Mad Max: Fury Road Review
Mad Max: Fury Road arrives in cinemas to extinguish the fire of stratospheric expectations, and it does so with gasoline. It is a tale told by a genius, full of sound and other stuff, signifying everything. It is an unprecedentedly satisfying realization of our collective projections about what belongs in the ultimate post-apocalypse action movie, and it springs from the mind of the singular auteur who gifted us 34 years ago with the pre-computerized ideal of the ultimate post-apocalypse action movie.
Fury Road is at once a blazing sensory rush of in-the-moment thrills and a cathartic release of decades of anticipation. It is at once the act of passionate gentle love-making with your soul mate and a gloriously filthy one-night stand with an anonymous slut. It is at once a meticulously layered symphony performed by a full orchestra and a mic-destroying guest verse on your favorite rap track’s remix. It is at once a five course gourmet holiday dinner with family and a single pink freeze pop melting down your esophagus on a lonely hot summer afternoon. It possesses the succinctness of haiku and the expansiveness of an epic. The title itself evinces these qualities; the mellifluously staccato header – Mad. Max. – encapsulates all we really need to know & expect – maximum madness – while “Fury Road” suggests a nightmarish, open-ended journey that we, as viewers, hope will never end even as we, as imperiled participatory passengers, can not wait to find a rest stop where we can take a relaxed breath and feel safe again.
The only potential knock against 4-y Road is that it is merely a shiny Mad Max 2: Road Warrior simulacrum, a simplistic adventure that scans as an auto tuned rip-off of George Miller’s own greatest hit. (Fans of Babe: Pig In The City might quibble with that superlative.) Miller even reboots one of his original 1979 Mad Max villains by casting lowlife criminal Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrnes) as false god Immortan Joe (It’s open to debate as to whether they are somehow the same character.), further adding to the concern that he’s just borrowing from himself for a creative retread.
Lucky for us, then, that Miller’s artistic grasp exceeds our imagination’s reach, thereby obliterating any doubts as so much pointless amateur pontificating. He and his crew of cyber-artists, auto mechanics, and weirdo athlete-performers demonstrate that CG-enhanced stunts can and should be more dazzling than purely practical stuntwork. Integration of practical & digital effects is possible without turning a movie into a weightless cartoon. Advanced technology also tends to improve employee safety on set.
Fury Road contains few surprises for anyone who has seen the trailers and the previous exploits of Max Rockatansky – explosions, velocity, sand, dubiously functional firearms, feuding warlords, kamikaze acrobats, a chainsaw, costumes designed to intimidate and inflict pain, twisted sinew linked to twisted metal.
The only major surprise is how brilliantly Fury Road has met genre fans’ hopes cranked up to 11 with a film that approaches eleventy gazillion units of awesome. If you thought you were ready for this… you weren’t. If Miller and his new masterpiece don’t have reason to buy a large trophy case after this coming awards season, then the system is more broken & pointless than we already know it is.
On first viewing, one’s eyeballs have to make some difficult decisions – should we gaze in awe at the flamethrower discharge, or at the freakish face of the guitarist who riffs on the musical flamethrower, or at the array of speakers behind him, or at the convoy of monster trucks & murdercycles in the background? Do those stagelights serve a purpose?
Every frame is composed & linked together in a way that leaves you no choice but to suspend disbelief and immerse yourself in the immaculately intricate action. This film won’t approach any records for Average Shot Length, often considered an important metric in the modern judgment of action cinema comprehensibility, but the editing (credited to Jason Ballantine and Margaret Sixel) works in perfect harmony with the performances, moving vehicles, and many jagged props to present a relentless circus of carnage in which the viewer is somehow never disoriented or unsure of the arrangement of the multitudinous attackers & victims in any given scene.
The set pieces are rigidly linear, so one’s sense of the spatial geography of the warring parties is always clear even as Miller gleefully fills the screen with detail upon detail and variegated points of focus. Though much of the narrative amounts to “drive fast from point A to point B and destroy anything in the way,” it is never monotonous. Seemingly every character spends time in the front seat, the back seat, on top of dune buggies, beneath trucks, inside cargo holds, flying between vehicles, holding on to car doors, and dodging bullets, spears, and shrapnel the entire time. There’s as much energy and creativity in the action of Fury Road as the entire oeuvre of Harold Lloyd and Tony Jaa combined.
Miller and his co-writers went ahead and constructed a marvelous screenplay to accompany the propulsive audiovisual wonders. Every piece of dialogue unlocks something interesting in the scope of the physical Mad Max universe or in the psychology of its inhabitants. Max (a taciturn Tom Hardy) exhibits the value of mercy and learns the value of hope. A brainwashed enemy (Nicholas Hoult) redeems himself by switching sides and becoming a martyr. Basic survival instinct gives way to the impulse for charity. Beautiful, semi-exposed females in peril are found to be capable, even heroic figures rather than objects of temptation or weakness.
Fury Road works as a fable, imparting the lesson that women’s rights and water rights are the solutions to terrorism, theocracy, and the retrograde policies of retrograde societies. Whether in a fictional future wasteland or present-day Detroit, water should not be privately owned or withheld. Women are not commodities. The key to world peace is operational infrastructure to deliver basic needs, full stomachs, and empty testicles. Let the 1% hoard vital resources, and savagery will ensue.
Forced to choose one image as synecdoche for Fury Road, this is it. After removing this odious device, the liberated babe defiantly stomps on it. She is now free from her rapist & captor and this ridiculous contraption. The next man able to enter her womanhood is now also free from the spiky perils of this ridiculous contraption. Hopefully it will be consensual. Both sexes win.
The other pro-feminism messages of Fury Road are not subtle, either –
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) commandeers a big hard pointy War Rig, defies the men giving her orders, rescues a group of female sex slaves (The rampant homoeroticism of the o.g. Mad Max trilogy has been displaced, alas.) by transporting them to a land populated solely by bad-ass women, loses the testicular appendage to her phallic vehicle of perverse salvation, and leans on a man only to use his shoulder the way a perched sniper would use a sandbag. That same man cleanses blood off his face with a splash of actual mother’s milk. The script’s lingering interrogative motif – Who killed the world? – can have only one [gendered] answer.
– but one’s comprehension or acceptance of these themes is not necessary to enjoy the film.
My two favorite moments in Fury Road almost caused me to vomit. The first occurs when a desperate elderly plebeian, surrounded by other thirsty underlings carrying buckets, attempts to use an old bedpan to collect a few ounces of cascading fresh water. This one little easy-to-miss detail, possibly the work of a clever props department or costume designer, aggravated my innate squeamishness, but I’m glad I noticed it because that bedpan reveals so much about the squalor of the world of Fury Road. Much later, I was so involved in the high-speed action that when a trio of characters take turns siphoning fuel into their mouths to spray into an engine’s supercharged booster mechanism, I literally felt it and tasted it. That’s how frightening this film is. (Your gag reflex experience may vary.) Not many movies that make me want to puke earn my adoration. That’s how wonderful Fury Road is. Max lives a life of fire and pain, but even he knows a great movie when he stars in one.