Mad Max: Fury Road **** (out of 5)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris
Directed by: George Miller
If you’ve ever been to an art gallery, maybe you can relate. When I browse art, it’s clear that some pieces are great, and I appreciate them for that. That isn’t to say I’m moved to form an attachment, nor do I care for them beyond a passing glance. I feel much of the same towards Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a very well-made action film, occasionally fun, always weird, and daring, but I certainly don’t care to remember it. Can I consider the film to be a masterpiece, or George Miller to be a visionary? I’m sorry to disappoint, but this franchise’s third sequel never “breaks the mold” or sets new standards for action films. It just happens to be a superb action movie, with superb parts that I’m going to easily forget. Here’s a thought- were audiences ever really clamoring for another Mad Max film? Did the “Thunderdome” really leave us yearning for more? No, but I suppose if an iconic character exists, and the opportunity to unload more tales of apocalypse on an apocalypse-starved society presents itself, why not? Fury Road will certainly give those hungry for a heaping of nihilism a bellyful of joy.
Max himself is basically the same guy thirty years after we last saw him. He doesn’t really want to be a part of the aftermath of civilization. He just wants to survive. That’s fine for us; after all, we don’t need another hero (see what I did there!). He’s on the scene, he appreciates the struggle of the good guy, but he doesn’t have much to say or do. Well, he occasionally hallucinates, but that’s about the extent of his ‘madness’. Max will defend himself to the death, and in the process will likely take out a dozen or so foot soldiers. For a film entitled Mad Max, however, you’d think it would, well, center around that character and his struggle. It’s simply not his struggle, and as wonderful as Tom Hardy can be, a multitude of actors could have played Max. He’s captured by the soldiers of the despot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the same actor who portrayed the lead villain in the original Mad Max), and held as a prisoner/perverted version of a blood bag. This need for blood comes from Nux (Hoult), a dying “War Boy” doing his best post-apocalyptic Jack Skellington cosplay.
In the meantime, one of Immortan Joe’s warriors has attempted a daring escape with his five wives in tow. I suppose it’s not hard to imagine why Imperator Furiosa (Theron) went rogue- what with the forced malnutrition of most everyone inside the ‘citadel’, the forced milking of childbearing aged women, and Joe’s generally disgusting nature, what’s not to like? Furiosa drives the ‘War Rig’, a mythological beast of a vehicle. It’s like something out of a twelve-year-old boy’s pre-pubescent dream: armored to the nines, equipped with secret switches and compartments, molded from several cars, tractors, and tanks, sucking up all sorts of gasoline, spewing forth oodles of noxious fumes, and eating your Prius for breakfast.
The War Rig is wonderful, but not as much as its’ driver. The hard-boiled Furiosa yearns for the ‘green land’ of her youth, a place where grass grows and water flows. Nothing will stop her, not even a convoy of War Boys ordered to search and destroy. Nux has been enlisted to drive in this convoy, believing to serve a higher purpose, and hoists poor Max on his vehicle like a drip chamber from a nurse’s nightmare. The feverish pursuit of Furiosa across the ‘Wasteland’ sees a legion of muscle-bound psychopaths use every trick in the spiky, armored car playbook to bring her to justice, but will it work? In the frenzy, Max battles with, then finds himself aligned with Furiosa toward a common goal- escape.
None of this plot really matters, though. There are explosions to enjoy, faces to tear off, sharp things to pierce people, and mega-ton boulders that crush cars! In all sincerity, George Miller is due some credit. He’s made a fun film, and despite a lead character that no one cares for, he’s made up for it in other areas. The film is stunning to look at. Miller and cinematographer John Seale shoot the desert as if it isn’t full of bland, khaki tones and lifelessness. Fury Road is also a film with a great deal of odd character, and odd characters, a clear hallmark of the franchise. Think of the catalog of names: Rictus Erectus, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile. Really? Think of the societal norms we witness: the ‘chrome kiss’ given to War Boys on the verge of death, the wives wearing metal chastity belts adorned with fangs, the post-apocalyptic ‘drummer boy’ leading the war cry with his awesome ‘flame guitar’, and even Immortan Joe’s odd body armor.
What I believe the film will be known for most is the creation of Furiosa. Theron plays her like a warrior; not a female warrior, but a warrior. She doesn’t align with Max out of a need for romance, he doesn’t save her, and they both pound on the enemy. She’s an equal, a partner if anything. You could argue that Max needs her. Theron is so good as Furiosa, the clear hero of the film. She’s the best action leading lady I’ve seen in some time, and deserves a place in line with Ripley, Trinity, and other characters I’m likely forgetting. Then again, she’s no stranger to challenging the norm for women on-screen (see Monster, Young Adult, Snow White and the Huntsman).
Let’s go a bit further and state that ‘blurring the lines’ of gender matters, and Miller and Theron have put their best face forward to ensure that happens. As I understand it, Miller enlisted the help of The Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler to shape some of the film’s characters. I suppose that made enough of a difference, as the film’s best characters, the ones with the most moral of centers, are all women. They’ve always been capable of leading an action film, though, and I’d argue women are better at it. Ellen Ripley is still, eighteen years after her last appearance, the best action character. Calm your mind, gents. I’m certain that the feminists are not taking over your action films. However, women can and should be just as efficient at leading an action film as men, and be just as damn exciting doing it.
If we can separate ourselves from the need to consider an excellent action film “groundbreaking” or “legendary”, or from calling George Miller a “master”, we can enjoy Fury Road for what it excels at. It’s a 120-minute playback of an adolescent’s dreams, complete with just enough violence, explosions, nudity, language, and cool stuff to keep it fun and not depraved. Just enjoy the Doof Warrior, as he shreds his flame guitar into battle. Enjoy watching monster trucks collide across the plains of desolation. Enjoy Furiosa’s mad dash to reclaim her childhood and restore something pure about this future world. Then, like I have already done, forget about it, and move on to something that does warrant more than your Saturday afternoon’s attention.