I’ve often thought the formula for the success of the Mad Max films was combining the overwrought bravado of professional wrestling, car culture, and post-apocalyptic science fiction. I find it interesting that it’s been thirty years between films, but George Miller, who started it all, is back at the helm, and this Mad Max film, subtitled Fury Road, is the best of them all, and is surely one of the best action films of the year (take that, Avengers).
Most apocalypse films these days have to do with climate change, but we’re back in the Outback following a nuclear exchange (lots of signs of radiation sickness–the film is not for the squeamish). Max, now played by Tom Hardy, has himself a meal of a two-headed lizard (this gave me a giggle and reminded me of the three-eyed fish on The Simpsons) before he’s kidnapped and hauled off to The Citadel, a huge complex of caves that is run by an elaborately costumed dictator called Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who is very sick, and propped up by armor and other affectations, which makes him a little like Darth Vader.
Max is used as a blood donor, since he’s universal, and hung in a cage. He’s strapped to a young warrior (Nicholas Hoult), who’s off chasing after Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, with shaved head and eyeblack on her forehead), who has betrayed the Citadel by hauling off Joe’s breeding wives. During the fight, which takes place in vehicles at high speeds, Max manages to free himself, and comes across what looks like a quintet of Victoria’s Secret models (indeed, some of the actresses are, another is the granddaughter of Elvis Presley) washing off, like a beer commercial’s idea of a male fantasy. I guess Joe has pretty much the same taste in women that is popular now.
Anyhoo, Max and Furiosa team up to go to the “Green Place,” which she remembers from childhood. But they’ve managed to tick off everyone in the process. Chasing the “war rig” she drives is not only Joe and his warriors, but a contingent from Gas Town (led by a man with an artificial nose and elephantiasis), the gang from Bullet Farm (with turbans made out of bandoleers), and they also cross some motorcycle riders who keep watch over a canyon.
As I recall with Beyond Thunderdome, which found Max saving a bunch of children, this time he’s saving, er, helping to save, women who are seen as nothing but objects. The script, like most good science fiction, touches on modern themes–The Citadel is a damn good example of the one percent, which doles out water a bit a time. Joe tells the squalid citizens below to be careful not to get addicted to water, a concept that would be funny if it weren’t so horrible. Furiosa does return to her home, but finds only a few women, suspicious of men, and of course they are nurturing but also bad-ass.
The action in this film is intense. There are only a few lulls between set pieces. Most are of the vehicle variety, and this film has more tricked-out modes of transportation than any gear-head could dream of. I especially liked the use of VW Beetle bodies to adorn trucks, and the fighters who balance on long, flexible poles to bend down and attack others. Of course, as with the other films, I am reminded, if gas is so precious, why do they drive around so much? There’s also a spectacularly done fistfight with three sides–Hardy, Theron, and Hoult.
The acting is fine. Hardy is solid and doesn’t say much. This role made Mel Gibson a star, maybe it will do the same for Hardy, who is known by cognoscenti by not so much by the general public. He does have to spend half the movie with an iron mask on his face, just like he did when he played Bane. Theron is also quite good, playing a well-rounded character, not just window dressing. Even the models are competent.
The film is also quite beautiful. The photography is by John Seale, and there are some luscious scenes during both the heat of mid-day and at night. The FX team I would imagine is responsible for a huge dust storm that the drivers head into.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a rarity: an intelligent action film, with good performances and spectacular stunts. You will find it hard to catch your breath. Oh, and lest I forget, I loved the bad-guy car that has a guy playing a flame-throwing electric guitar on the front. For the guy who has everything.
My grade for Mad Max: Fury Road: A-.