Directed by: George Miller || Produced by: Doug Mitchell, George Miller, P.J. Voeten
Screenplay by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris || Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Megan Gale, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, John Howard, Richard Carter, Angus Sampson, iOTA, Jennifer Hagan, Melissa Jaffer, Gillian Jones, Joy Smithers
Music by: Junkie XL || Cinematography by: John Seale || Edited by: Margaret Sixel || Country: Australia, United States || Language: English
Running Time: 120 minutes
By now, any and all action-junkies have heard the call: George Miller’s long-dormant sequel to his over 30-year-old classic franchise has roared back to life, riding on a trio of outstanding (but still teasing) trailers and an enormous amount of hype from cinephiles and hardcore genre-enthusiasts. I’ve already covered the crazy production history of this film, how Miller and a crew of over 1700 filmed on-location for months on end in the searing deserts of Namibia, orchestrating crazy stunts with limited CGI, how they painted a narrative primarily through storyboards about a seek-and-destroy action-chase extravaganza, sexual slavery and redemption, and of course, the return of The Road Warrior.
Boyhood (2014) only wishes it had a production this cool. Unlike that 3-hour snooze-fest, you can see every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears poured by Miller and his crew into this film. They worked their asses off!
Upon being asked if Fury Road would be the best film in the series, Miller replied: “It better be. Otherwise I haven’t learned anything.” Well said, George, well said.
Regardless of whichever social crusade attempts to piggyback this movie, be it feminists, “men’s rights” activists, misogynists, environmentalists, evangelists, or whomever —- Mad Max: Fury Road is unquestionably a superb film. It’s incredibly satisfying to see a hardcore, modern R-rated action-film that has a wide-release and this much hype. Though I have no doubt it will be outcompeted by schlock like Pitch Perfect 2 (2015, all you people who pay to see that movie suck… ), Fury Road will far outlast most if not all of its 2015 competition. This is the mainstream action-movie rebirth we’ve been waiting for, folks. It ain’t perfect, but it’s damn near close. This film delivers on its outstanding trailers and then some.
The greatest things about this film are its emphasis on visuals, its fluid transitions from pulse-pounding action scenes to brief exposition, character moments, then back to the action again, and finally its soft-spoken, emotional characters. Everyone expected this movie to deliver excellent action backed by grit and practical stunts, but I’m betting most didn’t count on all the characters (and I mean pretty much all of them) being this deep and the story this heartfelt. It is a story with a very obvious sociopolitical message, but like sci-fi action great before it, District 9 (2009), it never hits you over the head with its simplicity and lets its actions speak louder than any preachy monologues or manipulative plot devices ever could.
Much has been made of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, who is essentially a female Road Warrior akin to Mel Gibson’s Max in the first sequel of the same name. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Theron, despite the acclaim she received for her Academy Award-winning Monster (2013, which admittedly I still haven’t seen), as I find her often stilted and robotic in many of her roles, and feel she relies on her looks for most of her fame; that being said, she’s very good here as the film’s female lead and the character spark who sets the plot in motion, even if don’t find her terribly deep as a supposed “main character.” To me, she’s the most straightforward of the main cast, but she does her job. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: She’s no Ellen Ripley.
But she’s close.
Much talk has also followed Tom Hardy’s takeover of the titular Max character, how he is allegedly relegated to a supporting role like Godzilla in the 2014 reboot. Again, I’m not sure what the shock-value here is supposed to be, or if I even agree with it. I feel like most of these complaints come from people who have either never seen a Mad Max movie before or are unfamiliar with physical acting; one of the biggest reasons Max has become such an iconic character is his embodiment of the modern mythic loner, the wandering gunslinger of the American west, the ronin samurai without a master, the lonesome Viking warrior, as Miller so often describes him. In Fury Road, as in the other films, Max says very little and does a lot; he’s the strong, silent type with an emphasis on both adjectives. He has always been more the quiet observer of a world gone mad than a readily active participant in it, a perfect protagonist through which the audience can witness and project themselves against this crazy adventure.
In an insane world, a sane man is truly insane. That man is Max. To me, Hardy played the character almost perfectly. People referring to Hardy as an extra in his own movie are neither being funny nor correct. He’s literally a muzzled, feral animal that’s been reduced to grunts, growls, and gunshots. He enters and exits this story exactly how he should.
The most emotional characters in this story and the ones who feature the strongest arcs are the supporting characters, including Nicholas Holt as Nux, a loyal henchmen of the film’s villain, and that villain’s five wives played by Rosie Huntington-Whitley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton. Each of the latter have small but distinct and memorable roles, while Nux is such a tragic but relatable character that his final moments are arguably the film’s most impactful. They all have terrific, funny dialogue as well.
Hugh Keays-Byrne is deliciously evil as the film’s principle antagonist. Each of his henchmen is despicable in their own way, but Keays-Bryne leads the pack as some kind of deranged hybrid between Darth Vader and Skeletor. His voice alone is terrific, but its his crazed demeanor and cruel yet creepily affectionate mannerisms toward his religious followers and prized “breeders” that make him a truly memorable and unique villain; I only wish there was more of him…
There’s not much else to say about this movie. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know exactly what you’re getting as far as visceral action and outstanding location-shooting are concerned. There are a couple sequences of CGI here and there, but they’re done tastefully and used principally to enhance the physical action and stunts. I wish the film had spent a bit more time on opening exposition and depicted Keays-Bryne doing something truly despicable right from the get-go, but I digress.
George Miller has used his decades of experience in action-filmmaking and animation, as well as new technology to enhance, rather than neuter, his storytelling talents. Hopefully this sets an example for future filmmakers, particularly action-enthusiasts, to follow suite. One can only hope. Cinema’s hallowed stables of all-time great action flicks have just welcomed a new member, folks.
Oh, what a movie —- what a lovely movie!
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Mad Max: Fury Road combines great action, smart pacing, and good characters for a genuinely thrilling, emotional story. It’s modern action-filmmaking at its finest. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Holt, and everybody else down to the five wives to the evil patriarchal henchmen lead by Keays-Byrne’s Immorten Joe are wonderful. Everyone is wonderful, and they all have wonderful names. Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) and iOTA deliver some wonderful diegetic and non-diegetic music.
— However… some minimal backstory would have been be helpful. I wanted more Immorten Joe. There, that’s the most nitpicking I can muster!
—> In case it wasn’t obvious enough, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, receives MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. This is the best movie of the year by far.
? This movie was creative and inventive, but it wasn’t cheap, people. It cost $150 million to make, so go out and support it! And if you see Pitch Perfect 2 over this film, I’ll acca-kill you.