Tweetable Takeaway: Memorable world building, awesome action, Mad Max: Fury Road is a spectacular ride at the movies.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
If you’ve ever wondered what a shot of pure adrenaline might feel like, but didn’t want to actually do it for real, a comparable experience would be to see Mad Max: Fury Road. You’ll achieve all the same results without any of the sharp syringes. Next Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace is overdosing in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s Vincent Vega should just pop in a VHS of this movie. It’ll bring her roaring right back to the land of the living, just like it does with post-apocalyptic action movies.
It’s been 30 years since a mad man named Max last walked on the cracked dusty landscape of the dystopian planet Earth, this time around it’s Tom Hardy picking up the mantle formerly reserved for Mel Gibson. Turns out being a cool loner in this harsh new world is tough work, it’s not even five minutes before Max is captured by pale white colored War Boys and set up as a human blood bag for Nux, played by a nearly unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult. Already the world building is expansive and remarkable.
A dictatorship of sorts is set up in a canyon, the leader being Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also plays the the antagonist in the original Mad Max). Joe, among other duties, controls the water supply, has a breast milk operation set up, keeps wives on hand for breeding, and has the coolest breathing apparatus this side of Darth Vader. His favorite lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (a shaved head Charlize Theron), is making a run to Gas Town, but makes an early turn. Turns out she’s kidnapped Joe’s harem of women meant for breeding, and is leading them to safety. It’s at this point of the movie the accelerator is slammed to the floor and barely let up for the remaining running time.
As Furiosa heads out into no-man’s land and the first of the gangs that exist in the desert attack, we start to see just how much detail is put into each warring tribe, the way each fights and distinguishes themselves. One gang has cars covered in wooden spikes. Another utilizes motorbikes and grenades. Another (and the best) has its warriors atop swinging pendulum sticks. And even within each cadre, the vehicles themselves each have their own personality and look, and beyond that, the drivers themselves in their costumes, makeup, and props. It makes for a movie packed to the brim with detail that begs to be paused every other second on home video so that it can all be properly taken in.
Fury Road is also one of the few action movies that every bullet shot and explosive thrown has the audience worrying for the good guys’ safety. And for good reason: in a world where bullets, along with everything else, are in short supply, nothing is wasted. Many action movies shootouts have bullets spraying everywhere and zero tension; in Fury Road, it’s the opposite. Nobody, besides the title character, is safe, and bullets land and find their home more often than not.
George Miller knows how to make things go wrong. And it’s torture to watch, and what makes every scene so fun. In any given minute of the film, at least three things could be going wrong simultaneously. Tires get blown out, engines fail, parts of cars are ripped off, harpoons pull on a car, and so on. Near the end, that number is amped up to eight, and it takes everything the moviegoer has not to white knuckle and rip off the arm of their seat. Cool action is cool action, but if everything is going great for the good guys, the buck stops there. Get the good guys outnumbered, outgunned, and in a truck that’s breaking down, and you’re left with something sublime. Add in main characters who don’t possess superhuman strength and skills, and now you’re really cooking. The first third of the movie Max is effectively helpless, chained to the front of a car at the behest of a maniac driver and all kinds of mayhem, and it couldn’t be more fun to watch. Too often action movie protagonists are untouchable, which leads to boredom. What better response to that boredom than to completely castrate the hero and keep him tied up for a third of the movie?
Despite only having about two pages worth of dialogue the entire movie, Fury Road still manages to say a ton about humanity. The movie is one big fight for humanity in many ways, to choose the path that leads to rekindling the good, to redeem the sins of the past. Much is said about redemption by Furiosa’s character, she seeks redemption through saving Immortan Joe’s wives. But the scope of her mission, as well as Max’s, expands into something bigger than either of them, and never feels forced.
The stakes are raised organically, and it’s a refreshing change of pace, and allows the final action set piece to be even more edge of your seat than all the sequences that came before it, which seems an impossible feat, given how impressive each scene is. Mad Max: Fury Road is a lot of action, but even those who aren’t big fans of explosions and stuntwork will find a story worth investing two hours in. This is a thrill ride to the highest degree, but is also what movies should be about. Characters we care about, plot points that are unpredictable, and a universal theme that we can all take away from once the credits start rolling.
I give Mad Max: Fury Road 4.5 breathing apparatuses out of 5
Score: 4.5 out of 5