An apocalyptic story set in the furthest reaches of our planet, in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, and almost everyone is crazed fighting for the necessities of life. Within this world exist two rebels on the run who just might be able to restore order. There's Max, a man of action and a man of few words, who seeks peace of mind following the loss of his wife and child in the aftermath of the chaos. And Furiosa, a woman of action and a woman who believes her path to survival may be achieved if she can make it across the desert back to her childhood homeland. (Official Plot Synopsis from IMDB)
Amid the dry, desolate wasteland a madwoman seeks redemption and drags a madman along with her. Just to clear the air, Max is not the star Mad Max: Fury Road. The star of the film, whose actions (literally) drive the lunacy, is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and that’s not a bad thing.
Our world is dead, all that remains are those with a single instinct—survive. Max (Tom Hardy), after failing to escape, is forced to become a blood donor for Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys. When it’s discovered that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) stole the Wives, Immortan Joe’s breeding chattel, this sets off a chain of events placing Max in a head-on collision with Furiosa. From this moment, the story is no longer Max’s.
The transition from Max’s narrative to Furiosa’s makes for an excellent subversion of traditional action movie tropes. Max isn’t compelled to help because the Wives’ plight resonates with his own torment. No, the traditional acton-narrative of heroic redemption is Furiosa’s. Her job as liberator and escort would have been Max’s but the fact that it’s not is amazing. Having a woman, who was once an oppressor, risk her life helping young girls find their own place in the world is a much more powerful tale. Even better, is that these women (the Wives) participate equally in freeing themselves. The entire movie is women, plus Max and Nux (Nicolas Hoult), helping women liberate themselves from the roles designated to them by those in power.
It’s not lost on me that the people in power are men. Fury Road is about as subtle as a train wreck, but it’s furiously fun. The barren landscape is made vibrant by the people that inhabit it, and the film is a gorgeous sea of reds, yellows, and exploding metal death traps. Fury Road is a car smashing, high-octane visual experience. It’s one continuous action-sequence that relies on practical effects and absurdity, and it’s downright poetic. This isn’t your father’s Road Warrior. Fury Road makes use of a larger budget, better effects, and everyone’s nostalgia to build an even wilder movie. Every scene unfolds like an act in a play and the world is understood through the physical reactions between characters. What the movie lacks in dialogue it makes up for with action. It’s a popcorn summer movie in every sense of the word. People enjoy explosions and practical effects, and George Miller capitalizes on the sheer giddiness that comes with watching outrageous stunts. Miller has managed to visual recreate the madness of the originals, only this time everyone is little madder.
Rather than use the soundtrack to add emotional gravitas to the background of each scene, music exists as a living breathing element of the film. There’s literally a guy strapped to a monster track blasting rock music the entire film. Immortan Joe’s War Boys rally to the sounds of an electric guitar. Their engines roar to life in tempo with the resounding drums. From engine explosions to head-on collisions, every part of Max’s world has a sort of mechanical rhythm to it. The movie is a harmonic blend of visual and sound, and If cars could sing then Mad Max: Fury Road is the opera.
A performance is nothing without its actors and the cast brings a sense of humanity to tie everything all together. The film is absurd, but it’s weighted by the humanity of the characters. Nicolas Hoult’s Nux goes from impressionable boy to independent free-thinking man. Cheedo (Courtney Eaton), who seemed ready to betray her fellow Wives, is instrumental in keeping Max and Furiosa alive. Immortan Joe exists as a perfect antithesis to the humanity each hero seeks to reclaim. Theron stands tall as the hero of the story, but each of the main cast has their moment in the sun. Hardy is a perfect fit for Max and makes the character even crazier this time around. With the amount of action going on there shouldn’t have been time for character development, but Miller manages to show growth through the unfolding action. It’s a stellar performance by all involved, and the cast manages to make up for the lack of conversation between characters with non-stop energy.
There is a very powerful message in Fury Road. “We are not objects,” proclaim the Wives and it is from this proclamation all events in the film stem from. It’s an unapologetically feminist message that grows stronger over the course of the film as we experience the power of every woman on screen. These women are not “strong” because they have something men lack. They are just women that live, fight, and die on equal ground. Their strength stems from the bonds they share and the uncompromising spirit they instil within themselves and others. George Miller’s conscious decision to not make the narrative into one man taking the wives of another made for a cooler story. He had a clear mindset from the beginning and his inclusion of his wife, Margaret Sixel, and Vagina Monologues’ Eve Ensler contributed to building a better kind of action movie. One, where the women are active participants in their own story rather than objects of it.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an evolution 30 years in the making. It’s proof action movies don’t have to be a boys club, and it’s a shame it’s only 120 minutes long. There are a lot of big themes, and not all of them get fully fleshed out. George Miller has shown us a fraction of Max’s universe and I can’t wait to see where he takes his next Mad Max films. Hopefully, it’s filled with even more diverse lunatics. Oh what a film, what a lovely film!
[images from Mad Max: Fury Road official site]
+Women with agency, women with power
+Every one of the main cast gets their spotlight
+Practical effects that are simply delightful
+A soundtrack blending car noises, drums, and guitar rifts
-Big themes have little chance to fully form
-One violent scene involving a baby, be ready
-Hard to hear what characters are saying