WRITTEN REVIEW – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nico Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult & Hugh Keays-Byrne
Music: Junkie XL
Release Date: May 15th 2015
To mainstream audiences, director George Miller is probably know best for his family-friendly fare such as 1995’s ‘Babe‘, 2006’s ‘Happy Feet‘ as well as both of their sequels. However, in terms of cinematic influence, Miller is predominantly known for the ‘Mad Max‘ trilogy from between 1979 and 1985. The ultra-violent, action-packed trilogy starring Mel Gibson birthed a new era for low-budget independent films by using a post-apocalyptic desert environment to justify filming in the middle of nowhere with make-shift costumes to keep costs down. This especially paid off with the first ‘Mad Max‘ as thanks to its $350,000 budget it was the most profitable film ever made for several decades.
Now, coming 30 years after the last instalment and seeing none of the main cast members return, George Miller returns to the Mad Max universe with ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘, a sequel/reboot (in the vein of James Bond, I’m assuming) which is hoping to kick-start a new trilogy. With A-list acting talent with Tom Hardy in the title role as well as Charlize Theron and a $150M budget, there’s a lot going for this film as well as a lot at stake. Sure, 1970s and 1980s reboots and long overdue sequels are all the rage right now, but is the world still clamouring for more Max?
It’s the future and life sucks. Set in a post-apocalyptic future after a nuclear war, society has collapsed and radiation poisoning has left many of the survivors sick and/or deformed. The self-proclaimed ruler of one future faction, Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) is on the hunt for one of his lieutenants, Furiosa (Theron) who is attempting to escape the faction with five of Joe’s wives who have been selected especially for breeding. Furiosa’s path crosses with Max Rockatansky (Hardy) and the two team up to outrun Immortan Joe who has teamed up with two other factions who are determined to reclaim the wives.
That basic set-up pretty much makes ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ a two-hour long chase movie, which definitely isn’t a bad thing as the film is a masterclass in short-form storytelling thanks to its visual-world building and characters who are defined by their actions as opposed to reams and reams of exposition. In fact, dialogue is actually pretty sparse in this movie when compared to other contemporary blockbusters with the titular Max only getting around 30 lines of dialogue, not counting voice-over lines. Max, while not the main character of this movie despite his name being in the title, works very well as a framing device and as a cipher for the audience to view this future world that has utterly gone to hell. He’s the sanest individual here which gives us an insight, despite the fact that he’s suffering from frequent hallucinations and nightmares of his daughter who he couldn’t save.
Okay, he’s pretty mad as well.
Tom Hardy’s Mad Max follows the theme of the series which him essentially being “the man with no name” (although his name is Max…), a weary traveller who is just trying to survive but can’t help but get caught up in these elaborate scenarios. It’s through the character of Max where the movie gets most of its humour, whether it’s Max giving an incredibly feeble thumbs up when a particular plan goes as expected, or Max on top of tall pole witnessing the overblown carnage around him, Max helps to ground the movie.
And thankfully there is a character like Max in this movie because ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ is absolutely insane.
The crazy, radiated, cancer-ridden, pale-skinned “war-boys”, the fashion sense, the vehicle designs, the immensely quotable dialogue that’ll surely become meme-worthy over the next few weeks and months (“I AM SHINY AND CHROME!!”) and just how phenomenal the stunt-work is in the movie’s three extended action sequences that make up the three act-structure the movie sticks to…it’s an utterly bonkers movie. The movie even cuts to black to signify the act changes and to use the gaunt quiet to let audiences catch their breath. In my screening, the first cut to black was shortly followed by “Holy s***!” from one blown-away member of the audience, which was a pretty suitable reaction.
If you’ve read one review of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ then you’ll already know that the car chase sequences are insanely well executed. The freely moving camera thanks to the empty landscapes of the desert allows for some immensely inventive shots, gorgeous moments of composition and letting the lack of background distractions allow the stunt-work and practical effects to be the focal point for the audience. With the exception of a sequence taking place inside a fire/electrical/sand storm (really) as well as a handful of shots where extra vehicles were added (see below) there’s apparently no CGI in the movie and it’s all the better for it. Seeing dozens of vehicles band together, riding in formation and charging into battle makes ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ feel more like a movie about naval warfare as opposed to a simple car-chase film.
Even though there’s always the dissonance between the film and audience members because “of course they’re not going to kill off the main character”, there are moments that will have you gripping the arm-rest and the tension just takes over you and makes you worried that these main characters aren’t going to make it to the end of the fight. The danger is real, the threat is palpable and the stakes are personal enough to make you care about whether or not Max and Furiosa make it through. Also, while I’m on the subject of tension, I was surprised to find that I had a genuine emotional attachment to “The War Rig” – the vehicle that Furiosa and Max drive across the wasteland throughout the entire movie. Whenever it was damaged or caught fire, I was actually worried that it’d break down or get destroyed. I’d not felt such an attachment to a non-sentient vehicle since “The Beast” from 2013’s ‘The World’s End‘.
One thing I loved about ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ was how the world itself was constructed. There’s a lot of story-telling told from just the set-designs and the props such how the War Boys treat their steering wheels like ancient, important relics, or how the mechanisms for the huge citadel in which they reside work and even how the different factions are dressed with John Howard’s “The People Eater” being one of the more…interestingly designed characters. The movie reeks of affection and care when it comes to the production design but it never feels overbearing.
It allows the audience to fill in gaps for themselves without forcing them to do lots of heavy-lifting to distract them from the immediacy of what’s taking place. And one impressive thing about the production design is that it as practicality as a priority. Sure, having “The War Rig” use a scoop at the front to cover the front in a torrent of sand makes for a STUNNING shot, but it’s practical because it manages to put a fire out on the hood. Yes, the giant poles the War Boys use in their conflicts shift the dynamics of the action sequence and incorporate different levels but they’re also incredibly useful for swift kidnappings and for getting above the enemy.
Needless to say, this is a movie where buying a “The Art of the Movie” book might be an essential purchase for film fans.
The introduction of Immortan Joe has his servants suit him up, covering up his diseased, mangled and fragile body in a suit of armour moulded with muscles to make him appear more powerful to his disciples and while his mask may be seen as a scare-tactic against enemies, it’s actually a vital breathing apparatus keeping him alive. Within 10-15 seconds of screen time and with no dialogue, the audience now know all the information that they need to about Joe and the type of person he is. And when contrasted with the lack of clothes for his soldiers shows his self-imposed status. This is the type of visual story-telling that is often overlooked in many films but ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ incorporates it smartly and boldly.
Character motivations are defined by their actions which always speak louder then words and when looking back on ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘, most of the moments I remember (outside of the meme-worthy lines spouted by the War Boys) are the actions the characters took. Like when a surprisingly awesome Rosie Huntington-Whiteley uses her heavily pregnant body as a shield (pregnant with Immortan Joe’s child) to shield Furiosa whilst hanging outside of the car. Like the practical production design I mentioned earlier, it makes for an awesome shot AND it works as a great, disarming character-beat.
But when it comes to characters of action, that’s where Furiosa comes in as it’s really HER movie. She’s the one risking everything to save Immortan’s wives and with an assortment of weapons, awesome driving skills and a badass metal arm, she’s going to fight the literal patriarchy that has relegated the women in this dystopian society to either a breeding tool, or a source of fuel (No joke. There are numerous women hooked up to pumps to milk them in order to fuel Immortan Joe’s army). Furiosa’s plan is to take the women to “The Green Place” where she was born, where similarly badass, motorbike wielding old women live in relative peace.
“Who Killed The World!?” is there motto and the gender-politics of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ seem to be on its sleeve. But with the inclusion of the War Boy; Nux, who is a desperate, almost pitiful person who is so enamoured with the image of masculinity that Immortan Joe’s regime feigns that he’s willing to do almost anything to be involved with it, as well as the fatherly Max – where ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ shows that it’s not a Man-hating movie. It’s a much-needed, relevant take-down of the toxic perception of outdated masculine ideals that may literally become the death of a culture.
While Furiosa wants to travel to “The Green Place” and to get away from this corrupt, morally bankrupt and repugnant women-hating apocalypse (or a weekend on Twitter if you’re a feminist), nearer the end of the movie Max has another idea; Go back and fix it. Take a stand. Fight back.
Otherwise nothing will change.
Nux’s arc demonstrates that this change is possible and Nicholas Hoult, despite his prior type-casting as dweeby characters, is still able to exude such a presence and moments of power that he works as a War Boy initially to make that transition possible. Nux is a great character, in fact, all of the cast are. It’s a wonderful ensemble, with all the characters bouncing off each other in funny, compelling ways that are never-boring despite often being un-spoken.
Oh and there’s also a minor-character who plays a fire-spewing Guitar whilst riding into battle.
Despite that, I don’t think ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ should be on a pedestal with some of the best action movies of all time like ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘, ‘Spider-Man 2‘ or ‘Die Hard‘, though it most definitely does deserve to be placed with modern-action movie greats like ‘Dredd‘, ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol‘ and ‘The Incredible Hulk‘ (Shuddup. Revisit that last movie. It’s genuinely brilliant). The reason for that is that there’s a lot of gaps in the narrative that felt neglected. There’s been a lot of talk online recently about spoon-feeding information to viewers and what viewers need to know and that’s a discussion worth having. For example, I don’t need to know where the Guitar-Wielding warrior came from or his origin story. But I feel like I DO need to know how Furiosa became a lieutenant of Joe when every other woman in this world has been relegated to an object.
I don’t need to know where Furiosa got her metal arm from, but I feel like I DO need to know what the relationship is like between the War Boys and the other factions because they seem incredibly willing to join Immortal Joe on his conquest at a moment’s notice even though it literally won’t benefit them at all. It just feels like a couple of key narrative gaps are missing that took me out of the movie during my initial viewing and even distracted me from its positive traits upon reflection.
Minor quibbles also include the occasional fist-fight which does resort to shaky-cam which is a disappointment because the rest of the action sequences are shot gorgeously with smartly realised tableaus. Also, while the “wives” themselves are very well acted and definitely aren’t related to simply being “objects” in the movie like they are considered by the War Boys in the context of the universe, it felt like the five characters themselves were pretty interchangeable, save for The Dag, but that’s just because Abbey Lee Kershaw has such a unique, ethereal presence.
As mentioned before, the direction is amazing, the editing is Oscar-calibre with a perfect sense of geography and pacing. The practical effects and minimal use of CGI is seamless, the make-up is awesome and I hope ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ gets at least ONE Oscar nomination this year in a technical category. But credit must go to Junkie XL who does an incredible job composing the music. Yes, the score during the action scenes are awesome and bombastic and also effective and subtle during the quieter moments, but it’s also very well incorporated into the movie’s universe. When the score gets gradually louder as the camera pans closer to the war convoy, which has the guitar-player blasting rock music away on the back of a tanker as well as a group of War Boys banging on the drums of war is something that really makes you notice modern-day multiplex surround-sound speakers.
‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ might not be the 5-star, perfect masterpiece that many critics have touted it as…but it’s darn close and it’s still pretty amazing and a must-see action blockbuster that the Summer Movie season was made for. Its cast of characters are instantly memorable, its themes are relevant and resonate well while also remembering to be an astonishingly kick-ass theatrical experience. The car chases are out of this world and if you’re not blown-away and breathless by the end of act one, then you’re just as mad and insane as the movie is.
I give ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ 4 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 29th May 15