road, which fully embraces the kitsch, Heavy Metal inspired vision of the future. The villains in particular have very stylized look with the frequent pale faces, and Joe’s mechanical enhancements. However the highlight in the “cool looking characters” file is the guitar guy; a henchmen of Joe who rocks an awesome electric guitar which doubles as a flamethrower. You’d have to be a real jaded bastard to not get a kick out of that. Additionally, Miller uses his visuals to tell the story and the world very well. We see an image early on of a bunch of women attached to machines extracting their breast milk for Joe’s own purposes. The shot doesn’t last long, but it does reveal things about this world and there are moments like this throughout. The film also spots some really beautiful cinematography and great use of warm (orange) and cold (blue) colours. All of these great visuals are matched well by an energetic score from Junkie XL.

Stepping into the role which originally helped make Mel Gibson a star is Tom Hardy. He does a fairly serviceable job here. Max isn’t a complex character, but Hardy brings the right masculinity and oddness to the role. He isn’t as mythic and badass as Gibson ways, but in some ways that might be a doomed undertaking, like someone other than Clint Eastwood trying to play The Man with No Name. It’s a simple characterization, but in some ways that makes recasting all the more difficult. The real star here is Charlize Theron, who is awesome as Imperator Furiosa. Theron is totally believable as a tough-as-nails action hero and brings the right emotional conviction to the part. I really hope to see this character again. Nicolaus Hoult also has a pretty fun turn here. On the downside, I was a little disappointed in the film’s villain. Immortan Joe may have a great look, and Hugh Keays-Byrne is pretty imposing, but the character ultimately doesn’t do much.

Fury Road does have its faults. There really isn’t much story here, and the plot is largely a hodge podge of previous films in the series. I also think that, much as I enjoy the extreme style, the more reserved style of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior resonates with me a lot more. Having said that, I must say I was highly impressed with Mad Max: Fury Road. As a work of spectacle alone, the action scenes here are staggering and worthy of the price of admission, however this isn’t a “leave your brain at the door” movie in the vein of Furious 7. This is a work of total visual artistry in terms of design and style which serves not only to look cool, but also to tell a story. Miller has returned to the series with a vengeance, and injected some much needed creativity into the summer movie season.

A-

Comments
  1. table9mutant says:

    Great review! :-) This movie made me happy. I hope we get more action movies like this! As a female film lover who tends to like a lot of “boy” movies, I of course LOVED the strong female characters in this. It’s great to watch a kick ass action movie that doesn’t feel like it was made only for a male audience.

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