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Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

May 17, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Fury Road PosterGeorge Miller is seventy years old, but Mad Max: Fury Road feels like the work of a director half that age.  The Australian filmmaker has raised the bar so high with this exhilarating continuation of his now legendary original trilogy, that that he’s created a whole new level for summer blockbusters and action movies in general, that won’t likely be topped anytime soon.  It’s absolutely epic.

This story takes place in a stark desert wasteland, where people have become broken in the wake of environmental ruin.  Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a mysterious drifter of few words and intense survival instincts, who becomes an unlikely ally to rebel warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is being chased across the sand.  She is leading a group of five enslaved women to safety in the back of an oil rig, hoping to reach her homeland, and escape their deranged leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

George Miller has always been a visually adventurous filmmaker, even in his more family friendly Babe and Happy Feet films, but when he’s working on a canvas this big, the results are pretty much unprecedented.  And on a purely technical level, Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute triumph, a blast of great filmmaking from a veteran director determined to prove what he’s still capable of, while also just having fun.  Every sequence here is like a work of art in its own right, leaving us genuinely excited to see where the film will take us next, building upon itself in thrilling and often ingenious ways.

As the characters fight atop and jump between the elaborately created vehicles moving at incredible speeds, with the camera smoothly capturing every stunt for maximum impact, we become completely immersed in this world through a beautifully captured mix of mostly practical effects and mesmerizing cinematography.  There are images here unlike anything that’s ever been captured on screen before, managing to be both wildly imaginative and grounded in a palpable sort of gritty realism, with the constant car chases and vehicular mayhem becoming almost visually poetic.  An arresting sequence in the midst of a sandstorm immediately springs to mind, like an epic painting come roaring to life.

The mix of orchestral and electric music by Junkie XL provides a fitting accompaniment to the action, exemplified by an awesome truck adorned with blaring speakers and a mysterious figure playing licks on a flaming double necked guitar, that leads the enemies into battle.  The film is filled with these sort of insane and often downright brilliant little touches, and many of the images take on an almost dreamlike quality, haunting futuristic visions that drift by and linger in the mind.  It’s this mix of terrifying and playful, fantastical and eerily believable, that makes this such a spectacular experience.

But there are also plenty of deeper ideas beneath the hood that further elevate Mad Max: Fury Road above the level of most summer blockbusters, with the film introducing rich symbolism through its allegories of post-apocalyptic future.  It’s also got a surprising feminist kick that feels refreshing and is absolutely welcome in this sort of movie.  The women of this world have essentially been objectified into literal breeding machines for the dominant men, with their milk being harvested and sold, and Imperator Furiousa the closest thing they have to a saviour leading them into freedom.  “We are not things” is their often repeated mantra, and it’s a bold statement that resonates throughout.

The story fascinatingly explores real world themes of how dictatorial governments essentially own their citizens through controlling the oil and water supplies, using rebel fighters as literal blood bags to fuel their own soldiers.  The oppressed army of white painted War Boys are representative of child soldiers and slave labourers, deluded into blindly following their cult-like leader through the promise of reaching a better life after death.  “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on fury road,” tortured young soldier Nux (Nicholas Hoult) hollers as he attempts to plunge himself into martyrdom through a suicide mission desperately trying to belong, becoming a tragically conflicted presence who gains our sympathy.

The male and female characters are treated as equals, able to stand just as strongly together or apart, and the reasons behind both of their journeys are treated with the same importance.  Max is just trying to survive, Imperator Furiosa seeks a better life that may or may not still exist.  Tom Hardy brings a sort of quiet ferocity to the iconic title character, not needing many words to leave an impact, seamlessly fitting into and even expanding upon this role originally played by Mel Gibson.  Charlize Theron is ferociously good, undergoing an impressive physical transformation to deliver a quietly intense action performance, with pain and hurt simmering just beneath the surface.  This is some of her best work.

The film stops just long enough for a few quiet and unshakeably poignant character moments that bring deeper meaning to their actions, perhaps most notably during a blue-tinted nighttime sequence.  But this is a chase movie first and foremost, and the absence of expository dialogue or over explanation is actually quite affective.  The fact that many details of this world are kept intriguingly vague in some ways makes the story even more resonant and haunting, leaving plenty of room for interpretation and conversation.

Equal parts brilliantly orchestrated action movie opera, and deliriously realized post-apocalyptic fever dream, Mad Max: Fury Road is an epic and visionary thrill ride, that runs like hell on blood and gasoline to race across the finish line.  See this one on the biggest screen possible.

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