George Miller can’t be criticized for being derivative since he basically invented the gas/water-starved, post-apocalyptic, dust-bowl landscape so frequently used and abused since his 1981 masterpiece, “The Road Warrior.” After working on masterful family films like ‘Babe”, he now returns to the sci-fi action genre with another slice of original perfection, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, a ramped-up, blitzkrieg version of the world he created; a magnificent orgy of arresting photography, manic action sequences, detailed costumes/makeup, and acting reliant on physical expression rather than verbal.
The film may be titled ‘Mad Max’, and stars Thomas Hardy (replacing Mel Gibson), but make no mistake, this narrative revolves around the mission of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to deliver the reluctant ‘brides’ of wasteland warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to freedom and the promised ‘green’ land. Theron’s Furiosa is unlike anything audiences have ever seen before, a heroine of fierce determination with qualities that are distinctly strong and empathetic at the same time, as opposed to her adoption of male tendencies or a damsel in distress routine, two typical representations in this type of movie. In fact, none of the characters in this film conform to tidy archetypes, both good, evil, and in-between. Clearly wanting to present a tale within this world, Miller has Max represent an instrument of will and destruction, allowing Hardy to take an almost secondary role to the proceedings at times, bringing out traits in the characters he interacts with organically, yet not distracting to the unfolding plot. The plot and characterization in this movie unfurl uniquely, through action and visual interpretation, as opposed to direct explanation.
The design of the film is so painstakingly detailed and grotesquely beautiful, that it also fuels the plot and informs the history of these characters and this setting, from the skull iconography of Joe’s citadel and painted on ‘War Boys’ (zealots who believe their kamikaze actions will deliver them to Valhalla), to the vehicles – piecemealed high-octane agents of mayhem, to the gear and decorative body scarring of the denizens of this crazy, scary world.
‘Fury Road’ is so overloaded with action and ramped-up activity, it is hard for the audience to catch its’ breath. The entire movie is basically one huge chase scene that escalates into the most insane, final pursuit sequence that’s like nothing else filmed before. The moments of calm only occur when the protagonists get slightly ahead of their pursuers, and even these times are fraught with tension. Miller seamlessly combines CGI and practical stunt work like the pro that he is, framing scenes through intricate story-boarding, showing that he can still bring amazing amounts of energy and originality to what all adds up to one of the most exciting, arm-chair gripping film experiences in a long while . . .
Directed By: George Miller
Written By: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, & Nick Lathouris
Running Time: 120 min.
* * * * (out of 4 stars) -or- A