Civilization has collapsed and in its place a desert wasteland now covers the world. On the run and haunted by his past, Max (Tom Hardy) is inevitably captured by the War Boys and taken to the headquarters of a cult run by the tyrant false god King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls the only water source available. Max is imprisoned and forced to act as a “blood bag” (blood donor) for sick War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). But all is not lost, an opportunity to escape manifest itself when all the War Boys are rallied and given a new mission: retrieve at any cost the King’s stolen breeders (female sex slaves) taken by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). As the War Boys choose their rides, sick Nux mounts Max on the front of his car and sets out in the vanguard. And so begins the high speed madness that is Mad Max: Fury Road.
Coming out of the theatre I had one predominant thought, which was Mad Max: Fury Road might just be the greatest action film ever made. It is certainly the best I have ever seen by far and the most fortunate thing is that the film can actually back up such a statement. I remember being impressed by the action in the trailers for the film, but I never anticipated the sheer brilliance of it. The action sequences in this film are on an entirely different level and I must praise director George Miller for crafting and accomplishing such an incredible feat. Here we have a director who approaches action in a mature, intelligent and realistic manner without ever forgetting the spectacle. In fact, the spectacle is compounded and made all the more awe-inspiring thanks to how effective the former traits are employed. Let’s break it down.
With the continual advance of special effects and the increasing superhero films, most of the action scenes we see in blockbuster films nowadays are at the very least 85% CGI. This is understandable considering the nature of the source material, but such heavy reliance on CGI taints the action. Things become more about aesthetically pleasing the audience and with the removal of realism the majority of the action scenes lack a key element: the sense of danger. Mad Max: Fury Road changes all that by having action scenes that rely heavily on practical effects from the cars exploding to the actors driving. Watching these scenes, which sometimes contain more than 20 cars, you can tell that these are not CGI cars nor people. They are real cars driven by real people and exploding and crashing into each other for real stunts. It is awesome and not only does this approach ground the proceedings, but it also instills the action with a high degree of immediacy. The high stakes are palpable and from the very beginning this film puts its principal characters through the ringer.
It is fascinating to see how distinctively Mad Max: Fury Road handles its characters. For one, there is very minimal dialogue in the film which makes sense considering the context of the plot. This is a high speed chase where the characters are actively escaping a continual barrage of death so evidently there won’t be time for any heart to heart. With silent characters, the way we learn about them and care about them is through their behaviour. In this film, how a character behaves during the action scenes is what tells us about him or her. It’s a brilliant approach because how they handle the constant threat of death reveals more about who these characters are than words ever could. The audience is invited to really pay attention to the performances, to wonder about the glances the characters make or to infer from what is implied. I like when a film opts to involve the audience in such a manner. It is bold and lets me know that the filmmakers have enough trust on me as an audience member to figure out what’s happening.
A big element aiding audience understanding is the editing of the film. We’ve all scenes action scenes where the cuts are so rapid that you can’t see what is happening. It’s worse when the scenes employ close-ups as if to hide the poor choreography and you can tell the people in charge have no idea how to shoot action. The actions scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road are frighteningly elaborate. There are a lot of cars doing a lot of different things from driving to launching attacks against Imperator Furiosa, which themselves range from throwing exploding spears to boarding Furiosa’s truck. The scenes are chaotic but at no point do you ever lose track of what is happening. This is thanks to the way the scenes were shot. Director George Miller utilizes long shots to give the audience the whole scope of the action. As a result, you have a better sense of direction and awareness of who the players are in the scene. Furthermore, this style of shooting really spotlights all the work that when into the designing the cars, costumes and so forth. Then there is the editing which assembles all the shots into a cohesive experience; that in itself is an impressive accomplishment. The logistic of both shooting this film and editing it must’ve been really challenging and it’s great to see it pay off so well.
Lastly, let’s talk about Charlize Theron. The cast of this film is great and their performances are worth revisiting, but the standout for me is Charlize Theron. While this film is called Mad Max, it could’ve been easily called Imperator Furiosa. She is the lead of the film and the journey is about her character finding some semblance of redemption. It is refreshing to have a blockbuster film, especially one of this nature, led by a women but more than that it’s how awesome her character is. Imperator Furiosa is revolting against a misogynist tyrant, she is staking her life on this exodus in order to give these women a better future, and she is facing insurmountable odds. Everything is set up to bring her down but she resists and conquers, sometimes inches from death. Here we have a woman so resourceful that she will go do repairs on her truck while being attacked, come back and still kick some ass. She is ruthless, but this ruthlessness isn’t cold or bitchy instead it comes from experience, determination and hope. There’s compassion and honour as well, and I praise Charlize Theron for so expertly conveying those sentiments and assembling such a badass, inspiring and humane character. Take note Hollywood, Imperator Furiosa’s hands are on the wheel driving Mad Max: Fury Road forward and she’s a woman.
Director George Miller, who also directed the previous three Mad Max films, has created a truly special film in Mad Max: Fury Road. This film is a testament to all the incredible and imaginative possibilities that can be accomplished in an action film. A demonstration of how effective practical effects, when employed correctly, can be. I won’t lie and say there is no CGI in this film, but it is minimal and unnoticeable. The spectacle here is achieved through real people doing real stunts and it is glorious. This is a film that does not look down on the audience, but instead actively asks them to get further and further involved with what’s happening. Enjoy the madness of the ride and also the joy of deconstructing characters through their behaviours. The action that you will witness in this film is unlike any you’ve seen previously. It will impress, it will fright, it will make you turn away in shock and it will exhilarate you like only a unique cinematic experiences can. Mad Max: Fury Road is, for me, the greatest action film ever made and its distinctively brilliant approach will be discussed and imitated for years to come.