Expectations are funny phenomena we create for ourselves. The bar can be set so high – typically by James Cameron – that we most likely never meet the height of our expectations, which can be the ultimate let down, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron (my review). Or it can be set so low that the worst possible outcome is met with a warm hug when those expectations are shattered, much like Pitch Perfect. But if you can find that balance right above a stinker and below that unmeasurable peak, you have the greatest chance for reward. I went into Mad Max: Fury Road right in that sweet spot, and this movie absolutely blew me away.
Having little affect on me when I first saw Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Max Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) over five years ago, I can claim no real ties to the franchise whatsoever. However, after seeing all the incredible trailers prior to Mad Max: Fury Road’s release, I couldn’t help but be drawn by the extraordinary editing and visuals I was bombarded by. It looked too good to be true. As much as I wanted to see Fury Road succeed, I kept a cautious optimism. Sequels years after their time are a nasty business – Dumb and Dumber To comes to mind – and now 30 years after its last entry into the series, there was no telling how well this new iteration would take flight.
If the Fast and Furious franchise had a one night stand with the Burning Man community, Fury Road would be their conceptual brain child. Writer/director George Miller’s vision of an Australian post-apocalyptic future is astonishingly reinvigorated here, and I can’t help but to think that he alone is the only person capable to justify its necessity. It’s utterly mind-blowing that this is the man who after introducing audiences to the iconic Mad Max went on to direct Babe: Pig in the City and both Happy Feet movies. To be able to switch gears three decades later and deliver such a wildly entertaining blockbuster is a feat in and of itself.
Even though everything depicted on screen is sheer madness to the nth degree, it feels believable in the world Miller has created. Never did I question as to why there is a blind man wearing red pajamas strapped to a truck equipped with dozens of amplifiers while jamming on a double neck guitar flamethrower because it makes perfect sense within the structure and limits Miller places upon the anarchy of Mad Max. Not only does the space in which this film exists feels completely lived in, but it teases beyond the vast environment we’re privy to in this story and makes me want to explore every inch of it. It’s as if the universe of Mad Max continued to live on even after Miller took his hiatus from the franchise.
The details of the new order in which the villainous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has instilled upon the remnants of the human population is not all explained through heaps of exposition to catch us up with current events. Instead, the impeccable world built around this story benefits from character motivations and short lines of dialogue that simply allows your eyeballs to soak it all up and interpreted in your mind rather than have it explained to you. It’s never defined how or why Bullet Farm, Gasland, and the Citadel came to be, but their existence is implied through the clever narrative in which the movie unfolds over time.
Miller spends minimal time dwelling on the franchise’s past to establish his impressive, cinematic achievement in the present. The only ties we are locked into are the Australian outback and “Mad” Max Rockatansky, played by Tom Hardy who brings in some of his inaudibly amusing grunts from his previous film, Lawless. Internally fighting the demons of his past has led Max to Joe’s Citadel, which seems to be the last remaining source of clean water. Max comes to partner with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her all female group of white-clothed Spice Girls (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) as they venture through the desert outside the clutches of Joe and his army of worshipers who believe he is a savior reborn bearing the promise of safe passage to Valhalla. Anything beyond that description I would declare as a spoiler.
As far as the promising crop of new characters goes, you can tell that Miller took pride in developing each one. I cared more about a character who never once had their name mentioned and had less than five minutes of screen time than I have for certain lead characters in other big blockbuster films like Transformers or The Hobbit. Slightly more character building could’ve helped, but everyone is so adequately fleshed out through wardrobe, makeup, and acting that it’s easy to understand agendas and personality types. In no way did I have to guess a character’s feelings because their actions are expressed convincingly by the cast. Essentially, what’s shown on screen explains everything necessary to let the story tell itself organically. The meager dialogue is just an added bonus. They say that the eyes tell the story, and in the case of Fury Road they would be right. Someone’s eyes are always assessing the situation to prepare for their next, calculated move.
Though it may seem as if the women play the damsels in distress archetype, the exact opposite is true. Fury Road is definitely as much of a gals movie as it is a guys movie. These are strong, capable, and fearless women, with Theron commanding just as much attention as Hardy. It’s a great balance. I really enjoyed what the other women brought to their characters, but I wish they had just a little more depth and definition to them. And I wouldn’t say there is a fine line differentiating Mel Gibson’s Max to Hardy’s, but rather this new take is just an evolution of the character. Although, Hardy’s Max randomly, and sometimes conveniently, has fits of flashbacks that appear too infrequently to legitimize their existence.
But I’m sure the main reason why you’re here is to know about the action, am I right? To answer your inquiry, I found myself at the edge of my seat as the action sequences left me breathless. I, much like the many others in the packed theater I was joined with, were completely silently, in awe of what we were seeing on screen. Fury Road is unlike any big budget blockbuster that has been released in a long time. There is never a time when there isn’t something moving on screen. Regardless of just being a bunch of car chases, each one is different in its own right, making for a truly captivating experience. The practical effects, the craftily constructed cars and war rigs, and the outrageous stunts, everything just leaves you in state of amazement. My jaw was on the floor, basking in the chaos wondering how it all was accomplished. Wherever they incorporated the use of CGI it was barely noticeable aside from filling in the Citadel with extras and painting in fictional, man made structures and cities. Much like The Raid 2: Barendal, seeing how Fury Road is practically scene after scene of nonstop action, the cinematography is coherent and beautiful, allowing each set piece to be comprehended well enough to know where all the moving parts fit in the lawlessness of it all.
Mad Max: Fury Road has the perfect center of unrelenting action and emotional stakes that delve into unfamiliar and exciting territory, unlike the many franchises set on popular, existing characters that harbor the usual shtick and leaves little to the imagination. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Fury Road introduces something even more bonkers in the best way possible. One of the best parts is that it is a true, high-octane piece of work that easily stands alone from its predecessors, confidently without any past context needed. This film is beyond anything I could have imagined it would be. It breaks down every conventional wall, crushing my expectations by capturing the essence of brilliant storytelling and pure filmmaking magic. This is the kind of movie that makes you fall in love with the medium. From the marvelously insane practical effects and stunts to the wonderfully absurd costume design to the rich landscapes representing the Australian wasteland to the unparalleled world building, just about every aspect of Mad Max: Fury Road is cinematically delicious down to the last bite.
What did you think about Mad Max: Fury Road? Tell us in the comment section below. Watch the trailer.
With a run time of 120 minutes, the film is now in theaters and is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.