It’s been 30 years (almost precisely) since the last time George Miller presented us with a Mad Max movie, and while 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome didn’t exactly measure up to the standard laid down in Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior (1981) — probably because way too many studio suits got busy trying to cook in Chef Miller’s kitchen — then at least the trilogy managed to fit together as an consistently entertaining whole. And we figured that was that. End of story. From there Mr. Miller went on to create an eclectic batch of films like The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe, and its wildly creative sequel.
Every few years a new rumor about a fourth Mad Max movie would pop up, but we all generally assumed that the series would remain a rock-solid trilogy and nothing more. There’d certainly never be a “Mad Max 4”, would there? Even if there was, would Warner Bros make it without George Miller at the helm? Ugh. Too depressing to even consider. So that’s that. End of story.
Except nope. Not only is there (finally!) a fourth Mad Max movie to enjoy, and not only is George Miller back behind the camera, but holy CRAP is this one of the most energetic, kinetic, and visually stunning pieces of action cinema that I’ve ever seen. At 70 years of age, George Miller has pretty much redefined what we should expect from Hollywood-level action movies. We’ve all become a little complacent with the Hollywood action flick formula (which basically reads: character set-up, plot exposition, big action scene, repeat), and while nearly every other action director is content to color within the lines, George Miller is most assuredly… not.
Mad Max: Fury Road hits the ground running and practically never slows down to let its characters (or its audience) catch their breath. It’s the tale of a lone warrior who roams the apocalyptic wasteland, gets abducted by an army of wild thugs, and eventually comes to the aid of a fugitive who is smuggling some seriously valuable cargo. Pretty simple stuff, plot-wise, but practically everything takes place during a car chase. Virtually all the plot exposition we need, all of the “world-building” a sci-fi story demands, and all the character development we require to actually give a damn about all the chases, escapes, and explosions are presented while the characters are in pursuit, dangling off trucks, or being tossed through the air on long poles. The result is a staggeringly entertaining 120-minute action movie that flies by at a resoundingly expeditious pace, simply refusing to slow down for more than six minutes at a time.
So Mad Max: Fury Road is a pretty amazing action flick, but does it have any heart, humanity, or wit hiding beneath all the automotive carnage? Hell yes it does. The key plot point is that the heroic Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has stolen something priceless from the horrific warlord known as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keyes-Bearne) — and now she as an army chasing her across the desert plains. It’s not a big surprise when Max joins her cause (he’s done similar things in earlier adventures), but the nature of Furiosa’s stolen goods turns out to be very interesting indeed. Not water, not gasoline, but women. “Breeders,” to be precise, and let’s just say that Joe will go to any lengths to retrieve his female “property.” The subtext is pretty obvious, of course, but it’s interesting to note that the post-apocalypse has (d)evolved to the point where water and gasoline are minor concerns, and that fertile young women now represent the most coveted prize of the realm.
But since Joe is half-monster and half-lunatic, Furiosa decides to steal his five concubines and transport them somewhere safe. Meanwhile, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) has become the prisoner/perpetual blood donor to a crazy young thug called Nux (Nicholas Hoult), but he eventually makes his escape and teams up with Furiosa to finish her frantic heist, which leads to an outrageously wild array of chases, brawls, collisions, explosions, and other assorted automotive mayhem. Miller does a fine job of creating simple yet fascinating characters (Nux, in particular, has a rather satisfying character arc), and it’s more than a little refreshing to see this many heroic women in a genre generally dominated by men. (The young ladies everyone is fighting over may be slaves, but they’re sure as hell not helpless.)
Best of all, perhaps only for geeks like myself, the generous budget of Mad Max: Fury Road seems to have given George Miller the freedom to run a little wild in the departments of character design, art direction, and production design. When the film isn’t barreling across the desert with 43 vehicles in hot pursuit, it feels like a post-apocalyptic nightmare cooked up by Terry Gilliam. Take some time to pore over the details scattered across Joe’s massive “Citadel” headquarters and one gets the impression that humanity has devolved a whole lot since the last Mad Max movie.
While Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially one long chase full of gorgeously shot and powerfully cut action scenes, it’s also a darkly fascinating, bizarrely amusing, consistently twisted, and morally relevant movie that all but demands repeat viewings. This is simply an amazing piece of genre filmmaking, and, frankly speaking, 90% of the Hollywood action film community just got schooled by a 70-year-old veteran. All we ask is that you take notes.
For another (equally rapturous) perspective on Mad Max: Fury Road, check out our own Dan Casey’s review of the film. Or you can participate in the Five Questions segment, in which I’ll ask our readers five questions about Fury Road and (hopefully) receive some excellent responses in the comments section.
Warning: there will be *SPOILERS* beyond this point!
1. You don’t really NEED to see the first three movies to enjoy Mad Max: Fury Road, but have you seen all three? Recently? Because of the new one? Or just because you’re old, like me?
2. Would you rank Mad Max 2 /The Road Warrior (1981) among the best action films “of all time”? Because I sure would.
3. Why are people so pleased to see George Miller employ (mostly) practical effects in Mad Max: Fury Road? Could it be that too many action films rely way too heavily on digital effects?
4. This movie marks the first time that Max Rockatansky has not been played by Mel Gibson. How do you think Tom Hardy fared in the title role?
5. How f—ing cool is Charlize Theron? I mean seriously.
P.S. See this movie.
You can talk to me further about it on Twitter (@scottEweinberg)!