The Mad Max films have always had a special place in action film history, regarded as classics and the influence for many things since their release (like the Borderlands video games or all the Thunderdome “two must enter, one must leave” cultural references) and it’s hard to imagine a sequel/reboot some 30 years later ever being able to hold a candle to the originals. But Mad Max: Fury Road does just that and then some, not only setting itself apart and above the previous films, but finding a way to rise above most of the action films in the last few decades to roar into the top spot. It’s all largely thanks to the smooth pacing, Charlize Theron’s riveting performance, and spectacular (and non-CG) action sequences.
The only down side would be a pretty basic plot, which isn’t much more than getting characters from one point to another, but it’s how the movie guides viewers on that journey where Fury Road does something rather special: I left the theater nearly two and a half hours later I could’ve sworn it had been far less time than that and I can honestly say it’s been awhile since I remember feeling that way after a film. Most of my recent film experiences certainly feel like I’ve been stuck in a chair for two hours, but Fury Road‘s well planned out moments of action/tension relief keep the two and a half hour runtime a smooth and enjoyable ride. Not only are the breaks in action vital to the enjoyable nature of the film, but they are where we get the most background and world building, keeping even the quiet times engaging and important for the bare-bones plotted film.
In Fury Road, when we first meet Max (Tom Hardy), he’s not in a good place at all. However, it was at least a better place than Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Bryne) Citadel, where he’s strung up to donate his universal donor blood to help prolong the short life-spans of the War Boys, specifically Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He actually isn’t the agent of his own escape, instead that honor falls to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is stealing Joe’s fertile women so they aren’t stuck giving away their children to become the next War Chief in an endless cycle. Fury Road ends up becoming Furiosa’s film and rightfully so, for several different reasons.
Chief among those reasons is Charlize Theron’s riveting performance. There’s a reason this woman won an Oscar before and it feels like she gives everything she’s got to bring the torn soul of Furiosa to life. Furiosa’s determination to get her passengers to safety, her capability on the road and with weapons, the tenacity even when in mortal peril, and her boiling fury wouldn’t have been so spellbinding to watch if Theron hadn’t brought the performance she did to the role. Hardy does fine as the stoic, grunting, world-weary Max, but he feels like a bit player next to Furiosa. Another reason Fury Road is Furiosa’s film is the simple fact she’s the action heroine movies so desperately need (think of all the rightful outcry over the lack of a Black Widow film) and a perfect example of how to handle one, so aspiring filmmakers (and all studio executives currently in power) take note of Furiosa’s presence. If there’s one thing that still sticks with me from the film, and will for years to come, it’s her role above anything else.
But it will also be hard to forget the various car-focused mayhem, as just when I didn’t think things could get any crazier throughout the film, they went and upped it a few more notches. If there would ever be a sequel, it’ll be really hard to top what George Miller and the cast and crew have accomplished here. CGI has come to a whole other place in the last 30 years since Thunderdome, but it still can’t quite beat practical effects and Fury Road probably wouldn’t be as special if it hadn’t gone down that route. Because what makes the car chases and action sequences so memorable and captivating is the knowledge it was all shot with real cars and real people, lending an extra heft to each crash, explosion, and insane stunt; It simply feels more real and more dangerous because it is real and it is dangerous (to shoot). Plus, a guy constantly playing guitar during the entire film which shoots flames out its tip? What other film would ever do such a thing? Thank goodness Mad Max is back because I didn’t realized I missed that type of insanity until now.
There’s an interesting undercurrent to proceedings in the film, something shortsighted people have called a “feminist agenda” (which I won’t link to here because they don’t deserve the clicks, but this sweeping Mad Max franchise article tackles anyways), is the haunting question, “Who ended the world?” Only the brides to be, Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), Knowing (Zoë Kravitz), the Dag (Abbey Lee Kershaw), Fragile (Courtney Eaton), and the other women of the film ask the question, one which certainly means Fury Road is trying to make a point about our world today. But it’s a point worth making and a question worth asking, coming from an unlikely source: a high-octane action film usually reserved for testosterone only sentiments and mentalities. But you won’t find that here thankfully and it’s that unique and welcomed change up that adds another layer to the many reasons to find the film so damn enjoyable.
Here are a few other things:
- When the film does use CG, the sandstorm and Furiosa’s arm, it’s solid work; Especially Furiosa’s robotic arm.
- Jalopnik has an interview with one of the men responsible for putting together all the impressive vehicles and making them actually all drivable, including some talk about my favorite vehicle, the Peacemaker, which was a car on top of a tank’s wheels/body.
- Here’s some short but sweet interviews over at i09 with Theron and Hardy.
- Wired has an extensive interview with George Miller, where they focus on how they put the amazing car chase sequences together.
- It seems the next film has been tentatively titled Mad Max: Furiosa, which means I’m already all in for it.
- Sure, it got beat by Pitch Perfect 2 in it’s opening weekend, but a film with this type of word-of-mouth and high reviews will have much longer legs than PP2‘s front loaded opening, so don’t go writing this film off yet just because it didn’t make mounds of money.
Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t a perfect film by any means, but what it does to further the medium, as well as push the envelope for action films (and all films in general) with its visceral action scenes and strong female roles, gives it a place in the annuals of film history, destined to be a classic. But don’t just take my word for it, as it currently sits at a 98% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
+ Charlize Theron
+ Superb pacing
+ Stunning, well-planned action sequences
– Bare-bones plot