By Matthew McKibben | May 15, 2015
Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones, and John Howard
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece of badass action filmmaking. Time will tell where it ranks on any kind of “best action movie” list, though if I’ve seen a better, more badass action movie, I’m having a hard time thinking of it. The best action movies are ones that set new bars by which all subsequent action movies are judged. This movie sets that bar and I beg all future filmmakers to study this movie and attempt to jump it. Good luck. I’m sure it’ll be done but I don’t see it being done anytime soon. I’d say George Miller “changes the game,” but this movie almost seems like a different sport from any action movie that’s come out in the past 20 years or so. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of movies where CGI superheroes do battle with CGI alien villains, but you can practically smell the gasoline burning in this movie’s frames. This movie just feels and plays differently than anything that’s ever been done. Imagine the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark but stretched out over 2 hours, and with everything cranked to 11. That will give you a sense of this movie.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a simple tale, capable of being summarized in just a few sentences: a legendary truck operator named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps a group of concubines escape across a post-apocalyptic desert landscape, which doesn’t sit too well with Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the warlord who uses said concubines to create children who go on to become his own special breed of fanatical warriors. Along the way, Furiosa inadvertently frees a captive, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), from Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Immortan Joe’s religious zealot warriors. He reluctantly joins their trek. They drive here, they drive there, mass carnage and redemption follows.
The plot is relatively simple, yet the movie is deceptively deep. At its basic core, Fury Road touches broadly on how those who control limited resources (in this case, water) are the ones that control society, especially when that person positions himself as a religious leader and has fanatics at his beck and call. But it’s in the movie’s feminism where the movie is at its most deep and interesting. The movie’s feminism deserves its own separate post, but it shines through in a surprising amount of layers.Max and Furiosa are complete co-equals in the ass kicking department, but the movie also touches on gender dynamics in war torn environments, rape, and how women can reclaim their agency when it’s been stolen from them. During production, George Miller even had famed Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler come and give a presentation of sorts to the women in the movie, explaining what conditions are like for women in similar circumstances.
The relationship between Max and Furiosa is one of the most refreshing things about the movie. It’s rare to see an action movie where the male and female leads are designed to be equal in both their badassery and in how they drive the story arc. That’s certainly the dynamic they used in both James Cameron’s Aliens and Terminator 2, easily two of my favorite action movies of all time. Furiosa begins the movie a hero, while Max is the lost one. When Furiosa loses her purpose late in the movie, it’s Max who discovers his heroism and purpose and steers Furiosa back to her bad ass ways. Neither of these heroes start the movie as doe-eyed reluctant heroes, ala Luke Skywalker or Sarah Connor in the first Terminator. They’re both, from minute one, fully formed and empowered heroes. This movie is called Mad Max: Fury Road, but it could easily have been called Mad Max: Furiosa Road, as they both completely own the screen while they’re on it.
It’s funny that after his iconic work as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy would choose to do another part where his face is partially obscured by a mask for a large chunk of the movie. But yet again, as he did in The Dark Knight Rises, he gives a masterclass in acting via the expressiveness of his eyes alone. In another era, Tom Hardy would have been a first rate silent film star. While this movie doesn’t ask a whole ton for Hardy to do beyond Eastwooding his lines, it asks a ton of him in the physicality department. I know they used a combination of CGI and stunt-double work for some of this movie, but Tom Hardy was out there doing a ton of his own stunt work, and I’m glad to say that it pays off in spades. Being able to see an actor in “danger” is refreshing in a movie environment where most action set pieces are created in a person’s computer.
If there’s a Mt. Rushmore for badass women action stars, this movie secures Charlize Theron’s place on it. It’s Ripley from the Alien franchise, Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies, and Furiosa from Mad Max. Both she and the movie are that good. She’s on the screen probably more than Max is, and it speaks to both the strength of the character as it’s written and as Theron performs it that your eyes almost seek her out on screen more than they seek out Tom Hardy.
It was a stroke of genius having original Mad Max villain Hugh Keays-Byrne return (in a different role) to the Mad Max universe. Part of the brilliance of this movie is that it almost seems like this movie shouldn’t exist on the scope and level that it does. I’m curious how the financing for this movie even happened, because it almost seems as if Warner Bros. gave George Miller 150 million dollars and just sent him away to Africa to make a movie completely sans studio interference. If Fury Road proves to be profitable, I wonder what a sequel would look like. Would Warner Bros. step in and ask for more conventional villains? I don’t say it often, but kudos to Warner Bros. for allowing George Miller to completely realize his vision on the screen.
Fury Road is a movie that feels both completely out of time and place, but also so needed for this time and place. So many big blockbuster movies these days are devoid of soul and grit that you kind of sleepwalk through them. You enjoy them and they’re fun, but then Fury Road comes along and shows you what movies can be when they’re done right. You feel like this is a movie that would have been made in 1982 before computer artists started creating digitally enhanced action scenes, but there’s simply never been a movie like this before. George Miller takes everything he’s done before and just cranks it up as high as it can possibly go. And everything is cranked up in this movie; the ideas, the cars, the stunts, the music, the editing, the cinematography. Everything. There isn’t one area where this movie lacks. This is a classic movie.