This is a visionary creation of a new world. It's a unique movie that is not only almost all action, but it manages to make some social and feminist commentary as well. It deserves all the awards it can get.
1. In 1979, Australian director George Miller stunned the world with his ultra-low-budget, dangerously-filmed Mad Max. It spawned two sequels, ending in 1985. While he didn’t invent the post-apocalyptic genre of science fiction, he basically shaped much of how we think of it today. And thirty years after Tina Turner made fun of the “raggedy man”, we have a new Mad Max film.
The first Mad Max film was his origin story. The other movies, including this one, can be seen as stand-alone films; each has it’s own plot and cast of characters. Fury Road takes the vehicle-and-gasoline fetish from The Road Warrior, combines it with the search for "Tomorrow-morrowland" from Beyond Thunderdome, mixes in a death war cult, and tops it off with an impossibly epic soundtrack from electronica master Junkie XL. Then he cranks it up to 15.
2. In a SUPREMELY rare event, I went to see the film on Saturday night, and then I went to see it again Sunday morning, 16 hours later. I wanted to see if my initial reactions to the film stayed the same, and to see if the movie really was as dense as I suspected. I have decided that Mad Max: Fury Road is not only one of the most visionary films I’ve seen in recent memory, it’s also a masterpiece of nonverbal storytelling.
3. George Miller continues to elaborate on his bizarro world of outlandish characters, the vehicles that defy the category of “cars”, and a so-obvious-it’s-hidden smattering of social commentary. Staying true to his roots, over 80% of the stunts and car crashes are real. Computer generated effects were used sparingly, mostly in the backgrounds (and of course, Charlize Theron’s arm).
4. There is sort of a character arc of Max through all the films, but the Max in this film (played by Tom Hardy, one of the most talented actors in the world) is most like an extension of the Max of The Road Warrior. He’s an extremely traumatized man that runs from everything. He's a survival instinct in a body. He doesn’t talk much, and uses grunts and monosyllables when it’s sufficient communication.
5. The movie starts with an in-your-face reversal of action hero moments, proceeds to what would be the climax of most action movies, and then adds in three more climaxes. While exciting, it can actually induce a kind of fatigue in the viewer, and you start to miss things.
6. Despite the kinetic frenzy of most of the movie, there is a surprisingly cohesive narrative. It has to be picked up from certain lines (sometimes certain words), and from visual cues in the movie itself, but it is telling a real story. He shows you all the dots, but doesn't connect them for you. If you don’t want to piece together the deeper context, then that’s your decision (similarly, there are also numerous little references to the earlier films that will be completely missed by people who don’t know the original trilogy).
7. One of the most fascinating parts of the film is in its characterization of women. Miller hired feminist writer Eve Ensler (known for her play The Vagina Monologues) as a consultant to help him avoid creating the stereotypical female characters in a movie like this. As a result, the women in this film are much more than just characters - I see them more as various female archetypes in different stages of determining their own agency (the men in the movie are much more one-dimensional than the women). I don’t want to call this a “feminist” action movie because that term has too many meanings, but this movie is a defiantly loud rejection of female norms in dystopian lore.
8. OK, I’ll break one of my rules and I’ll help you with a little of the subtext in the film. Notice the names of the Five Wives in the film: The Splendid Angharad, The Dag, Cheedo the Fragile, Toast the Knowing, and Capable. Go ahead and Google a couple of those words. I’ll wait...
Now pay attention to which wives had those names. This is an example of Miller finding small cracks to place clues about the subtext of the film, but without bothering to make sure you find them. The women in this movie are perhaps the most varied and empowered of any science fiction movie ever... but Miller makes absolutely no attempt to make sure you understand that. You have to work for it and decode the movie on your own.
9. Despite all this, the movie is not going to be to everyone’s taste. If you don’t like post-apocalyptic movies in the first place, this one probably won’t change your mind.
If you like your action movies safe, silly, and simple, stick with The Avengers and call it a day. It’s fine.
But if you need an adult action movie with teeth and claws, where there are no heroes, only choices, with stories that actually mean something, even if it’s not particularly optimistic, then this savagely sublime piece of art should be seen on as big a screen as possible, at the highest volume possible.