“If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”
Mad Max: Fury Road is every critic’s dream. It’s accessible and offbeat, easily serving as a blank slate for a barrage of adjectives and catchy phrases to hail and praise. This is a chase movie, so to start I’ll just cut the crap and jump right to it. Fury Road is an incredible film. It’s artistic. It’s astute. It’s astounding and astringent. The genres of film history have no bearings for something of this nature. And the reason being that not only does the movie defy genre association, it manages to create its own, pushing the boundaries of every aspect of filmmaking. Personally, I found the trailer a little off-putting, mostly because of the self-congratulatory entitlement for George Miller to allow himself to be described as a mastermind. I was wrong…because he is. Mad Max: Fury Road leaps off the screen with the most tangible action I’ve ever seen put on film, all backed by a dramatic narrative which makes it really matter. It’s the manifestation of insanity.
Set in a post-apocalyptic sea of sand and salt, Fury Road is a relatively simple story. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne) is the overlord of The Citadel, a small glimmer of green thumb life in an otherwise arid Antipodean wasteland. He’s a capital g God, amassing an army of War Boys promised paradise now in Valhalla after meeting their maker for the sake of their ruler. Immortan keeps a pen of women at his bay, hoping one will have his son and proper heir. That doesn’t fly with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She’s the desolate future’s version of an ice road trucker, driving a war rig to gather the precious and hilariously named guzzaline for a fuel source. Long story short: she takes the sovereign’s virgins, diverts her route, and has hopes of reaching the green place she called home as a child. And along the way she meets Max.
Max, this time brought to life by Tom Hardy, describes himself as a man who lives by a single instinct…survive. For a large portion of the movie he wears a muzzle, clearly to denote his animalistic qualities. Max is captured by War Boys and used as a universal blood donor for the drained kamikaze Nux (an unrecognizable Nicholas Hault) to fuel up and continue on his nationalistic, terrorist agenda planned and mapped out by Immortan Joe. Max escapes, meets Furiosa, and from there it’s an anti-climatic sequence of rabid dogs chasing their meal ticket to nirvana, all while our protagonists search for redemption and rectitude. I say anti-climatic because, as you’ll understand once you’ve seen it, Fury Road is a 100 percent full throttle, pedal to the metal, balls to the wall exercise of non-stop imaginative ingenuity. There can’t be a climax if it never lets up. This future is a gloriously exaggerated vision of steampunk, but beneath the haunting visuals is a redemption story, which is the best character arc a film can follow. Here it’s original, strong, and unlike anything you have seen.
Despite the title, Max really isn’t the lead in this film. That responsibility is given to Theron as Furiosa, and she’s searingly spectacular. As a result, many people are hailing this movie as a step forward in feminism. I for one refute that perception, because labeling this story as such, minimizing its epic ambition to just another “ism”, is to unfairly brand it along with other antiquated ideologies. That’s passé. Instead, see this story and appreciate its balance, how it manages to be more realistic than most anything you will see this year or any. That’s all despite a man who plays a flame-throwing guitar, War Boys who huff chrome spray paint and are so white they could’ve been cast in Powder, and countless other unforgettable images plucked from a twisted imagination. George Miller puts the ladies on the front lines, beside the men. The men save the women, the women save the men, and the rousing strength of the human spirit and its hope is equally spread out to every character who wants it. It’s the kind of masterwork that should be discussed in a Gender Studies course.
To me, this is a crowning achievement in cinema. It’s brains and brawn and bravery. Summer blockbusters have begun to lose touch with their audiences. Oftentimes there is so much CGI and destruction that the story is offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the box office gods. However, Miller takes the difficult approach, going to great lengths to bring to life what we’re actually seeing. Honestly, the chase sequences straight up bend you over, and you’ll find yourself saying, “Thank you sir may I have another!” like an Animal House member of Omega Theta Pi. Miller said 90% of the effects are practical, which seems ludicrous once you see the film. The staging, choreography, and purpose of the action are all lessons for directors on clarity. There is so much going on yet we never feel lost. It makes you wonder how swaths of people can sit through a Transformers or Fast and Furious film, let alone a handful of Marvel movies, and know where every character is, what’s going on, and what the purpose of the scene is supposed to be. It’s the clearest direction and editing I’ve ever seen in an action film.
I knew this would be a solid action movie. The trailer sells it as such. But I didn’t expect the story itself to be so progressive and symbolic, with constant faith-based metaphors throughout. The War Boys live by religious fanaticism, willing to die for their savior to reach the Asgardian Valhalla. Immortan Joe preaches to his Citadel from Miller’s version of the Papal Balcony, telling them relying on “aqua cola” (a.k.a. water/life) makes one weak. Furiosa’s rig is a full metal jacket confessional, literally trying to escape her past life as the embodiment of her sins chase her down. This is a world we doubt could ever exist. But why not? Why can’t people go crazy and insane and mad? Why can’t we believe a figure like Immortan Joe could rise to power? People worship what brings them comfort and reassurance. In a bleak, hopeless world, anything is possible. We find purpose in anything that fills the empty void.
And then there’s Max, who I think is representative of Atheism. He doesn’t have a moral code. He’s neither redemptive or full of turpitude. Max is what Malcolm Gladwell would call an Outlier. In that book (which is a great read), Gladwell breaks it down into two segments. Opportunity followed by Legacy. Max, after failing to save his daughter and watching the world crumble, has the opportunity to change. And by doing so he establishes his legacy. So does director George Miller with Fury Road, a standalone and still cohesive part of the previously established Mad Max universe. This is a Basquiat painting brought to life, stimulated by Tom Holkenborg’s groundbreaking score, which sounds a lot like Tchaikovsky on heroin and LSD and acid. Not much can be said about this film that hasn’t already been written a hundred different ways by a hundred different people. So just see it. See it on the biggest screen and in the loudest theater you can. Miller went through hell to get this movie made, reminding me of Francis Ford Coppola’s grueling experience making Apocalypse Now. Like that film, Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute masterpiece.
“If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the fury road!”
Rating: 5 out of 5