Who knew George Miller had such a virtuosic ballet of blood and ultra-violence left in him?
It grabs you from its frenetic opening scene, sinking its teeth into your neck, wrapping its pulsating tendrils around your heart, stealing your breath and gripping your balls in a vice-like grasp — if you have balls, that is. Mad Max: Fury Road is a cacophony of beautiful violence, a turbo-charged chase scene that plays out over two glorious hours, as close to riding a rollercoaster you can experience while sitting in a movie theater. Yes, I might sound like Peter Travers with this hyperbolic adulation, but I can’t help it. This new Mad Max film just might be the best action film we’ve ever seen. It will certainly be the one to beat in this summer season loaded with the usual suspects of sequels, reboots and destruction porn.
How can I condemn destruction porn when Fury Road is more or less a non-stop orgy of explosions, car wrecks and hand-to-hand combat? That’s because, unlike the Marvel films currently polluting the multiplexes like Stepford Wives in their cookie-cutter plots and safe scripts where death is temporary and destruction without human cost, there is plenty at stake in Fury Road. Set in the same post-apocalyptic world as the first three Mad Max films, Fury Road features Tom Hardy stepping into the role made famous by Mel Gibson. But unlike Gibson’s character, Hardy’s Max actually seems legitimately insane. It’s a fact we learn right away, Jack, as he chews on a lizard and hallucinates about the people (presumably family members) he was unable to save.
Unlike many reboots, which give a hot, young director a chance to fuck up a franchise, Fury Road was written and directed by George Miller, the man whose name is attached to the previous three Mad Max films. But if you look at Miller’s recent credits you get two Happy Feet films and a Babe sequel. WTF? Who knew Miller had such a virtuosic ballet of blood and ultra-violence left in him?
But here’s the thing, Fury Road is more than an exciting, mindless bacchanal of gore and scorched earth. When we first meet Max, he is captured and brought to a horrific citadel ruled by the masked warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), where he is tortured, branded and enslaved. Max is largely kept out of the action during the first third of the film, bound in chains and used as a living blood transfusion for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Immortan Joe’s bald, white-skinned War Boys, a gang of twitchy psychos just waiting for their moment to go down in a blaze of glory. See, Immortan Joe is one evil dude who rules his kingdom by controlling the only water around. But things are about to change.
With Max under lock and key, Miller introduces us to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed road warrior tasked by Immortan Joe to make a supply run to another settlement. However, Furiosa has plans of her own, and soon after she goes rogue, Immortan Joe and his War Boys create a flotilla of trucks and cars, primed for battle and ready to blow the shit out of her ass.
“Who killed the world?” someone asks at the beginning of the film. As Furiosa’s mission becomes clear, so does the answer to that question: men. The introduction of women characters is a stroke of genius here, one that pushes Fury Road into the position of best film in the Mad Max series. Unlike the men, broken or pushed into insanity by this new world order, Miller’s female characters express hope of a world reborn. The symbolism may be obvious, but it works.
Fury Road wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t so damned beautiful. Miller, along with writers Nick Lathouris and Brendan McCarthy (a comics artist), mapped out the entire film in storyboard and makes a glorious leap to the screen. Nothing looks fake, there is no shoddy-looking CGI filling in the spaces. This is a terrible world, a place of vast deserts, looming sandstorms and barren mountains. There is something striking in its awfulness. But unlike this broken world, you will leave Mad Max: Fury Road feeling invigorated, squirming with life. This is action filmmaking at its finest.