For the Movie a Day Blog, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015, Theatrical in 3D) was one of this summer’s most anticipated films. I worship at the altar of Australian writer-director George Miller, whose entire career has confounded expectations and accomplishments.
Who else could make a film like the original MAD MAX (1979), the post-apocalyptic thriller that made Mel Gibson an international movie star, and also lovingly craft BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998) and the animated penguin comedy, HAPPY FEET (2006) and its sequel (2011).
He certainly knows how to make money, although apparently MAD MAX: FURY ROAD has not lived up to boxoffice expectations, failing to land the number one slot in its opening weekend.
Too bad for the audiences who stayed away, because FURY ROAD is an adrenaline booster done in high-impact cinematic narrative style. Miller is a textbook director of how to set up, extend tension and then pay off a scene or a theme, whether it’s one of the extended chase sequences that make you think that you’re an amusement park, going from ride to ride, or the emotional and largely wordless encounters that give the movie some emotional heft.
But it’s action Miller excels at in this series of films about the dystopian travails of one Max Rackatansky. There was the 1979 original, and up until now, the best of the bunch, followed by MAD MAX 2 (1981) and MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985), memorable more for Tina Turner’s Over the Outback performance than for Gibson’s weary-looking Max, eager to escape his Aussie acting roots.
Miller has brought Max back with a vengeance, both in the casting of the camera-adored hunk called Tom Hardy, and the pairing of him with the equally ferocious one-armed (the other one’s a changeable bionic prosthesis) Charlize Theron.
Hardy is again willing to wear a face mask for a large part of the film (did Christopher Nolan put a spell on him after his turn as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)?), but he has the strongest big-screen charisma of a young male actor that I’ve seen since Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
Hollywood gossip has it there there was little love present on the hot and uncomfortable Namibia desert where Miller and Co. parked for seven months of location work, much of the stunts and crashes done using practical, in-camera special effects on the set. Miller is a known perfectionist, who does multiple takes from multiple angles, so unless you’re a CGI pig named Babe it can be a trying process.
But FURY ROAD delivers the goods, in every way an action thriller should. The plot is barely existent, and basically consists of going from Point A to Point B and then back again, but Miller has it so loaded it up with eye-popping visuals, breathtaking stunts, random and steady violence (although showing little gore) that it’s difficult for an audience to catch its breath.
Even better, all the action is motivated (even if it’s not always clear who’s assaulting who) because the characters are etched early and strongly. We have Hugh Keays-Byrne, the villain of the first trilogy, back and nastier than ever as Immortan Joe, and thousands of ultra-white men and boys who seem to never have seen the sunlight.
There are large stretches in plausibility, but who knows what’s really going on in a futuristic world that seems excessively populated by different motorized gangs. Somewhere there’s a lot of oil for gasoline, plus some kind of a fashion model agency that produces ravishing young women for Big Joe’s pleasure.
Theron has liberated them and ends up enlisting Hardy’s help in the cause. The introduction of sex trafficking and women’s rights seem woefully out of place in a film that seems so filled with testosterone that even Theron’s tough-as-toenails truck driver looks scared at times.
The women’s goal is a hoped-for new Garden of Eden, and it’s not much a spoiler to predict they’ll be disappointed. But Miller studiously avoids predictable plot turns and manages several surprising turns in story and character that keep the film consistently engaging for its full two-hour running time.
The flashbacks from Max’s past are particularly impactful, if not always coherent. Miller is able to embrace chaos as well as meaning in FURY ROAD.
I debated whether this film is fully worthy of Five Popcorns, the highest rating in my system, because of the sexist and cliched treatment of any women not Theron, but ultimately I have to come out on the positive side of the movie.
FURY ROAD sets the bar for exciting moviemaking this summer, even if it didn’t catch on with the public. Please, George Miller, get on with the the planned sequel, MAX MAX: THE WASTELAND, scheduled for production next year with Hardy returning. I can hardly wait.