“Mad Max: Fury Road” Movie Review

     “Oh what a lovely day!” shrieks Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a War Boy driving a hulking monster vehicle directly into a deadly whirlwind of a sandstorm, knowing full well he is about to die.  Like most of the characters in writer/director George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Nux thinks he’s going to a better place and considering the way the people who populate this post apocalyptic wasteland are living, I can’t blame him.  With Miller tackling a fourth film in his 30 plus year old yarn that includes 1979’s “Mad Max”, 1981’s “The Road Warrior”, and 1985’s “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”,  what we essentially have with “Fury Road” is the dystopian film equivalent of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels in that technology has finally caught up with Miller’s imagination.  Thus allowing him to mix in CGI shots, along with practical effects, to create what he would deem the ultimate “Mad Max” film.  And what a ride it is.

     After viewing “Fury Road”, I began to ponder the differences between the worlds mainstream audiences will normally accept versus the ones they will typically find weird.  Certainly the various creatures found in films like “Avatar” or “The Lord of the Rings” are immediately accepted since we go into the story knowing these are fantasy films which are meant to test the limits of our imagination.  Then you have films from the likes of director Terry Gilliam, such as “Brazil” or “12 Monkeys”, whose world’s are meant to be grounded in reality, yet they have several of the ingredients found in the aforementioned fantasy films as they too are populated with strange and awkward characters.  Audiences tend to look at the later as being weird because they can buy into the reality Gilliam is staging as being a likely possible future.  “Fury Road”, just as the previous three installments do, falls into this category where many of the characters within the futuristic Citadel the story begins in are equal parts oddball and insane, with names like Rictus Erectus and The People Eater.  Yet it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine our society moving in the direction Miller is depicting here.

     It’s been argued that George Miller invented the very action sequences that so many filmmakers try to emulate today.  With “Fury Road”, Miller seems intent on putting on a graduate course for those very filmmakers.  I hope Zach Snyder and Michael Bay are paying attention.  Essentially, “Fury Road” is a two hour chase scene.  You could say it’s a road movie, but the reality is they never really establish a destination and the bad guys are always within site, said to be only minutes away.  The tendency in today’s world of CGI overuse and music video style editing is to construct action sequences that are so dizzying one couldn’t possibly keep track of what’s going on.  It is this style that allows aging action stars to appear as though they are skilled martial artists in fight scenes or able to complete death defying stunts with awe inspiring grace and ability.  These small film edits, when combined together, make you think you’ve seen something that probably wasn’t really there or actually done in the first place. 

     This isn’t the case with “Fury Road”.  From the very first chase sequence, which itself could be better than anything I’ve seen in the last decade, you realize the massive vehicles on screen are real and Miller allows the audience to continually get a really could look at them by way of long tracking shots from various angles.  The camera doesn’t swoop as much as it seems to be driving along side, as if Miller intends to show us the fact he just got to spend $150 million on all of this stuff.  There’s no doubt “Fury Road” looks every bit the massive film production it is and because it’s so different than anything the current generation of moviegoers has ever seen, the first inclination is to call it “ground breaking”.  I wouldn’t say that exactly, but Miller has certainly succeeded in bringing back a style of filmmaking that has been sorely missed.  I can’t remember a film so effectively bringing to life an all out car chase at this scale since the truck convoy chase sequence in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, which came out between the first two Mad Max films.  Tarantino did it on a much smaller scale with his throwback horror film “Death Proof”, but Miller has brought this genre back to life on the very grandest of scales.

     Replacing Mel Gibson as the title character, Max Rockatansky, Tom Hardy is a natural in the role.  If “Fury Road” lags at all, it’s only because the story is simple and straight forward.  There are no clever plot twists and the characters all seem to have one track minds that range from clearly insane to doing anything it takes to survive.  Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has been dispatched to lead a convoy carrying fuel to another outpost by the leader of the Citadel, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne, who returns to the series after playing the Toecutter in the original “Mad Max”).  Furiosa has others plans; however, as she has secretly taken Immortan Joe’s five wives, whom he refers to as “breeders”, and intends to take them to her childhood home where I presume they wouldn’t be treated as objects that are literally kept in a bank vault. 

     Max arrives to the party in one of the film’s most interesting sets ups.  After his capture by a group of War Boys, Max is brought to the Citadel where he is used as a blood donor for Joe’s army of white powdered freaks who apparently need a constant supply of blood pumped into their veins in order to keep their energy up.  And after seeing what they are expected to do in this movie, they damn sure need all the energy they can get.  In the action scenes, they look like acrobats from a Cirque du Soleil show as they spear bomb enemy convoys. When it becomes obvious that Furiosa has taken Joe’s breeders, Joe leads a massive convoy of attack vehicles to hunt her down.  Nux really wants to go, but he’s currently getting blood from Max, who’s hanging upside down with a nasty tube sucking blood from his neck.  Max then finds himself acting the part of a hood ornament on Nux’s vehicle, as Nux is still receiving blood from him with the vehicle in motion and in battle.  There are many scenes throughout the film where Miller puts his lead characters in real and believable peril.  With all that occurs, it’s amazing any of them survive.

     I don’t think anyone really expected the core story of “Fury Road” to essentially be about female empowerment, but that’s exactly what Miller has injected as both the primary theme as well as the most significant motivation for the central characters.  Furiosa knows that Immortan Joe and the rest of his male dominated society have completely lost it and are making decisions which are clearly more self serving, rather than furthering the prospects of what is left of the human race.  This is simply a case where a strong female character instead chooses to take matters into her own hands, as shades of Ripley taking over for a confused and overmatched Lt. Gorman in “Aliens” come to mind with nearly every decision she makes.  For all of his screen time, Max really doesn’t have a whole lot to say, though he certainly has no problem doing the majority of the heavy lifting.  I would’ve loved to see more dramatic scenes that demonstrated the true emotions of the key characters, but Miller really never allows the audience to catch their breath. Instead, Miller seems to have set out to make a film exactly the way he would’ve made it 30 years ago, while taking full advantage of what’s available to filmmakers today.  GRADE: B+