What a lovely day, indeed.
Helmed by mastermind, Australian auteur, George Miller, the Mad Max series has always been about the idea of motion – the layers and textures of it and the way it informs who are and what we do. And to capture that he’s built a place where motion is everything – gasoline (guzzoline), our current method of movement, being scarce, and the only way to survive being to charge on forward. A place where nihilistic desperation and carnage informs the local currency, and empathy gets you left in the dirt – the ending of The Road Warrior, aside. It’s a bleak, nasty view of the world that Miller realizes with just enough enthusiasm and optimism to make it bearable, and just enough modest insight to make it fully engaging.
It’s a series that back in the 80s revolutionized the way we saw vehicular action and laid the groundwork for the despairing, post-apocalyptic genre we would later see for years to come. Mad Max was the lived-in, tactile feel of Star Wars but grounded in simple, real-world concerns, and amplified by the kind of batshit insane stunt work and vehicle-centric action that could only come from Miller. And just like the films, the series has been moving, growing, adjusting, The Road Warrior maybe being the perfect encapsulation of Mad Max… until now. 35 years later, Miller has returned with a new Mad Max that he’s been developing for 15 of those years, Mad Max: Fury Road, and it’s the action masterpiece we all saw in him in that first Mad Max movie. Fury Road is quite honestly the best action film of the decade – a vibrant, uncompromising masterpiece of motion, grit and nihilistic mayhem, and an absolutely gonzo, brutally unhinged genre picture filmed with awe-inspiring clarity and restraint. Look out, rest of 2015; Fury Road is the movie to beat.
Where Mad Max was a film about Max, the police officer, and whether or not he could fend off the newfound, guzzoline-crazed ugliness in the world while retaining his humanity (spoiler alert: he couldn’t), Fury Road is a film about Max, the tortured, cynical survivor and whether or not he lets that humanity haunt him, or embraces it, allowing it to inform empathy and hope, things he hasn’t believed in since the first half of that first film. Max (Tom Hardy), captured very early on in the film by the fierce warlord Immorton Joe – the character names in this film are incredible – finds himself aligning with the tough yet compassionate Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as a means of escaping the clutches of the vicious community of diseased warriors, that sees women as a natural resource. Little does he know, Furiosa has stolen some precious cargo from the vicious warlord, his five beautiful wives, and so begins a balls-out, destructive thrill ride that doubles as an angry throat punch to the patriarchy – action cinema at its finest, essentially.
In typical Mad Max fashion, there’s not a whole lot to unpack in Fury Road, but what story it does have is organic and sincere. Max isn’t a talkative guy so his stories are mostly expressed physically – I feel the same of George Miller. Fury Road has little-to-no exposition, yet you’re never lost in his world. He sketches his characters and his action so clearly that everything we learn about them (and the plot) is through character action. To some this will prove frustrating, no doubt – many will complain that not much happens, confusing dialogue for story. But in Fury Road the stylish action and affecting story aren’t tangibly separated, Miller conceives them as one in the same. It’s smart, economical storytelling that allows for an entire to act of the film to play out as a setpiece – not an exaggeration – while still achieving thematic satisfaction.
And dear god these setpieces. In terms of orchestrating authentic, high-octane action with precision and clarity, George Miller is unmatched, and Fury Road is his finest work. A truly outrageous, operatic, expressive poem to metal, engines, blood and sand, Fury Road is an absolute visual delight popping with color (no bland, post-apocalyptic desaturation going on here) and propulsion – filling every frame with as much information and weight as possible, and with CG used sparingly (occasionally used to enhance a landscape or backdrop); every piece of metal and flesh is clear and palpable. Again, Fury Road is a film partially about the very idea motion, and the way it informs the lives of these characters, so having this film be one of the most fluid and tightly-edited action pieces of recent memory only extends itself to the genuinely bizarre and moving story Miller is telling.
Which brings us to the Miller’s very simple, subtle thematic underpinnings that allow Fury Road to work as an existential cry for optimism and, believe it or not, a total feminist triumph. Consulting with Eve Ensler, a well-known feminist famous for The Vagina Monologues (a series of plays that address the female experience with real depth and empathy), Miller has constructed a deep, thoughtful film that, again, doubles as an angry critique of the patriarchy, and the way it inhumanely treats women – this male-dominated society in particular literally milking them like cows, and using them to breed. The five beautiful women tagging along with Max and Furiosa (who is maybe the feminist hero of the year, stealing more scenes than even Max) being the evil Warlord’s wives/breeders, in any other film would’ve just been devices, the macguffins, but in Fury Road they are unique, individual people each with different strengths and weaknesses. In many ways this is a film about trauma and how to channel it (the three main characters have similar arcs), and the answer Miller has each character come to (some tie right back into motion again) is incredibly nuanced – one of my favorite moments in the film sees one of the wives weaknesses translate into a strength, resulting in one of the most emotionally cathartic moments in the entire film.
So there you have it; Mad Max: Fury Road, one the year’s most highly-anticipated films more than lives up to the hype surrounding it. With it, George Miller has crafted an insane, propulsive action masterpiece featuring some of the clearest, most fluid action in recent memory; all in service of an affecting, feminist-geared story of trauma and motion. It’s almost like it was made directly for me. Oh yeah: see it in 2D, ya goons.