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 30+ year-old 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 in the searing deserts of Namibia, orchestrating crazy stunts with limited computer generated imagery (CGI), how they painted a storyboard narrative about a seek-and-destroy action-chase extravaganza, sexual slavery and redemption, and of course, the return of The Road Warrior (1981). 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.”
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 a superb film. It is incredibly satisfying to see a hardcore, contemporary, 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), 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 delivers on its outstanding trailers and then some. I only wish I had jumped on the hype-train sooner.
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 an obvious sociopolitical message, but like science-fiction 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), as I find her 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 great here as the film’s female lead and the character spark who sets the plot in motion. She’s no Ellen Ripley, but she’s close, more or less becoming the face of this adventure from start to finish.
Much talk has also followed Tom Hardy’s takeover of the titular Max character, how he is allegedly relegated to a supporting role in his eponymous franchise like Godzilla in his 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 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 brooding protagonist through which the audience can witness and project themselves against this crazy adventure.
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 funny, memorable dialogue and great chemistry, as well..
Hugh Keays-Byrne is delicious 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, and that we had a tad more context as to how his unhallowed kingdom came to fruition within this hellish landscape.
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-photography are concerned. There are a couple obvious CGI FX here and there, but they’re done tastefully and used to enhance the physical action and stunts. Again, I believe the film could’ve benefited from even a few minutes of detailed exposition to better stage the central chase sequence that drives the primary narrative, 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. Cinema’s hallowed stables of great action flicks have just welcomed a new member, folks.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Mad Max: Fury Road combines great action, smart pacing, and good characters for a thrilling, emotional story. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Holt, and the entire cast down to the five wives to the evil patriarchal henchmen lead by Keays-Byrne’s Immorten Joe are wonderful. Tom Holkenborg (also known as Junkie XL) and iOTA deliver wonderful diegetic and non-diegetic music, which, when combined with the film’s unforgettable Namibian location-photography and immaculate post-production color-processing, make for an unforgettable audiovisual presentation. Style, meet substance.
— However… some minimal backstory would have been helpful for added context, especially with regards to Immorten Joe.
—> In case it wasn’t obvious, George Miller’s Fury Road, receives MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
? This movie was creative and inventive, but it wasn’t cheap, people. What were the dimwitted masses’ anti-intellectual excuses for ignoring or dismissing this action-packed thrill ride? Were its stunts too cerebral?