(Quick note: To illustrate the film more clearly, I added some gifs from around the web for demonstration purposes. These are not my own.)
I’ll be honest, I’ve so far been incredibly bored with everything that has come out of the summer blockbuster season. There is nothing particularly artful or considered about many of them. Even Star Wars Episode 7 is a long ways off. It seems like we’re doomed to more CGI and invincible heroes due to ridiculous contracts, right?
Well, enter George Miller, the 70-year old director of the Mad Max trilogy, far removed from that period of automotive insanity and Mel Gibson not being a racist scumbag. His ace in the hole happens to be a vague reboot of his trademark series. What could that bring to the table?
Well, a lot really.
In Mad Max Fury Road, we’re once again put in the shoes of Max Rockatansky(here played by Tom Hardy), a man of few words and a haunted past that occurs as a serious case of PTSD. Within the first few minutes, Max is captured by a violent group of brigands known as the War Boys, shaven-headed young men who follow a twisted version of Norse mythology, and lead by charismatic slimeball Immortan Joe(Hugh-Keys Byrne). Max, after being turned into a human bloodbag for the anemic but no-less determined warboy Nux(Nicholas Hoult) and tied to the front of a car, forms a tenuous alliance with the Imperiator Furiosa(Charlize Theron), whose whole goal is to smuggle Joe's five, ahem, "wives" across the vast wastelands to safety.
Mad Max: Fury Road rarely wastes the audience’s time through its seeming refusal to stop moving, only doing so to flesh out the film’s surprisingly well-developed characters, a good portion of which are women. The film feels like the breeziest two hours anyone could spend at the theater as Miller's entire intent with the film is to constantly overwhelm the audience with ever-escalating action sequences that are filled with strange characters and locales, some of which bring to mind the auteur worldbuilding of Terry Gilliam. While the majority of the film is shot on location with practical sets and effects, there is enough raw imagination to effectively remove the film from its Australian roots and into a world completely divorced from any conceivable reality. From the breathtaking shots of the Citadel to a stunningly beautiful battle through an electromagnetic storm, the films the ante every chance it gets.
Moreover, Miller and co-writer Brandon McCarthy seemingly make the most effort to use the least dialogue to convey everything. The film's connections to the previous films are mostly easter eggs for eagle-eyed fans, and for the most part you don't even need to watch any other film in the series to enjoy it. The rest of the film's backstory is told through implications and bits and pieces. Miller believes his audience is smart enough to glean that Immortan Joe did horrifying things to his wives, that Nicholas Hoult's Nux has some form of cancer, or that Furiosa did... Some things that lead to her path to redemption. Nothing is explicitly spelled out, but it's enough to get the job done while not treating the audience like blithering idiots.
While Hardy does a good job of doing his man-of-few-words character, it's Theron that deserves a lot of praise. She's the main focus of the film, really, but this is to be expected of the series that traditionally casts its title character as something of a supporting character, helping out anyone it can. Here, Theron sets something of a standard for action heroines that was previously the wheelhouse of Ellen Ripley, playing a character who is torn up with the guilt of her past actions and is willing to do anything to confront it and make up for it. Theron commands a menacing yet heroic presence, more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with the Road Warrior himself as well as a near-endless supply of goons in tricked out cars. Her story arc, where she eventually stands up to her former employer's misogyny and eventually leads to being a leader for a rebellion, is one of the choice cuts of the film and one of the reasons why the film is a step up from the usual milieu of blockbusters.
On the topic, this subgenre of scifi is often at its best when it takes current societal problems to their logical extreme. It sets its sights on the poisonous influence of capitalism and its benefits to a patriarchal system. The film's trio of villains represent a different slice of the pie. Immortan Joe both directly benefits from the exploitation of humans, particularly the various women he has taken as "property" and various men he has brainwashed, and artificially controls the remaining natural resources to create some kind of false scarcity. The People Eater is a severely obese man in a suit who is rarely concerned for human rights and would rather talk about business, describing Immortan Joe's selfish chase across the wastes as a "family squabble." Lastly, we have the Bullet Farmer, a thoroughly over-the-top parody of the military-industrial complex whose idea of a good time is blindly shooting into the darkness to classical music. They flaunt their wealth without shame, and it wouldn't be considered all that subtle if it weren't for the chaos happening around them.
Lastly, we have one of the best film scores in years. Composer Junkie XL knows exactly what kind of music would enthrall the audience, bringing to mind the classical works of Bernard Herrmann and even Maurice Jarre. The soundscape that the film creates is sometimes diegetic, with the War Boys's theme being played by multiple drummers and a man who plays a flamethrowing-guitar known only as the Doof Warrior, and that nearly steals the show if it weren't for, well, everything else. It's an impressive effort for someone whose main experience is with electronic music, and the classical stuff turns the theater into a cacophonous warscape. In a good way, of course.
Finally, Miller has made an action film that isn't restricted by Hollywood standards and cliches. It is chaotic without being bogged down with extensive CGI trickery, and the action is still easy to follow because of Miller's knowledge of filmmaking. It rarely resorts to the sexism that tends to occur within the genre, giving Theron and the five wives far more character development and much more to do than what a lesser film would give to the standard love interest. The fact that near the end we're introduced to a gang of bikers known as the Vuvalini who could be old enough to be grandmothers while still kicking ass is also something I didn't know I wanted.
The film must be seen to be believed. It cuts away the fat that is normally apparent in blockbusters while adding so much more to the table that not even its similarly chaotic predecessors could do. It's thrilling without being stupid, even being bitingly satirical. Every action sequence shows a massive level of craftsmanship to the choreography, the art direction, and the fact that mostly all of it is done for real, with real cars and real stunts and real fucking explosions. There is something for everyone here.
RATING: Five Stars out of Five