IN A NUTSHELL
In a post-apocalyptic future where gasoline is gold, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes rogue during a supply run, guiding her War Rig off course. Turns out she's secretly liberated the five genetically-flawless brides of the creepy, despotic overlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). In the resulting clash, Furiosa is unexpected paired up with Max (Tom Hardy), a former cop who lost everything after the crash and has gone decidedly nutso. After discovering that you can't go home after all, the two formulate a desperate plan that will either lead to redemption or a fiery and bloody demise along the deadly expanse of Fury Road.
IN THE WHEELHOUSE
If you've been desperately craving a genuinely-thrilling, stripped down action movie with heart, soul and a unique visual eye, then Mad Max: Fury Road is for you. In other words, if you possess even a modicum of taste and discrimination stop reading this stupid review and go see the friggin' movie.
- Short & Fleet Finally, an action movie that doesn't drag on for nearly three hours! Fury Road is lean, mean and goes right for the jugular vein. As a result, the two-hour run time flies by like a cat-related Vine video.
- Turns Out Film Is A Visual Medium After All Fury Road thoroughly embraces the "show, don't tell" ethos of visual storytelling. It's also a big proponent of "actions speak louder than words" since we learn just as much about the characters by what they do rather than what they say. Mercifully there are no scenes of people running on at the mouth for the express purpose of explaining every little nuance to the mouth-breathing popcorn munchers in the audience. Which brings me to...
- It's Weird As Fuck George Miller brilliantly world-builds by serving up all kinds of throw-away details and then gives not a single, solitary fuck about why its there. In one scene obese women are milked like cattle. Fucked-up dudes on stilts walk around a blue-tinted marsh like the landstriders in The Dark Crystal. Joe's War Boys routinely juice themselves up with a crank-like aerosol drug which resembles silver spray paint. A massive tsunami of sand batters motorists foolish enough to venture inside like the Wrath of God. One of the marauding vehicles sports a session guitarist for Marilyn Manson strapped to a stack of speakers likely inherited from Motörhead. With all of these bizarre details left lying around to ponder we begin to see just how truly huge this world is.
- Mel Who? Okay, that's not entirely fair. Sticking with the redemption theme, I think it would have been great if Mel Gibson returned to the role that made him famous, but going with Tom Hardy instead accomplished some very important things. For one, Gibson's presence probably would have brought the wrong sort of attention to the film. Granted he seems to be keeping a better lid on the rants lately but we really need someone in this role who's just playing mad instead of someone who's clearly playing hockey with a warped puck. Two, Tom Hardy is an inspired choice to inherit the role. Brutish, monosyllabic, compact and badger-like, Hardy brings a wealth of prodigious talent to a borderline olde skool silent film performance. Via a series of amazingly subtle and original facial tics, cro-magnon body language and animalistic utterances, Hardy gives us a completely original take on the role. Bonus points for his intimation of an Australian accent which Charlize Thereon didn't even bother to attempt. Ah well, maybe she was on holiday in Queensland when the shit hit the proverbial fan.
- It's A Hard Nux Life Nicholas Hoult is virtually unrecognizable here as the rogue War Boy Nux. It just amazes me that his character experiences more of an arc than 90% of the leads in modern action movies. I'm sure Hoult has built up considerable tolerance for makeup applications since he played Beast in these two recent X-Men movies, but here it actually feels as if he's risking life and limb at every turn. At first you hate the brainwashed little weasel but as time wears on and he starts burning through his nine lives you start to feel bad for the guy. Eventually he starts to change his allegiance as new information comes to light, proving he's more flexible than your average Republican. By the time the film reaches its bat-shit crazy climax you'll find yourself rooting for the little shit. Throughout it all, Hoult goes for broke, expertly navigating the character from manic to noble.
- ALL HAIL IMPERATOR FURIOSA! A case can be made that Charlize Theron's Furiosa is actually the lead and not Max, which is fine by me. Resolute, highly-skilled, authoritative, passionate, intelligent, suicidally brave yet somehow vulnerable; Theron brings every facet of this interesting character to life with stunning conviction. This virtually guarantees that we share her anguish, rage and determination at various points in the story. On paper, George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris have penned a truly memorable action hero who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with cinema's best but Theron deserves the lion's share of praise for her sure-footed, note-perfect incarnation.
- Not Just Your Average Joe Color me impressed that George Miller cast Hugh Keays-Byrne as the main heavy here. Fans of the series already know that Hugh played Max's main foil The Toecutter in the very first Mad Max film back in 1979. Here's he's back as Immortan Joe, creepy, a cult-like figure who looks like a cross between a White Walker, Ghost Cowboy, and Eddie from Iron Maiden. Decked out in a skull-faced breath mask, fright wig, white pancake makeup and transparent fiberglass chest protector with airbrushed abs, Hugh strikes a formidable form. But he isn't just style over substance; Keays-Byrne brings a genuinely frighting, decadent, and perverse quality to the role. During a rare moment of vulnerability, you have a twinge of sympathy for the creep until you're reminded of the whole Nestlé-style water hoarding / sex slave thing and you're back to rooting for his comeuppance again. Credit Keays-Byrne for giving us a rare moments pause for thought.
- Riot Grrrrl: The Motion Picture Above and beyond the presence of Furiosa, her long-lost clan turns out to be a band of flinty older ladies who are just as brave and strident as she is. It's a pretty sad commentary about the state of modern film-making when a group of older women feels like stunt casting in an action movie. Shrewd move on Miller's behalf since we all know that women can be just as tough as men when the chips are down. Hell, I think they'd be smarter and more resilient than most men. Now, some people out there are getting their knickers in a knot because the Five Wives look like scantily-clad super-models but if you actually sit and think about it from a story perspective, it actually makes perfect sense. Being the creepy despot that he is, Joe hand-picked these girls for their pristine appearance and kept them in a permanent state of undress. And even if the Wives aren't as ass-kicky as Furiosa or The Valkyrie, they're still a helluva lot more brave, strong and competent than my flabby, privileged, XY chromosome, first world ass could ever be. I hate it when people freak out whenever a woman is depicted as anything less than Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. Sorry, folks, but there are people out there, both men and women, who'd become hysterical or apoplectic with fear if confronted with some of the crazy shit on display here, present company included. Writers should have the prerogative to depict scared and / or superfluous characters regardless of their gender. By the same token I totally agree that we need more positive roles for women and Fury Road actually goes to considerable lengths to serve up many variations of the female experience.
- Mad Max In 3D Smell-O-Vision Like The Watcher from the Marvel Universe, I just kinda sat there and observed what was going on during most of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road was a completely different experience; it felt as if I was personally strapped to the front grill of the lead marauder's nitro truck the entire time. I felt completely pulled into this world, lost in the minutia of the production design, imperiled by my proximity to the action and invested in the survival of the characters. I could almost taste dust and blood in my mouth and smell the acrid smoke, sweat and burning petrol all around. I can't remember the last time I was so deeply immersed in such a visceral cinematic experience and that's a pretty incredible achievement.
- "Oh What A Day, What A Lovely Day!" The production design shows a level of unparallelled imagination and detail that completely humiliates it's contemporaries. The Citadel and its bizarre horde of oddball denizens is downright fascinating to look at. Furiosa's War Rig, Joe's Gigahorse, the Bullet Farmer's Peacemaker Half-Track, The Big Foot and, of course, the speaker-laden Doof Wagon are just some of the incredible vehicles on display in the film. The costumes for such diverse factions as the Citadel serfs, the War Boys, and the Buzzards are all unique, easily identifiable and highly-detailed. Every frame is jam-packed with so much to look at and obsess over but unlike CGI-soaked crap like the Star Wars prequels, this all feels genuinely real, hand-worn and lived-in.
- "Move Over, Sonny, And I'll Let Me Show You How It's Done" Words can't express how delighted I am that George Miller, a seventy-year old grandpa, just came outta nowhere to bludgeon us all senseless with one of the most vibrant, lean, vicious, engaging, satisfying, visually-stunning action movies of the past decade. The movie feels like Miller shouting "No, no, NO, ya chowder-head! This is how ya do it!" in response to all of the dreck that Micheal Bay and Zach Snyder have been collectively shitting into existence lately. Either the CGI has been kept to a bare minimum or it's so good that it dove-tails perfectly with all of the practical stuff. Either way, it's a win-win all around. As far as I can tell, the vehicle combats were lensed using the same techniques used for all the previous Mad Max movies. That is to say Miller put a real caravan of cobbled-together vehicles out on a salt bed somewhere and then instructed his actors to try creatively murder one another. Using a well-practiced repertoire of low and wide camera angles as well as helicopter and crane shots, he drops us right into the middle of the action and keeps us on the edge of our seat the entire time. Add in a plethora of creatively-vicious weapons and equipment like chainsaws, explosive javelins, caltrops, harpoons and metronome-like vaulting poles, and you have the most gleefully anarchic battle scenes ever filmed. Add in a few highly-inventive non-vehicle sequences such as a muzzled Max's introductory scrap with Furiosa and the truly atmospheric mud bog trap and you're left with a variable, kinetic, compulsively-watchable action thriller.
- Coma the Doof Warrior: Live! Tonight! Sold Out! The music by Junkie XL is note-perfect for the movie: memorable, ominous, propulsive, discordant, concussive and chill-inducing. I've always been suspicious of composers who try convince audiences that truly successful soundtracks are the ones that you never notice. Yes, a good score should augment the action and never distract but I think it's a real feather in a composer's cap if the audience leaves the theater humming a few bars.
- Nothing, really. I suppose you could make a case for more plot but I really think that there's just enough narrative sprinkled throughout the film to give it a raison d'être. I guess you could lobby for more breaks in the action to catch your breath, but what purpose would that serve? I'd counter by saying that Furiosa's reunion with her tribe serves as the perfect oasis of calm amidst the action-packed bookends. In fact, the only nit I could possibly pick is that sometimes the editing is a bit too "battling seizure robots" for my taste but that's just giving me more incentive to watch it again.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most thrilling, original, full-blooded, balls-to-the-wall, sci-fi action films I've seen in recent memory. As soon as I'm done typing this it's gonna take some serious willpower not to march right back down to the theater and watch it all over again.
And, frankly, that's some pretty high praise right there.