Movie Review - Mad Max: Fury Road
By Matthew Huntley
May 25, 2015
The context under which I saw Mad Max: Fury Road was not one I prefer when watching any movie, namely that I already knew about its high critical and audience reception (I suppose that’s a risk you run when seeing a movie a week after it opens). Naturally, this raised my own expectations for the film and I’m admittedly impressionable, so part of me feared I would simply praise and like it by default just because the majority already had, which would make my own review rather hollow.
Luckily, though, I think my being so overtly aware of my circumstances allowed me to subdue my pre-conceived judgments and go into the movie with as clear and open a mind as possible, which wasn’t easy but I believe I managed. And so, it is my true and honest opinion that this latest installment of the nearly 40-year-old Mad Max franchise, and the first one to surface in 30 years, is, indeed, a very good action picture, superbly crafted, visually ambitious and all around entertaining. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the entire production approaches greatness, but it certainly possesses great elements.
Like its predecessors, the story takes place in a grim and unattractive future, one in which the world has become an arid, dry and barren wasteland. The original Mad Max (1979) practically pioneered this cinematic setting, which so many other post-apocalyptic action-adventure tales have tried to emulate and/or build upon. As far as the eye can see, there is only dirt, dust, rock, and leaf-less trees, prompting inhabitants of this fruitless and depressing dystopia to ask, “Who killed the world?”
There’s no clear answer to that question, but plenty of people are still killing each other as the population has been reduced to a single instinct: survival. Water has become the most sough-after and precious commodity on the planet and different factions have formed to seize and control its sources. One of the current dominating cults is headed by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a grotesque and tyrannical albino with flowing white hair who requires a special mask to breathe (not unlike Bane’s from “The Dark Knight Rises”). He commands an army of white-skinned and nutrient-deficient War Boys, whom he’s promised entry into Valhalla if they serve him. As the movie opens, the War Boys capture “Mad” Max Rockatanksy (Tom Hardy), the former cop still haunted by the murder of his family (he tells us he’s the type of man who runs from both the living and the dead). They enslave Max because he’s a viable source of blood.
Although the film is titled, Mad Max: Fury Road, Max himself is somewhat of a supporting character this time around, which was refreshingly unexpected. The more central protagonist is actually a heroine named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a supposed loyalist to Joe, but as the plot gets under way, Furiosa leads a caravan of War Boys into a rival gang’s territory. She hides in her giant rig five of Joe’s wives, each of whom only exists to bear his offspring. Furiosa, a warrior and expert assassin, has rescued these women from Joe’s clutches in hopes they can all return to Furiosa’s home called the “Green Place.” Joe and his thugs, of course, become privy to Furiosa’s traitorous intentions and the movie eventually settles down as a two-hour road battle between the two groups, replete with various vehicle chases, shoot-outs, and a whole lot of death-defying stunts. Max finds himself stuck in the middle but his lingering humanity eventually convinces him to aid Furiosa and the women.
We’ve seen a lot of what Mad Max: Fury Road has to offer several times before, and not just from countless other action movies, but all throughout the Mad Max series itself. Content-wise, there’s nothing terribly new or original here, and while the movie may be light on plot and character development, it’s rich in theme and atmosphere. Director George Miller, who helmed all the previous installments, and his team of artists prove they are masters of their cinematic resources. The visual and sound designs, along with the editing, fully immerse us in this world, no matter how dark, dreary and unpleasant it may be. We walk away thinking we’ve seen something unique, which is a hard task these days, especially for the action genre.
The movie’s stunts are also impressive, not to mention convincing, because they seem to have been performed mostly with practical effects instead of CGI and on actual locations instead of against a green screen. I was particularly struck by a sequence that finds Max dangling from a crane that’s swinging back and forth as his vehicle speeds down the open desert landscape. It was a truly awesome feat to watch and Fury Road has more than its fair share of such moments.
Given the consistent quality and financial success of the original Mad Max trilogy, we may wonder why it took Miller so long to make a fourth movie. Reportedly, Fury Road was stuck in “development hell” for years, but whatever the reason, it was worth the wait. The movie is up there with Furious 7 as far as delivering an exciting rush.
With that said, if Miller is planning a fifth installment, I do hope he makes it more character and story-driven. We’ve seen he and his team can do action, but I’d like the series to tackle its narrative themes on a deeper and more substantive level, especially since they’ve given themselves so much to explore. That’s not to say, however, it shouldn’t still contain a heavy metal band rocking out on the front of a big rig as violence and mayhem take place around them. That happens in Fury Road, and really, in what other franchise would such a scene feel so appropriate?