For the first time since The Dark Knight, I had dragged myself out to a theatre to see a big-name film on its opening night. I just don’t do it. I like to get to the theatre on dead nights and a week or two after the film has come out. It’s just quieter. For some reason I really wanted to see this film as soon as I could due to all the great reviews it had been receiving. Rave reviews for an R-rated reboot/sequel of a franchise that hasn’t had a film in over 20 years? Yeah, I had to see it. I’m glad I did. It ended up being a blast. The rush this movie gave me was indescribable.
Visually speaking I can’t imagine anything more gratifying than watching this gloriously explosive spectacle unfold on the big screen. It really ought to be against the law to view this on anything less than a theatre screen. The big-screen TV just will NOT do! It cannot capture the stunning cinematography, much less the thunderous percussion drums and electric guitar that play such huge roles in the film. Mad Max: Fury Road is an adrenaline-filled, non-stop, bad-ass vehicular action extravaganza that, to me, is the elixir of youth for modern action-driven blockbusters. George Miller’s cardiac arrest-inducing visionary masterpiece will have gearheads, metalheads, and connoisseurs of practical effects and death-defying stunts falling to their knees, exalting boisterously, and they’d be absolutely right to do so.
From the very first shot you’re in the hands of a man who knows every inch of the world you’re about to enter. It has to do with the total dedication every second of this film demands. Fury Road is a war film with a siege as its centrepiece. It is basically three armies trying to capture the wonderfully phallic castle. There are siege engines, lancers, catapults and even a glorious marching band providing morale for the troops. And the sieges are diverse, intense and fantastic, all smothered in Junkie XL’s score, which is to die for. It has a lot of percussions during the chases across the desert. The madness comes through with a group of drummers playing on the rooftop of a truck and a heavy metal player blasting his flame-thrower guitar while chained to one of the trucks. For a moment, I almost felt like tearing up, because in an increasing digital and “CGI-ed all to hell” age, I was viewing a perfect marriage of machinery and craft. Practical effects and the shining radiancy of the cinema, together, dancing in the dark.
This film manages to bring back the old-school adventure flick, a no-brainer on the outside but with a lot of depth if you look closer. Miller was able to create genuine character development in between some of the best action sequences you’ll ever see. Personally, I cared what happened to our protagonists. When they were in danger (which is for the entire film), I was on the edge of my seat and biting my nails. It’s a film that starts with Tom Hardy (as Mad Max) eating a live lizard. It ends with a male and a female character parting company without even a hint of a tear for a potential lost romance because this is a film that allows a man and a woman to have a relationship without romantic entanglements. Mad Max Rockatansky is a former policeman turned post-apocalyptic Road Warrior, who has traveled beyond Thunderdome, and is lucky to still be alive. He’s a tortured soul, haunted by way too many tragic life events. He could give up, but he doesn’t. Instead, he helps a group of slaves escape the wrath of a big bad boss and his goons. This isn’t just any road; it’s Fury Road. A long road full of twists and turns. A road that has one goal: redemption.
The cast is excellent. Charlize Theron gives a physical performance paired with a long, hard history behind her eyes betraying a compelling tragedy. Furiosa is a fantastic character, one Theron does more than justice to. Nicholas Hoult has perhaps the most layered role and he pulls off both aspects of his character very well. And then there’s Hardy. Dodgy accent aside, his performance is spot on. That he can be a physically dominant presence is something I already knew, and the physicality he brings to this film matches the tone and frenetic nature of the film brilliantly. He gets the character, of that I am sure. Getting Hugh Keays-Byrne back as the villain is a treat. And what a villain he is. The eyes convey everything about him, a desperate evil with a lust for power. Truly fantastic. Miller makes this Theron’s film. It’s Max’s name on the title but it’s almost false advertising. This is Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road. Hardy spends much of the opening of this film strapped to the front of a vehicle and trying to get his mask off while Theron ploughs her way through an assortment of mutant and psychotic bastards. She gets the key emotional scenes while Hardy is in the background.
Many themes are tackled along the chase, which had spiked cruisers, sand bikes, teeter-totter trucks, and, my favourite of all, the sound trailer. Miller seems to have understood a long time ago that men are beasts with no real future unless women take control and bring back the necessary balance our world needs if we wish to survive and have a future. What is remarkable is that someone finally managed to write a bunch of characters that are what they are without being overbearingly dependent on others, characters that are crystal-clear brushstrokes of human beings who have seen a lot without it getting shoved in our faces constantly. This is not simply feminism or whatever you want to call it, it’s bloody good writing too, that’s what it is.
Miller’s approach to film making is one I cherish. He relies on the the limits of the real world for his creations and not the limitless possibilities provided by digital options. I am convinced this forces a different kind of creativity out of someone. There are perhaps a handful of scenes that could only have been created with the aid of a computer, but the majority of the action sequences rely on intricate choreography and some very brave stuntmen. What this achieves is a direct involvement of the audience. Pain becomes palpable, danger becomes more intense and tension comes from the realness on screen. The entire thing just jumps out at you, becoming tangible and impossible to turn away from.
Plot-wise, Miller has achieved something extraordinary. He has made watching a group of people travel from point A to point B in two hours an amazing experience. It is the simplicity of the writing, the depth of the construction of the movie’s universe and the brilliant pacing that makes it so easy to get lost in. The movie also does such a great job of developing its themes visually without any dialogue. I love how the movie starts with young people, the war boys, fighting and dying to preserve the power of the old and corrupt. The movie ends with old people, the many mothers, fighting and dying to create a better future for the young and innocent.
When I grow up, I want to be George Miller. I can only hope that when I’m seventy, I will be as passionate about what I’m doing as he is. Because that’s what this is, a rambunctious, frenetic piece of art made with unbridled passion for an insane vision and, more importantly, for filmmaking. Mad Max: Fury Road is like a delirious package that reveals a newly minted gift within its wrapping paper after each viewing. And after each viewing experience, you can’t help but say: What a film! WHAT A LOVELY FILM!
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.