Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
George Miller

George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest, ballsiest and most badass action movies in ages. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been decades in the making, and that passion shows in the final product. Though Mel Gibson was originally considered to reprise the titular role when Miller first hatched the idea back in 1998, after production was stalled by a series of financial and political difficulties (not to mention Gibson’s own well-publicized personal issues), “Fury Road” slipped into development hell for many years until Miller eventually got to make his movie. With the entire film famously storyboarded before a script was even written, “Fury Road” is about as nontraditional as a big-budget studio movie gets, surviving on its sheer originality, audacity and no-holds-barred attitude.

Set in the year 2060 and loosely following the events of the first three installments, “Fury Road” finds former cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. When he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased male minions, known as the War Boys, Max’s fate appears to be sealed. But after one of Joe’s war rig drivers, the bionic-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), suddenly goes off course during a routine fuel run, Joe’s massive army chases after her – including sickly War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who’s so desperate not to miss out on the action that he straps Max to the hood of his car, connected only by a chain and IV tube, so he can continue to heal. It turns out that Furiosa is trying to rescue a group of female captives that Joe plans to use to repopulate the world in his image, and when Max eventually crosses paths with them following a miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get them to safety.

Credit to Warner Bros. for stumping up the cash (a reported $150 million) and getting the hell out of Miller’s way, because “Fury Road” feels like a singular vision without the usual studio interference – something you don’t normally see from a major summer blockbuster. But Warner’s gamble certainly paid off, because “Fury Road” is a truly unique moviegoing experience that benefits from not having too many cooks in the kitchen. It looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals; the day scenes are shot in a sunburnt orange that makes you feel the beating heat of the desert, while the night scenes are contrasted nicely by a cool, steel-blue tint.

For as incredible as the movie looks, however, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, “Fury Road” is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see – and they become even more impressive when you realize that almost all of the effects are completely practical. It’s a minor miracle that someone didn’t die during the making of this film, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each carefully staged explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look to the action works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. At one point, Max fights a deranged guitar player who, along with a bunch of Taiko drummers riding on the back of a mobile soundstage, provides the film’s rock ‘n roll soundtrack. Oh yeah, and the guitar doubles as a flamethrower, because why not?

Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, but it’s the dead space in between that proves troublesome. Though there are brief allusions to Max’s past with weird, spectre-like visions of a young girl he couldn’t save, Furiosa is the only character who’s given any actual development. In many respects, she’s the hero of the movie, and while Hardy does exactly what’s required of him as the mysterious, soft-spoken Max, Theron brings a humanity to her performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest. With such paper-thin supporting characters and an equally lean plot, it’s difficult to invest in the story at times, but that’s hardly the appeal of a movie like “Fury Road.” Though it would have benefited from a tighter runtime and falls short of the worship-like praise that many people have lavished upon it, this is easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet. Those looking for something of more substance will be disappointed, but from a purely visual standpoint, it’s hard to imagine any other movie this summer will be as much fun to watch. See it on the biggest screen possible; you’ll thank me later.