Though there have been Mad Max movies before it, Fury Road thrills like something we’ve never seen before.
For a movie set in a post-apocalyptic desert hellscape, Mad Max: Fury Road is awfully refreshing. Though it’s the fourth movie in writer-director George Miller’s fervid, violent Mad Max series, it’s been a full 30 years since the last installment, Beyond Thunderdome. So, in many ways, Fury Road feels brand new. In a movie season exhaustingly cluttered with never-ending superhero sagas and reboots, Fury Road arrives, despite its pedigree, as a daring, fascinating, thrilling jolt of original energy. It’s invigorating the way a big cinema spectacular should be, reveling in the medium’s towering possibilities, and transporting us to a thoroughly realized world that’s wholly unlike our own.
That may sound like a lot of gushy hyperbole, and it probably is. But Fury Road comes as such a relief in a summer that already—it’s only May!—seems destined for doldrums that I want to use big declaratives in the hope that people will go see this thing and make it the hit it deserves to be. We’re not talking about a particularly profound film here—survival is its chief big, blockish theme—but it is the rare mega-budget movie that has both heft and playfulness; it’s dark but fun, a churning orgy of sand and fire that pirouettes with balletic grace. It’s startlingly well-choreographed, impossibly nimble for all its heavy metal-and-bone construction.
At root, Fury Road is a reasonably straightforward, though initially disorienting, chase movie: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is captured by a warlord-ruled sorta-civilization, one that religiously worships fuel and bullets. Max, tormented by visions of people he could not save in the past, soon finds himself tangled up in a desperate mission to free a group of beautiful young women held captive as broodmares by the aforementioned warlord, a wheezing, nightmarish ghoul named Immortan Joe. (He’s played, terrifyingly, by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played a different villain in the original Mad Maxmovie.) Leading the charge to rescue these women is Imperator Furiosa, a high-ranking officer in Joe’s army. She’s played by Charlize Theron, head shaved and missing half an arm. Furiosa, tough and driven, is a perfect complement and counterbalance to Max, who is swept up in her story, rather than, as is so often the case in action movies, the other way around.
In fact, as Fury Road unfurls, it becomes a surprisingly feminist tale: Miller spinning a yarn about women reclaiming their agency from an oppressive system that has long denied them any sort of autonomy. This is still a macho, muscled-up movie, with grizzled men warring over beautiful babes. But those babes—among them Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz—are themselves rebelling against their victimization, with the help of battle-scarred Max and haunted, determined Furiosa. (Theron cuts an arresting, sympathetic figure throughout.) We meet other women in this odyssey too, and by the final, madcap battle, Fury Road has become an empowering, distaff take on dystopia. Max, played with monosyllabic magnetism by Hardy (he says little, but does so much), proves a big help to these damsels in distress, but the effort is collaborative, a team of nothing-to-lose women and men (but mostly women) fighting to destroy the most brutal of patriarchies.
Miller pities the poor young men, though, specifically an irradiated, tumor-stricken “war boy,” Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult. Vibrating with manic energy, Nux wants nothing more than to die a gnarly, glorious soldier’s death in battle, at which point, he believes, he’ll be ushered into a shiny, chrome-colored Valhalla. Nux’s allegiances eventually shift, but we can see why this religious fantasy has so consumed him. Vehicles of all kinds reign supreme in this wasteland—these souped-up death machines take the Fast and Furious franchise’s car fetish to a feverish, scary extreme.
Miller has taken great care in tricking-out every big rig and monster truck, somehow keeping all their nutso embellishments—which allow for attacks both blunt and acrobatic—from tipping into silliness. Even the war boy who leads the enemy army with his blaring electric guitar (a battle horn for a metal era), a speaker array mounted on some kind of enormous gas-guzzler, feels oddly credible in this maniac story. Miller keeps things tactile and visceral; each vehicular assault is beguilingly immediate and frightening. These operatic sequences are wild to behold, but theirs is an ordered kind of chaos, Miller’s camera deftly maneuvering complicated action scenes that are, in the motorized world he’s made, constantly moving. (John Seale did the vibrant cinematography, he and Miller judiciously dropping frames to create jittery images of mayhem and melee.)
Fury Road rarely relents, but when it does slow down, coiling with suspense or pausing to reflect on all the sprawling nothingness surrounding these benighted souls, the film whispers with an intensity to match the louder stretches. Miller knows when to indulge in a serious slo-mo shot or a moment of sweetness or levity, without sacrificing the larger movie’s grim, propulsive charge. At a brisk (these days, anyway) two hours, Fury Road is economical without being restrained—the movie is truly, eye-poppingly epic, but there’s no drag or bloat. The film’s musculature is both lean and intricate, to supremely satisfying effect. It’s a crunching, grinding thing, ornate and ludicrous, that somehow still glides. Fury Road is a bracing, nervy, weirdo adventure that more than lives up to its beautifully cut trailers. I doubt there will be a more rousing potential blockbuster released this summer. Go see it. It’s maddeningly good.
Via: Vanity Fair