Early into the film, Nux (Nicholas Hoult) screams the film’s tagline with a cultish insanity: “What a Lovely Day!” Indeed, there isn’t a better way to summarize the visceral, unconventional, deranged journey that unfolds over the course of two jam-packed hours in Mad Max: Fury Road.
An important note for potential viewers of this film is that despite the fact that it is a reboot of an existing character and world, Mad Max: Fury Road requires no preface or introduction. This is a film meant to be seen by new audiences, in direct contrast to so many of the reboots which are more a ploy of nostalgia for fanboys of properties prior to 1990. I have no idea to what degree the Mad Max films were popular (I have seen the first two and never felt a strong connection), but we all know they weren’t the top franchise of the 1970’s or 1980’s. Yet alas, visionary director George Miller, who has directed every film in the series, is back to tell more Max stories for an entirely new audience. And he doesn’t hold back.
Without a second to waste, we enter the world of Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, more on him later) from the very first shot, and it’s a nasty, fully realized post-apocalypse. Dystopias are all the rage in the wake of The Hunger Games, but none of them have nearly the level of detail and sophisticated madness that Fury Road displays. A major point of praise is that so much of the story is displayed through the visuals. We never are explicitly told what the societal issues are, instead we are shown them. The same goes for characters, plot points, you name it; this is an exercise in using dialogue to a bare minimum in favor of visual spectacle. The level of detail sets the bar extremely high for any future film trying to capture a futuristic world. This is apparently the biggest budgeted R-rated film since Terminator 3, and it certainly is on display. Much of the imagery is nasty and disturbing, and therefore successfully immerses you in the world. Today when we see blockbusters they tend to feel saturated, safe, and appealing to just about everyone. Nothing is easy to digest about Fury Road: it is a wild ride of non-stop mayhem and in no place feels restrained. In other words, it is an absolute blast.
Nothing is easy to digest about Fury Road: it is a wild ride of non-stop mayhem and in no place feels restrained. In other words, it is an absolute blast.
From a technical standpoint, every element matches the best work I’ve seen. Production design, make-up, and costumes are all so fully realized that you feel as if you’re seeing a story just by looking at what the characters are wearing. This makes the storytelling extremely efficient because we learn so much backstory just by the visuals. One of the most exciting elements that every article is partial to mention is the stunt work. According to the director, 80% of what is onscreen is practical effects. In an era we live in CGI has removed the element of “holy shit” from so many movies because there isn’t any sense of authenticity. Seeing some of the ludicrous stunts that are pulled off so magnificently is an incredible treat. The pacing of the film, while still remaining a nonstop thrill ride, builds nicely as the film continues to get progressively bigger without losing its genuine feeling. From time to time the film cuts to black to break up the sequences, and I found myself catching my breath each time.
When it comes to big-budget blockbusters, this is what we should be asking for. With the amount of money that gets poured into these movies, seeing Mad Max is a reminder of the insanely good results that can be produced. I cannot recommend the experience enough and hope that it is something that others see the joy in as well.
It’s just as relevant to mention how well utilized all of the principle cast is. This isn’t a movie grounded in flashy performances, but every character manages to say so much with so little. Tom Hardy may be my favorite working actor at this point, choosing such a wide range of daring projects and bringing so much poise to each one. There is an interesting parallel between this film and Locke, Hardy’s film from last year that was one of my year-end favorites. In that film, Hardy is the only actor seen on screen and the entire runtime he is driving in a car talking on the phone. It’s phenomenally pulled off. This time around, once again Hardy is perpetually driving the entire time, and both films deal with great themes about chaos and control, yet this one is the opposite in terms of scale. Not only can Hardy carry a movie on his back, he picks fantastic work as well. But this isn’t just his movie. Charlize Theron is just as much the lead this time around as Imperator Furiosa, and true to form, she is the most badass female lead you could possibly conjure. Pinning the two together is like watching two rivals forced to work together, and the dynamic is top tier. I’ve heard about articles examining an underlying theme of dismantling the patriarchy. You’ll see early on that Furiousa (and perhaps the film itself) have this on their mind for the entire thrill ride. Miller even consulted Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, to craft his dimensional female characters, another unfortunate anomaly in the more conventional blockbusters.
One last piece of praise is that because the film goes at you very fast, and the story is so richly detailed, it felt like I wasn’t able to capture everything along the roller coaster. In this case, that just makes me want to watch the film again. Incredible CGI-minimal action sequences, top-notch production design, convention-defying structure, and story, if you haven’t already gathered, this is not just another film. It is a towering feat in blockbuster filmmaking and a reminder of what movies aim to be. I cannot recommend it enough.
Mad Max: Fury Road opens in theaters everywhere today.