Imagine a beautifully composed and intimate film, telling a story of a world destroyed by men with a pervasive allegory for social class and female empowerment. If I told you that this same film includes a mutant playing a flamethrower guitar as his fellow henchmen drive across the deserts of the world, you’d probably be taken aback. But that aptly describes Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s tremendously exciting action film that probably contains the greatest action scenes I’ve ever encountered. That may sound like hyperbole, but I’m being frank. They’re simply that great. The story comes thirty years after the last installment in the Mad Max franchise but feels like its own self-contained narrative, picking up with the titular Max and his adventures with Furiosa, a brazenly great action character played by Charlize Theron. George Miller’s vision of this dystopia is brilliantly rendered and mostly feels like a moving portrait, composed of eye-opening moments that are enhanced by the film’s rapid-fire, relentless editing. Fury Road culminates into a brilliant action film, marked by deeply rooted passion and commitment from everyone involved.
The story follows Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a man of action and decidedly few words. He is haunted by the death of his wife and daughter, which consume him every waking moment. When he is captured by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the original villain in 1979’s Mad Max), Max must find a way to escape from the grasps of the self-proclaimed leader running the fabled city of Citadel. Joe rules over people by controlling their water and oil, two of the most valuable resources in the post-apocalyptic landscape. He’s also held back by a breathing machine and a rather grotesque body that seems to have been morphed by nuclear war; suffice to say, he’s a big ball of ugly. Nonetheless, Joe sends out his lead officer, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), to the nearby Fueltown in order to carry a recent shipment, but she takes her war rig off of the beaten path and goes on a life-altering detour. This leads to a savage race that, along with Max’s escape, involves the search for a better land amidst a world marked by chaos, car chases, cannibals, and crow people. If that doesn’t pique your interest, then maybe this isn’t the film for you.
The primary driving force of the film, outside of the absolutely bonkers car chases, is Furiosa’s desire to preserve five women that are being held captive as Joe’s many wives. He aims to impregnate them on the off-chance that he will find the perfect human specimen to raise, killing the children that do not come out as expected. These women are played by the likes of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (famous from Transformers: Dark of the Moon), Zoe Kravitz (who is on a tear over the next month, with a strong supporting role in the compelling Good Kill and a role in the great Dope), and Riley Keough (a grandchild of Elvis Presley). These women are decidedly strong and can stand on their own, while acting as Joe’s crutch because he doesn’t want to kill his valuable property. The longer that Furiosa holds onto them, the longer she has a bargaining tool and time to find a means of finally escaping his cruel grasp. Theron’s role is fantastic and suits her demeanor perfectly; it’s a role that reminds me of Sigourney Weaver’s defining Ripley in Alien. She’s a better shot than almost every man in the film, and the overarching feminist pull that latches onto the weak-minded men proves to be a worthwhile twist in the testosterone-fueled action genre.
And that action. Oh boy, that action. It’s remarkably insane, fueled by fire, blood, and fuel. But most importantly, it’s given context and moves as fluidly as water in a river. Most of the film has to be fluid because it remains, effectively, one long car chase. While that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen on paper, it becomes a tour-de-force of emotional impact and narrative substance. However conventional the story elements may seem, they become enhanced by their action groundings and the amazing set pieces that Miller and company have composed. Junkie XL’s music sets the tone masterfully, moving between high-octane metal and symphonic ballads without a missed beat, and the aggressive editing from Jason Ballantine and Margaret Sixel makes the film simultaneously intimate and overwhelming. Even John Seale’s cinematography, which feels both picturesque and like a twelve-year old boy’s wet dream, owes a lot to the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, a piece of high praise but one that works due to their use of desert heat and terrain to great cinematic advantage. Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute blast of a motion picture, marked by strong performances, immaculate direction, and an overwhelmingly ambitious vision of a dystopia.
Grade: ★★★★½ (out of 5)