Every so often there comes a film that challenges perceptions and alters the genre of which it sits. That happened 34 years ago when Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior came out and influenced the entire post-apocalyptic genre for decades. Director George Miller is a visionary in every way which made it perplexing that a quasi-remake/sequel would be made on the heavily influential films as many of them fall by the wayside to cliché special effects, PG-13 ratings which hinder the violence and mayhem and an abundance of doing the same thing as before. But all of that would be washed away the instant the credits roll on Mad Max: Fury Road as it’s at times nothing like the original trilogy but in other ways very much like it. Fury Road is dazzling in its portrayal of a lawless world while beautiful in its inert unpredictable chaos. Nothing is what you expected and it never leaves you hanging as it forcibly pushes its foot on the pedal going gleefully straight into the heart of madness.
"Mad" Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a tortured loner who is grieving the death of his wife and child at the hands of ruthless marauders. He travels the desolate Australian landscape by his lonesome, only looking out for himself while trying to overcome his nightmarish visions of his dead family. Before then he gets targeted by a maniacal and crazed army of mechanics called War Boys including Nux (Nicholas Hoult) under the order of despotic ruler Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe runs rough shod over the Citadel which is one of the last vestiges of a society where he cruelly holds back water to the destitute below him. To further influence his power over the land, he has Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) attain gas and ammunition from neighboring towns but finds that she has stolen a harem from him. Commandeering a souped-up semi, she travels the desolate landscape in search of hope and redemption. But along the way she meets up with Max and they both have to trust each other to escape the tyrannical rule of Joe and his ruthless followers.
To begin with, one does not need to see the previous Mad Max films to appreciate Fury Road but it would be helpful to see the older films and get a feeling of where Miller originally began with this character. Not to mention that they are amazing and cult classics. There were simply too many facets of this film that I love that a second viewing is basically mandatory. But the design of everything stood out as it’s instantly eye grabbing. It’s impossible to watch it and not be wowed with amazement at every minute detail that went into creating this gorgeous and brutal world. It really went out of its way to show you something different and make sure that it stays with you long after the credits roll. The Citadel looked amazing and was a perfect enclosure for a man to rule over people who are weaker than him. It’s one of the most all-encompassing post-apocalyptic visions I have ever seen as so many things get covered throughout the film. You see how water is dispersed, women are made to breed, crops are grown and automobiles are made to look like it came out of Satan’s personal garage. It sets the bar incredibly high for design and it wouldn’t be too crazy to see Fury Road be nominated for best production design at next year’s Oscars. Maybe makeup too as it added another dimension to the characters and setting. Nearly everyone is stamped with a tattoo, marking or tag as everyone looks like they came out of Burning Man. The tattoos are somewhat like Native American cultures among many others where they become part of the history and growing up.
It only makes sense that the man who innovated the genre with Mad Max would do so again with Fury Road showing that sometimes it takes the same man to outdo himself. The automobiles looked something out of Odd Rods as everything looked downright menacing as well as cartoonish. Nothing here would be presented in the actual world in any way but looking at it onscreen, you wish you had one as your own to terrify other motorists on the road. The thought it took to create them is astounding as it looks like grown adults reverted back to their inner child and cooked up anything at all that looked cool and downright insane. No regular person can think of this stuff as it takes a special person with a deep imagination for the bizarre.
The War Rig driven by Furiosa could not look any cooler and is like a revamped truck from The Road Warrior. Joe’s Gigahorse is completely menacing with the monster truck tires and the melding of two Cadillac Coupe de Ville's on its body. The moving concert stage or The Doof Wagon is unlike anything that I have ever seen. It just defies logic and understanding and could not be more perfect for this post-apocalyptic wasteland. And of course one of the greatest automobiles in cinematic history, The Interceptor makes its valiant return after not being seen in Beyond Thunderdome. It looks just as awesome as it did 34 years ago, giving me all the feels in the right places. The cinematography by John Seale made this bizarre circus freak show amazingly beautiful in so many ways. You get a distinct feel for the sand and sun drenched, lifeless, barren environment and the scope of Joe’s massive psychopathic army.
Everything pops when you look at the screen and it sometimes makes it hard to follow with so much mayhem but that’s half the fun. You’re not meant to take in everything the first time upon viewing. With so many details on screen, you’re allowed to see every bit of them as nothing gets lost on screen. it’s one of the best visual cinematic experiences I have ever had as every shot looks like art, in the same realm as Stanley Kubrick many visual masterpieces. The editing by Margaret Sixel was quick and frantic but not confusing in a way where you don’t know where the action is going. You’re able to follow every punch, gunshot, crash and other various acts of mayhem very fluidly. The use of slo-mo which can be used in a cheesy way were used perfectly here. With so many catastrophes going on all the time, it needs some slow motion added for the most visual pleasing effect possible. It makes seeing every bit and piece of a car shattering into pieces and bodies falling by the wayside that much more pleasurable.
The soundtrack by Junkie XL is one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. Its pulsating drums, sweeping strings and manic electric guitars create a whirlwind of symphonic chaos as well as quiet sentimentality. Every track feels powerful and important while making you feel you could go a little mad with The War Boys for a bit. As I am listening to the soundtrack right now, it makes writing this all the more easier. There is a distinct influence of Hans Zimmer who may be the best film composer living today. I really haven’t heard a score as Fury Road since Man Of Steel which coincidentally was scored by Zimmer and was worked on by Junkie XL. Junkie XL also worked on the equally mesmerizing soundtrack to The Dark Knight Rises as the influence is very palpable here. Escape and Brothers In Arms are some of the very best tracks. The soundtrack should have been nothing short of brilliant since the soundtrack for The Road Warrior by Brian May was one of the best action soundtracks ever.
For a man whose 70 years old, George Miller certainly doesn’t look it or act like it. He attacks the screen better than many directors over half his age and then some. There’s a tenacity that is really sorely missing from today’s field of blockbusters and it’s as if it’s a direct challenge to the biggest directors in the world today. It feels like Miller is saying “Are you not entertained?” to the Michael Bays of the world. Much like Martin Scorsese with The Wolf Of Wall Street who was 70 while filming this movie, Miller hasn’t slowed an inch and shows that he is even more insane than before. He wants you to see, hear, feel and think of everything around you and keep you entrenched in the world for two hours. I also liked how he handled the radiation from the nuclear fallout and many people being disfigured or near death because of it. It adds to the hectic environment where many don’t have much to lose and much to gain in Valhalla. Being that he has been out of the action game as well as post-apocalyptic Australian for decades, you could feel that he was having the time of his life filming Fury Road as if he never left.
He is daring and dangerous who’s willing to put the actors and stuntmen through the physical and mental ringer to get the perfect shot which makes it terrifying and exciting on what ideas he has for future sequels. The manic, quick, fast paced close-ups have become a staple of the Mad Max films and they are all over the place here. It’s one of the great pleasures of watching this film, seeing everything go quick and crazy then you see the aftermath of the chaos in slow motion. He knows how to create intriguing new characters with a semblance of humanity, trying to hold on to ones sanity or just outright viciousness. For all the non-stop action, it’s paced extremely well giving one the perfect amount of time to breathe and recollect ones bearings. Miller knows better than anyone on how to construct an action sequence and showing something that no one has ever seen before. The Road Warrior’s climatic action sequence near the end is one of the best chase scenes/action sequences ever filmed bar none and even today can still go toe to toe with any action sequence from any of the Fast And Furious films.
This makes it hard to choose a favorite action sequence in Fury Road since its basically one long massive chase scene. It’s the final chase scene in Road Warrior but extended to two hours. I would have to say the final chase scene is the best one since it encapsulates so many things at once like any climax should. If Fury Road was a benchmark for action films, what would the next film look like? Miller seems to come in at the right times and show everyone how it’s done. With blockbusters the way they are now with a superfluous amount of special effects and a hindrance to a certain type of order, it can get a little tiring after a while. So seeing a film that throws basically every rule out the window is one of the most refreshing experiences one can ever witness. Many of his influences like James Cameron seem to have gone backwards from his more subtle practical effects background where he instead tries to reinvent the wheel again and again with the most realistic special effects ever seen. But it’s just nice to see things reverted back a bit where everything wasn’t done on screen. It's revealing to get down to the nitty gritty.
That’s why it’s nice to see an action film with as limited special effects as humanely possible while still being incredibly exciting. Furious 7 was a fun ride and I really enjoyed it and all but it became quite forgettable once the dust had cleared. Avengers: Age Of Ultron falls in that same category but not as much as Furious 7. Never have I seen stunts so out of this world and something one would see in a cartoon. The amount of pressure and danger to pull these stunts off is nothing short of extraordinary. I think this may be the most outlandish use of practical effects for any film ever. It seems hard to top but if anyone can its George Miller. I could not have been any more excited for Ultron but Fury Road was the main course for me. It just offered so much more for me while still being fresh in many ways. The only other film that got me more excited this year than Fury Road is Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens which no doubt will be amazing.
Miller wrote the script with interestingly enough the help of an unlikely pair that don’t have any success with screenwriting. Brendan McCarthy is a comic book designer with works in TV and film who incidentally was influenced by The Road Warrior for a comic book while Nico Lathouris is an often unseen character actor who was in the original Mad Max as a mechanic. Together they craft an intimate, humane and rollicking action film that is often tender at the right moments while sporting mesmerizing set pieces. Its way more intimate than most action films while challenging the view of women in the action genre. The battle cry of one of the escaping breeders saying “We are not things!” is basically a big FU to every director, producer and screenwriter who demoralizes women on screen, using them for overt sexual purposes, weak underdeveloped characters and helpless damsels in distress. It’s a theme that is ever-present throughout the film while not being the single main attraction of the entire movie. It’s one of the strongest films to ever approach equality in a concise manner where Miller doesn’t beat you over the head to make you understand. Men aren’t evil but the plights of world destruction usually begin with a man who could care less as many of them are in powerful positions. It doesn’t make them bad but infallible.
Max doesn’t have much to say but when has he ever had much to say. He doesn’t speak because he wants to; he only speaks because he has to. He has always been a silent, animalistic brute who speaks when it’s most important. Max hardly speaks in The Road Warrior and it hardly matters since he is a man of action. I think the Gyro Captain even spoke more than him. So it clearly didn’t bother me at all that he didn’t speak much in Fury Road. It’s the quiet moments that hold the most power as we hear Furiosa's story and her mission towards redemption and safe haven or Nux becoming disillusioned in his place among The War Boys and his rightful ascension into Valhalla. It’s not as if Max is suddenly going to open up about his dead family since he has never done that before previously. Max doesn’t need to tell and no one knows why Max is so mad and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He did punch Pappagallo in the face for outright demanding what was wrong with him in Road Warrior. It’s the mystery of his character to everyone else as well as the audience that makes him so intriguing. As well as seeing him move on from a loner to an important cog in Furiosa’s mission for redemption and hope. He will never be outright good or bad but even teetering on the brink makes him more relatable than most action heroes. Nux is an incredibly complex character that brings a needed dimension to the Mad Max filmography. You get deep down to how The War Boys think and how easy it is for them to be depressed. It’s hard to find another oddly intriguing character in any movie.
The story is as simple as the previous Mad Max films and doesn’t need to be wrought with swerves, double crosses, intrigue and twists to be exciting or innovative like many blockbuster films. Max Rockatansky is basically just trying to move on with his life by his lonesome for the most part but gets caught up with violence and mayhem. Max tried to do that in Mad Max and start a new life with his family while holding on to his sanity but they got hunted by a vicious biker gang, leaving them murdered. In The Road Warrior, Max just wanted some fuel and supplies but gets caught up with the plight of a community of survivors holding gasoline while battling vicious marauders. In Beyond Thunderdome, he just wants his camels and supplies that were stolen from him but gets caught up in getting a tribe of kids to a safe point in the city. In Fury Road, Max just wants to be left alone after being hunted down while leaving anyone else in the dust but gets caught up in helping others to safety. The stories of the Mad Max films are paint by numbers sometimes but it doesn’t make them any less exciting. It’s the simplicity that makes them so enjoyable and sets them apart from their blockbuster counterparts.
Fury Road starts off guns blazing and ends with enough ammo to spare. The fact that its one long chase scene makes it quite an anomaly since it’s so simple. One would expect something more but it has more than enough to keep anyone satisfied. Furiosa does hold the screen for a lot of the film but that is no way a slight as it mixes up the films a bit. The movies are about Max but it’s also about the people he encounters along the way. The last two Mad Max films have a narrator that help to move along the legend of Mad Max and without them the movies would be nothing. Max moves in and out like a ghost or a distant, faded memory and doesn’t need to have the spotlight on him the entire time. He’s one of the very few action characters that is sometimes in the background and isn’t really forced upon you. Max is a strong enough character by himself which always makes the surrounding characters that much more intriguing. Here Max isn’t that much different but he is still able to command a screen even if it’s not played by Mel Gibson.
Immortan Joe looks something out of Darth Vader with his pale scarred skin, middle aged body, breathing face mask with altered voice and battle armor adorned over his chest. His raccoon, steely, striking eyes instantly strike fear into his enemies and his imposing garb makes for a very intimidating character. He made for a great menacing villain that goes through some surprising character revelations which doesn’t make him any less endearing but still all the more effective.
One of the many things I loved during Fury Road was the names for all the characters as they all became instantly memorable and right on par with The Humungus, Toadie, Wez, The Toecutter and The Nightrider. It’s hard not to love names like The People Eater, The Bullet Farmer, The Organic Mechanic, The Splendid Angharad, Capable, Toast the Knowing, The Dag, Cheedo the Fragile, Coma (Doof Warrior) and quite possibly the greatest name to ever be uttered on film or in the history of time by anyone dead or living, past, present or future, Rictus Erectus. Maybe the coolest character to never utter a single word in any movie ever may be the epic, heavy metal, axe slaying, flame throwing guitarist Coma who provides the battle ground with epic metal riffs to swiftly aid the War Boys in combat. I couldn’t help but smile and marvel every time I see him since it’s so illogical in any setting, real or fictional to have a truck full of massive speakers, War Boys pounding on huge drums and a masked man wield a guitar/flame thrower. Nothing about it makes any sense but that’s also why it worked so well and why I want one so very bad.
In the past, there have been many iconic female characters that rival any man when it comes to being a complete and utter badass. Furiosa ranks among the class of Ripley, Sarah Connor, Trinity, and The Bride among others as a classic female action character. She is strong, driven, can throw a mean punch despite not having a fist attached to an arm and willing to put everything on the line. She’s also a crack shot with a rifle, often hitting her target with only one shot. She performs a much needed kill shot when Max was missing but it wasn’t portrayed as one being emasculated or made to feel less than but the other person being the better shot. Furiosa takes no crap from anyone and will do everything in her power to make you realize that. Even though she doesn’t have a left arm, you’re not meant to feel sorry for her and she doesn’t elicit sympathy because of it. Here she is just as capable of firing guns, driving a rig and punching someone out as someone with two fully functioning arms. Not to mention she just looks so much cooler with a mechanical arm. The women she saves also have strong personalities which the film does much to separate them with individual identities and not have them be helpless or overtly weak. They were made to be weak and served as they don’t often see the plight of the survivors below. Of course they were attractive as anyone who breeds animals would want the most pleasing to the eye for mating.
The acting all around was top notch and didn’t feel at all like it was overacting or too overly cheesy. Everyone here fit their part perfectly as an integral part to the madness. Tom Hardy is quickly becoming the go to guy for tortured, empathetic powerhouses. He was brilliant in Bronson, Warrior, The Drop and The Dark Knight Rises while keeping control of an entire film by himself in the powerful Locke. I have always said that Hardy has one of the most expressive eyes in film as he can portray quiet pain and suffering better than anyone. One look into his eyes and you can read so much without him saying anything. His body language, powerful, silent charisma and brutality make him the perfect fit to resurrect Max for a new generation. Hardy can bring out the humanity in his portrayal of beasts where you don’t really know which side of the fence he is on, man or animal. You want him to be ok and be welcomed by a new family of people but that wouldn’t be his character. He’s a loner. A rebel.
Theron also fit her role as Furiosa like a glove exuding the same power, charisma and cunning as Hardy’s Max. It’s the kind of role that can catapult an actor to another stratosphere as franchises are incredibly huge right now. She’s a character you want to know more of even if you got the gist of it while hearing her backstory. Furiosa is a little more central during some parts of the film and integral because she has something to lose and isn’t as far gone as Max. She still has something to strive for and a dream that can be fulfilled so it makes her a little more approachable. Theron has a great no nonsense mentality that doesn’t move an inch even when she’s approached at gun point. Furiosa’s loss runs counterpoint to Max's loss in a great dichotomy of character. In one scene, Furiosa tells Max about a safe haven for the women and you see the pain in her face as she looks in the distance like there has to be something there while Max just looks cold as if there is nothing there at all. They’re two similar characters while being completely different mentally and it makes for a great pairing as Hardy and Theron have amazing chemistry together. They go so well of off each other like peas in a pod but not once did it feel like there needed to be a forced romantic sexual involvement. It would do both of their characters a disservice if they were to be involved romantically.
Hoult was by far the most unpredictable in the whole movie as the death obsessed War Boy who hopes to die in a blaze of glory. He looked instantly unrecognizable as his name in the trailer was the only way to know if it was him. Shaved bald and covered in white paint with scars adorned all over his body, he is a somewhat misunderstood soldier and someone you can’t keep your eyes off of. And that’s not because of the paint, scars or shaved head. He adds much to the film with his own type of madness which is saying something as nearly everyone is mad and steals many scenes that he is in. His manic and desperate attempts for acceptance from Joe and the War Boys are somewhat sad and tragic but funny all the same. You can’t help but feel for him. But then you get all excited when he yells “What a lovely day!!!!” as he’s driving in the middle of a sandstorm, waiting for an epic death.
When it comes to any sequel/prequel/remake/reboot of any kind there is always a need for expansion from previous films which Fury Road has in gusto. One aspect that is awesome is the differing sects of clans, groups and marauders in the desolate Australian landscape. You have allies of Joe like the Bullet Farmers and Gas Town as well as enemies like the Bikers, The Buzzard Tribe and the Vuvalini who all command their own part of territory and do anything to protect it from invading forces. The Vuvalini are also very interesting in that it is wholly composed of women, mostly middle aged but are also battle worn and ready to fight at a moment’s notice. They are just as willing to put their lives on the line when they have to and aren’t treated any differently if they were men. Having all these groups just makes the world that much bigger and impressive instead of a one group per film like the previous Mad Max films or nearly any franchise. It’s great to see how others were affected and how they deal with the new world, landscape and loss of essential resources. You already want to know more about them which makes the film that much more intriguing.
One of the best aspects of the entire film is how Joe commandeers the War Boys to do his bidding at mere will. Using aspects of Viking religion, he creates an entire religion and imparts that they will reach Valhalla if they die gloriously in battle. War Boys prey at the bottom of a monument to steering wheels in an effort to make their lives a little more rounded. But this applies to many aspects of war like Kamikaze pilots during World War II and suicide bombers in the Middle East. Using religion as a form of control to do things that you wouldn’t is as old as time and it makes all the more sense that religion would be used on the fringes of society after the entire world has collapsed. The War Boys are so interesting in that they have nothing much too live for since the world had ended so life after death became the ultimate price as it must be better than life currently. All they do is work on cars, drive and hope to see their friends in the afterlife so anything to live for makes the current life just a little bit more tolerable. It also goes to show that whenever there is no hope to be gained in an empty world and there are people who need someone or something to guide them amid a wasteland, religion will be the most powerful tool of all.
Being that I grew up watching Mad Max and The Road Warrior and loved both of them dearly while loving Mel Gibson’s quiet, tortured performance in them, it remains a special part of my heart. I exclude Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome since it was awful in too many ways. Not to mention that I cannot stand the influx of remakes/sequels/prequels/reboots that invade the screens. Too many of them hardly do anything to stand out. But after watching the trailers, I knew that Fury Road would be different and would go against the grain in nearly every possible way. It’s a rare category that it’s one of the very few remakes/sequels/prequel/reboots that can be appreciated alone for its genius from its brilliant counterparts. It’s so out there that it basically flips the entire genre on its head. There is only one other film that I would mark as one of the greatest action films of all time and that is The Raid 2: Berandal where that itself was also a groundbreaking achievement. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those rare every once in a while blips of brilliance amid a sea of mediocrity. Much like The Matrix, it may be hard to understand for some at first but eventually it will find its place amid the all-time greats from a wide populace, earning the respect it sorely deserves. Five glorious deaths during battle and a trip to Valhalla out of five.