Finally – the action movie about a badass apocalyptic desert warrior that we’ve all wanted, nay, needed for years now. I’m not talking about the titular Mad Max, either. The film’s undoubtable protagonist is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is both the brains and the brawn, devising and facilitating her own plan to free villain Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) slave brides without so much as the thought of help from anyone else – let alone weirdo loner Max (Tom Hardy). The premise is simple and familiar – get from point A (the Citadel) to point B (“The Green Place”) without getting killed in the process. The journey, two solid hours of what is essentially a huge car chase, is so much fun that I recommend seeing the film on the big screen at least twice to soak it all in.
Returning 30 years later with his latest Mad Max installment, 70 year old director George Miller (with some help from Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler) shows up his younger contemporaries by making an action movie that is all action. Breaking from the tired, typical formula of explosion-tits-explosion-robot-tits-explosion, Miller re-introduces audiences to his stunning post-apocalyptic desert vision where he does a whole heap of showing and not telling, the writing team forgoing an initial screenplay for comic book-like storyboards. A dearth of dialogue does not hurt the film, however. By using concise and effective editing, design, and action staging strategies, Miller creates a film that feels like a visual art piece. This vision is achieved by spending much of the film’s estimated 150 million dollar budget on real pyrotechnics and stunt work (more on that here).
In addition to the film’s stunning visuality, there are several distinct messages that Miller smartly introduces and then leaves the viewer to sort out for themselves – the most prevalent being the rumination on the destructive nature of a culture built around forced masculinity. Stripped of natural resources, the world that Furiosa and co. inhabit has been exhausted by the greed of powerful men like Joe, who, after desecrating civilization, then relegates the use of the few remaining natural resources to suit his conceit. Though post-apocalyptic, the warring dystopia and fear-based system of subjugation that Joe has created is all too familiar, forcing audiences to draw parallels between this world and their own. Without giving too much away, an effective alternative strategy to Joe’s ruling of the Citadel is offered – what can be considered a community fashioned around positive traits indicative of the feminine (the focus on birth and re-birth, agriculture, well-being, and a leaderless community to name a few).
Another prevailing theme is the rejection of commonly-held ideologies. Joe’s followers, the “War Boys,” worship him as a god and aspire to reach the paradise of Valhalla by (and only by) killing themselves in battle. This belief is so ingrained in their thinking that even when former War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), joins forces with Furiosa, Max, and the brides, he is incredulous at the notion of not dying in battle for his cause. Miller takes great pains to convey the futility of leader-based institutions, instead presenting a team of people who, by embracing their capacity to decide what is right, are all in control of their own destinies. Fury Road does not spend time overly moralizing, however. These themes are subtly and successfully carried to fruition by a stellar cast.
Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa gives face. Not just carrying much of the film’s hands-on action through lengthy (and rad) driving and fight scenes, she does nearly all of her character development through nuance, her countenance illustrating many of the perceptions and emotions unsaid. Tom Hardy’s Max, who, coincidentally, doesn’t reveal his name until the film’s end is parts savage and calculating, with a heavy dose of loss. He often forgoes speaking by doing the classic Tom Hardy mumble-grunt™thing that makes many of his characters so compelling (more mumble-grunt acting here and here). Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, though lauded by many critics, often fell flat for me, his performance seeming stiff and forced. To Hoult’s credit, however, Nux does become more compelling as the film progresses, growing to nearly heroic heights by the end. The brides, played by Courtney Eaton, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, and Abbey Lee, do a fantastic job of growing characters that could easily be one-dimensional into fully-developed people with relatively little dialogue. Lastly, Hugh Keays-Byrne’s (who also played Toecutter in 1979’sMad Max) Immortan Joe is scary as all hell, his searing gaze above his horse-toothed war mask doing eighty percent of the bad guy job for him.
Though successful in many, many ways, Fury Road does have a few minor problems. Effectively sparse, sometimes the dialogue is cringe-worthy (many of these lines belonging to Nux), making what should be crucial scenes lose much of their gravitas. Also ineffectively developed are Max’s hallucinations of the people he couldn’t save in the past. The inclusion of these seems like an afterthought and do not help develop Max’s character in the way that they are intended. Overall, however, these issues do not deter from the film’s strength and instead humanize what was almost too-perfect a filmic execution.
Huge and sweeping in scope, Mad Max: Fury Road still feels rich with small details, making it seem more cult classic than summer blockbuster (perhaps the best example of this being Joe’s war party bringing a metal guitarist along for the chase). The film also passes The Bechdel Test with flying colors, a feat that many contemporary movies (not just action) have a tough time doing. With the recent news that Hardy has signed on for at least three more Mad Max installments, hopefully Miller will continue to be allowed enough creative freedom to make great movies in the coming years.
Amanda Adams’ work has appeared in other places – nothing fancy. She lives in Gainesville, GA.