THE STORY – Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the despot’s five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner and former captive. Fortified in the massive, armored truck the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.
THE CAST – Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough & Zoë Kravitz
THE TEAM – George Miller (Director) Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris & Miller (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 120 Minutes
By Danilo Castro
Looking back, it’s easy to forget just how firmly the chips were stacked against George Miller when he was making “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It had been thirty years since the last installment in the franchise, the bizarre “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” and Miller’s leading man, Mel Gibson, had aged out of the role, leaving him scrambling for a replacement. Furthermore, Miller hadn’t directed a live-action film since 1998’s “Babe: Pig In the City,” and pre-production on “Mad Max: Fury Road” had dragged on for well over a decade. All signs seemingly pointed to it being a cursed affair.
Boy, were we all wrong. What Miller and his team were able to achieve with “Mad Max: Fury Road” is nothing short of breathtaking. The film is a masterclass in taking pre-established strengths and magnifying them, while simultaneously doing away with weaknesses that afflicted previous sequels. It is both a continuation and a reinvention, a perfect storm of circumstance that plays like the greatest rush of adrenaline ever committed to film.
The premise is refreshingly simple. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a scavenger living on the outskirts of a wasteland civilization. After being captured by the ruthless Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and used as a “blood bag” for his soldiers, Max escapes and forms a begrudging alliance with the mysterious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Furiosa, one of Joe’s lieutenants, has stolen five of his prized wives (or “breeders”) and plans to escape to an idyllic land known as the “Green Place.” A chase ensues.
Miller, along with co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, wisely avoid exposition or any wordy dialogue. Conversation is sparse, with trickier emotions being expressed through physical rage or unspoken gestures. The same can be said for many of the rituals and customs that the characters practice. We’re never told why Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and the other War Boys spray their teeth with acrylic paint before sacrificing themselves, or when Immortan Joe starting referring to the remaining water supply as “Aqua Cola.” We don’t even know what led to the world becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the first place. Miller and his writers are smart enough to realize that these questions are irrelevant and that taking time out of the chase to answer them would not only slow down the momentum of the film but keep active viewers from putting the pieces together themselves. A textbook example of less being exponentially more.
The performances function on a similar basis, bringing depth to characters that may initially seem like ciphers. Theron gives one of the best performances of her career as the soulful, cunning Furiosa. She does more with a single glare or a restrained glance than most actresses can manage with an entire page of dialogue, and it’s a credit to her synergy with Miller that she never wavers onscreen, even when teasing glimpses of the character’s innate tenderness. She is the backdoor protagonist of “Fury Road”, and by the end of the film, her undeniable combination of gravitas (“Out here, everything hurts”) and bravery puts her alongside Ellen Ripley as one of the greatest action movie heroines of all time.
As the titular loner, Hardy pulls off a deceptively tricky balance. Not only is he tasked with replacing Mel Gibson (in the role that made him a superstar, no less), but he’s forced to take a backseat (or passenger seat) to Furiosa, who drives the narrative arc of the film. I can’t remember the last time an actor was hired to lead a franchise by ostensibly playing a secondary character, nor can I think of many actors who would even take the offer. Instead of buckle under these constraints, however, Hardy uses them as an opportunity to present a madder, more animalistic take on Max. Barring his opening narration, the first half of the film sees Max barely speak, and communicate instead through a series of grunts and guttural syllables. Everything hinges on the timing of his movements and the expressiveness of his eyes. It is an inspired performance, but one that largely goes unsung given the subtle physical grace needed to pull it off.
Physical grace is a strength that runs throughout the film. Miller and his army of stunt coordinators assemble one staggering chase sequence after another, from the opening chase between Immortan Joe’s men and Furiosa to the finale where all parties race back to the Citadel. The staging of these scenes is immaculate, with Miller providing just enough space to let viewers catch their breath before the next rush. Just when you think you’ve seen the greatest action scene ever put on film, Furiosa and Max take a left turn and lead you down another road where another show-stopping encounter awaits.
From a sheer technical standpoint, Miller creates the closest thing to an action symphony as has ever been seen. It truly feels as though the filmmaker is standing atop a podium with a baton and guiding Cirque Du Soleil acrobats, Olympian stunt performers, and fire-spewing guitarists together in ways never previously thought imaginable. Of course, this symphony would not have possible were it not for the top-notch players under his command. The musical score, provided by Junkie XL, is bombastic and otherworldly, tapping into the same anachronistic anarchy as the rest of the film’s setting. The editing, provided by Miller’s wife Margaret Sixel, is somehow both easy to follow and stylistically extreme, further enhancing the characters’ unstable predicament. And the cinematography, provided by John Seale, covers the desert in scorched reds and browns that reflect the cheapness of human blood.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” was hailed as a classic the moment it came out, and today, it’s rightfully considered one of the greatest action films ever made. Any minor shortcomings that I’ve neglected to bring up pale in comparison to the masterful acting, writing, and directing that are on display here. It is the rare, beautiful film that can take even the most staunch of cinephiles and reduce them to a giddy child, flush with excitement and rooting for the heroes to win. That is the gift that Miller has given us all. Let’s continue to enjoy it.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The nostalgia is sincerely overwhelming in the best possible way. The new characters and how they interact with the old ones feels both authentic and creates a tremendous amount of excitement. Visually spellbinding.
THE BAD – Nothing.
THE OSCARS – Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing (Won) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, & Best Visual Effects (Nominated)
THE FINAL SCORE – 10/10