George Miller has done something genuinely impressive with Mad Max: Fury Road – he’s made Max part of an ensemble – and not even the biggest part of the ensemble – and it works. Brilliantly!
Fury Road is thinly plotted – a tyrant’s five breeding wives are taken to freedom by a formerly trusted female war chief – but its energy, ferocity and just plain gonzo goofiness take it up so many levels that you might have trouble breathing up there.
‘My name is Max. My world is fire,’ says Max over a scene of endless desert. A distant sound sparks him into action – firing up his familiar Interceptor and speeding off.
Despite his speed and frenzied attempts to avoid it, he is captured by the warriors of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Toecutter in the first Mad Max). In Joe’s citadel oasis, he is branded as a universal donor and becomes the personal bloodbag of a warboy called Nux (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men First Class, Warm Bodies).
Then a milk run for gas and ammo turns into a break for freedom by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – taking with her, it is soon discovered – Joe’s five breeding wives: a very pregnant The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz, Divergence, Insurgence), Capable (Riley Keough, The Runaways, Magic Mike), The Dag (Abbey Lee), and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton).
Joe’s warriors are soon in pursuit – Max tied to the front of Nux’s car. Before too long, parties from Gastown and the Bullet Farm have joined the chase.
Furiosa and Max meet in less than friendly circumstances and don’t trust each other at first – though they do wind up saving each other’s lives a few times before Max is willing to tell her his name.
One of the best things about Fury Road is that it’s not about a man saving women – it’s about a woman saving women – and then those women helping to save themselves. Max helps – quite a bit, of course – but he is not the prime mover here and the movie works perfectly well anyway.
Theron is brilliant as the once-broken former Imperator who seeks redemption and Hardy makes a sturdy and capable Max. Their chemistry is amazing – even though they’ll never even be friends (allies at best) – and they make their tough, taciturn characters feel not just real, but right.
Each of the five wives has her moment as well, and none of them ever feels like a Victoria Secret moonlighting in small (but pivotal) roles in a $150 million movie.
Let’s just get this out of the way – George Miller is a genius. With the aid of cinematographerJohn Seale (whom he coaxed out of retirement), he has created a world that feels real right down to its insanity-riddled bones. The details… the details…
Instead of a fife and drum, or a bugle, Joe’s warriors are led into battle by a madman shredding a guitar that shoots flames! From a vehicle carrying a stack of amps and speakers that would have impressed Pink Floyd at their peak.
The souped up, tricked out cars and trucks and ATVs look like they were created specifically to cross Hell itself – or force you there. The stunts are almost unbelievable. I say almost because they were done practically – and you know it had to have taken a while to figure out how to pull off the stunts where warriors are springing back and forth hooked up to giant spars attached to moving vehicles.
If it could be done in camera, it was. That doesn’t mean there are no CG effects – you can’t call up a dust storm several miles high whenever you want one – but they are used in service to the story and only when absolutely necessary.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an astonishingly good time – maybe even better than The Road Warrior.
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Photos by Jasin Bolland/Courtesy of Warner Bros.