Review of the Week–Mad Max: Fury Road

I don’t often have big disagreements over movies with my parents. Even though we’re fundamentally from two different generations, my mother, father, and I all have very similar tastes in entertainment and will generally agree on the quality of most movies and TV shows, with some minor divergence. Which is why I just can’t wrap my head around why they don’t like a film that I think is probably the single best action movie ever made: the 2015 Mad Max franchise reboot, Fury Road.

For those of you unfamiliar with this series, Mad Max focuses on Max Rockatansky, a former cop who survives a nuclear apocalypse that turns much of the world into a wasteland, and reverts most humans to primitive savagery. They live in a world where the only guarantee of survival is speed, gasoline is more precious than gold, and only those with strength of will and a sweet ride live to see another day. Once a defender of law and order, Max becomes a self-centered survivalist who only believes in looking out for number one–until he’s sucked into various situations that call for this wandering renegade to become a hero once again.

In Fury Road, which is a reboot of the Mad Max story, Max is once again lost and wandering the wastes, haunted by the ghosts of those he failed to save, when he’s captured by a gang called the War Boys. Their leader, the ailing but still brutal Immortan Joe, rules an outpost of humanity called the Citadel with an iron fist, exercising absolute control over its population via his supply of fresh water. Just when it looks like Max will spend the rest of his days a slave, he’s caught up in a plot by Furiosa, one of Joe’s top lieutenants, to abduct a group of female childbearing slaves and take them to freedom in the legendary “Green Place” beyond the desert. The perilous odyssey is fraught with trials and tribulations, and in keeping with the franchise’s past, Max will be forced to look past just living another day to find true meaning in his survival. Will he simply run away when he could have taken a stand again, or will he face down an entire unstoppable army to prove he too is worthy of being saved?

Let me just get this off my chest: this is a great action movie. In fact, this may be the greatest action movie that has ever been made up to this point. I’m not exaggerating. Everything about the spectacle in Fury Road, from the post-apocalyptic grunge-flavored vehicles to the epic chase and weather scenes and even the bloody brilliant one-on-one fights are packed with so much punch (pardon the pun) and visual flair that you can’t help but be totally absorbed by them. All credit goes to director George Miller for finally getting Mad Max right. Look, I get that the Mel Gibson movies started all of this, and I appreciate that, but I’ve just never been a fan of them like my parents are. I find them unbearably campy, somewhat dated, and filled with leaden acting and interminable dialogue. I’m also not a Mel Gibson fan. Sorry not sorry. But anyway, Miller really nailed the unique, quirky, and yet terrifying vision of the future Fury Road provides. It makes you laugh at the same time it horrifies you with its unabashedly over-the-top style, pulling no punches and making no apologies. That’s just the way I like it.

Really, it takes some serious skill to convey as much about a culture we know nothing about as this movie does with such comparatively little dialogue or exposition. Even if you know nothing about Mad Max before watching Fury Road, don’t worry: you’ll still fit right in. The visuals of the film take a lot of the heavy lifting off the characters by showing, rather than having them tell, about what’s going on, and that’s no small feat when you’re trying to introduce an audience to a whole new world. The dialogue is actually quite minimalistic, usually for effect, to show how alien and animalistic the characters, especially Max, have had to become in this harsh, unforgiving world: another style point that makes perfect sense when you think about it.

And trust me, I’m all for a movie once in a while that may be short on story but long on spectacle. I do like Pacific Rim, after all. But the beauty of Fury Road, and what makes it such a stellar piece of cinema, is that it actually does have a story, and quite a powerful one at that. The main piece of brilliance is that Max himself, played expertly by Tom Hardy, is relegated almost to a side character role in his own movie. Much of the work to move the plot forward is actually done by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who should serve as a model for feminine heroes everywhere. Badass? Check. Compassionate and human? Check. Smart? Check. Hell, she’s even disabled, too, and it still doesn’t stop her from kicking ass and taking names. Never again will I question Theron’s acting chops after this movie. Furiosa is basically a female Max–but probably better–who literally drives the action while Max is just swept along for the ride. I could spend all day going into all the themes present here between Max, Furiosa, the young War Boy Nux who just wants his short life to have meaning, and all the other unforgettable characters. There’s redemption, revenge, feminism, social ethics, power structures, survival…the list goes on and on. All of it packed into an action thriller that never stops gluing you to the screen so you won’t miss any bit of it.

The place I think that most people, like my parents, get hung up on Fury Road is that, admittedly, Max and Furiosa’s journey turns out to be quite circuitous: after failing to find the Green Place, they’re forced to turn back and make a run on the Citadel, the very place they tried so hard to escape from, because it’s the best hope around for a better tomorrow. “But they don’t actually go anywhere!” my parents complain. “The whole thing is pointless!” See, this is where I beg to differ, as the trip I think illustrates probably the biggest and most impactful lesson Fury Road delivers: it’s about the journey, not the destination. Without going through everything they did, Max, Furiosa, and the others never would have had the opportunity to develop into fully-formed, redeemed human beings. Paradise is a myth: it doesn’t actually exist, and everyone knows it. So in a rough world, the best you can do is to find somewhere you belong and stick with it, trying to make it a better place than you found it. That rings true to me on a number of levels, and it’s great because even in as dark a version of the future as Mad Max gives us, Fury Road still leaves so much hope for a better tomorrow. Even at the end of the world, the human spirit endures.

My one and only beef with the movie is that I do wish a little more attention was paid to Max’s backstory. We get flashes that kind of give us the gist of what happened and convey the emotions of guilt and pain that Max feels and that continue to haunt and drive him, but no actual story is told at any point. I feel like that was possibly a missed opportunity for him to bond even more deeply with Furiosa and the other characters, and for us to get a little insight into his state of mind. A pretty small quibble for sure: the movie doesn’t suffer because of its absence, but it would’ve been nice.

My Rating: 9.5/10

I don’t usually do .5s in these ratings, but I felt like I needed it to convey just how much I love Mad Max: Fury Road. It may not be a perfect movie, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s certainly not family-friendly, and shouldn’t be viewed by those with a weak stomach, but in terms of thrills, chills, and genuine, compelling character beats and plot lines, it’s an action-adventure film that shouldn’t be missed. Big thumbs up to George Miller and his entire cast and crew for finally giving the world the version of Mad Max Rockatansky we so badly wanted and deserved.

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