Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Director: George Miller
Running Time: 2 hours
by Jericho Cerrona
Let's allow the fact that George Miller is 70-years-old to sink in. The acclaimed Greek-Australian filmmaker of the Mad Max franchise, as well as the whimsical talking pig sequel Babe: Pig in the City, really should be making movies about old people problems at this point in his career. Instead, he's firing off a steampunk collision of grinding gears, sputtering engines, and tricked-out dune buggies in the latest attempt by Hollywood to revamp/reboot/resurrect an old property. The difference here is that Miller has always operated outside the studio system to some degree, creating idiosyncratic pictures which spring unabashedly from his restless imagination. While Mad Max: Fury Road could be viewed on the one hand as yet another stab at aping 80s cult movie nostalgia, the truth of the matter is that Miller is giving the middle finger to all of those younger fanboy directors (are you listening Zach Snyder?) and saying Yes, I may be 70, but my film looks like it was directed by a 25-year-old.
Honestly, Miller really has nothing left to prove. 1979's Mad Max and it's subsequent 1981 sequel The Road Warrior, are considered classics of stripped-down genre filmmaking, making Mel Gibson into a star and cementing Miller's place in the annuals of action cinema. Though he's worked on other projects, including animation with 2006's Happy Feet and it's 2011 sequel, Miller has always expressed interest in bringing his seminal franchise back to the big screen. With half-starts, delays, and reshoots plaguing production, one wouldn't be off-base in believing that the film would turn out to be a dog, but miraculously, Mad Max: Fury Road is a gonzo thrill ride that comes out with all guns, spears, gears, spikes, and flame-thrower electric guitars blazing.
From the standpoint of plot, there's some brief exposition about the state of the post-apocalyptic landscape, but the film's main interest lies in defying expectations of action spectacle. Though there are moments in between where characters attempt, sometimes clumsily, to extrapolate their place in the world, the skeletal narrative is propelled by a series of insanely creative and giddily violent chase scenes. The film opens with a shot of Max Rockatansky's (Tom Hardy) back to the camera as he looks out on a barren desert before chowing down on a squiggly two-headed lizard. Before we can even adjust to our protagonist, though, Max is promptly captured by a group of indigenous-looking warriors, chained inside a massive catacomb, and drained of his blood. Imprisoned inside this society of pasty bald-headed "War Boys", disfigured peasants, and ruled over by King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, aka Toecutter from the original Mad Max), who looks like Skeletor on a bad acid trip, Max finds himself in desperate need of a helping hand. Surprisingly, his savior of sorts comes in the form of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a kickass warrior with a buzz-cut and bionic arm who hopes to transport five young women to a safe place away from Immortan Joe and his patriarchal prison. What transpires is a kind of feminist-leaning take on masculine-induced destruction; a free-for-all of crunching vehicles, fire-bombing motorcycles, and flaying bodies folding under the weight of squealing tires that just happens to align with the ladies.
What makes the film's point of view interesting is the notion that Max isn't really the hero after all, but is merely on board to aid Furiosa in her quest to wrench herself (and all womanhood, for that matter) from the tyrannical grasp of the dominate male conqueror. Thematically, this isn't delivered through speechifying or heavy-handed monologues, but rather, through visual movement and female agency. The five women being transported aren't typical damsels in distress either, but individual personalities who all play significant roles in the action. Meanwhile, Theron is simply ferocious in a role that essentially becomes the film's bleeding heart. She's fully believable in the intensely choreographed action sequences and heartbreaking in the quieter moments where the pain of loss and subjugation is keenly felt. Hardy acquits himself nicely from the standpoint of physicality, making for a ruggedly capable action star, even as his odd accent and way of delivering lines may be deemed too mannered for the mainstream crowd. There are no quippy one-liners or comedic banter here; just the sight of a drifter haunted by past demons who must keep moving to stay alive, but the real surprise is the way Max comes under the wing of Theron's indestructible force of nature.
Ultimately, Mad Max: Fury Road may be too much of a good thing. At 120 minutes, the frenzied editing and hyper-stylized camerawork (the frame rate is often under-cranked like a Looney Tunes cartoon), along with the near-nonstop torrent of chase sequences, makes for a rather exhausting experience. Had the film been a lean 90 minutes with more intimate character moments and less overextended action beats, it may have been something of a genre masterpiece, but that too, sounds like nitpicking. This isn't a film which cares about backstory, character motivations, or expository world-building. In many ways, the lack of clear-cut information; (for example, the exact nature of the tragedy haunting Max remains somewhat elusive, and how Furiosa lost her arm is never explained), simply adds to the overall experience of being plunged into chaos without a road map. Additionally, the central plot centered around women as sex trafficking breeders and a scarcity of water seems especially prescient in 2015, giving way to a refreshingly progressive angle on the usual chauvinistic posturing found in so many male-driven action spectacles. If Miller wishes to continue the series (which seems quite likely, if one believes the rumors), there's a possibility that the next chapter will be called Imperator Furiosa: Valhalla Redemption. Take note, young action filmmakers. George Miller will soon be in his 80s and doing this kind of thing better than you.