A film review by Craig J. Koban May 20, 2015

RANK: 1

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD jjjj
 

2015, R, 120 mins.

 

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky  /  Charlize Theron as Furiosa  /  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Splendid  /  Nicholas Hoult as Nux  /  Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe  /  Zoë Kravitz as Toast  /  Riley Keough as Capable  /  Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus

Directed by George Miller  /  Written by George Miller and Nick Lathouris

SCREENED IN

3D

George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is the greatest possible MAD MAX film ever conceived and executed.  

That’s high praise, considering that it comes off the heels of Miller’s original and iconic MAD MAX trilogy, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi/action series that both redefined the genre for decades to come and put then unknown star Mel Gibson on the proverbial map.  Those past films, as wonderful and pioneering as there were, now feel like one cumulative build-up to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a work that has essentially been in the making for 30 years (the last entry being 1985’s BEYOND THUNDERDOME) and now masterfully and gloriously represents everything Miller has wanted to put on screen, but couldn’t due to budgetary restraints.  FURY ROAD showcases a filmmaker that’s completely unhinged, unleashed and at the apex of his authoritative skills, and for viewers and fans of the series…that’s a most special thing. 

FURY ROAD is a most interesting beast of a film.  It’s not quite a sequel (literal and or/spiritual) to Miller’s original films and not quite a reboot or re-imagining.  It’s almost a peculiar combination of all of those things.  Specific events and character beats from the last three MAD MAX installments are definitely referenced, which I guess makes FURY ROAD lean more heavily towards the sequel vibe.  Like its predecessors, FURY ROAD reminds apathetic viewers – ones that have been lamenting upon the lack of intrepid innovation in the movies these days – that summer blockbuster entertainments can still be audaciously visionary works and eye-popping spectacles to endlessly feast on.  From the very first few minutes of FURY ROAD we can sense the tremendous outpouring of limitless imagination that pours out on screen.  Miller is 70-years-old, but FURY ROAD is a fiery powder keg of delirious craziness that directors half of his age can’t muster.  His unbridled passion for returning to the MAD MAX sandbox is inescapable, and very few films coming out so late – after an excruciating period of dormancy – in a franchise’s lifespan can match FURY ROAD’s pulsating eruption of artistic boldness and freshness.  

 

 

Mel Gibson, for obvious reasons, is out playing the monosyllabic and plays-by-his-own-rules drifter Max Rockatansky and in is Tom Hardy as the titular anti-hero.  Miller does, however, preserve the very essence of his post-nuclear Armageddon future (and thankfully, it's still Aussie centric) that typified his past films.  The country – if not the entire world – has essentially been reduced to a lifeless desert void, leaving food, water, and other valuable life-sustaining commodities in dangerously short supply.  Gasoline, of course, is arguably just as sought after, seeing as the only real modes of transportation left are vehicles on the ground.  What’s left of civilization is ruled over with a dictatorial might by a ruthless maniac known as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, whom played the antagonist in the 1979 original as well), that controls his people as well as what appears to be the last known source of water.  Joe is a wondrously designed villain; he looks like a cross between a circus freak, Darth Vader, and Heath Ledger’s Joker all rolled devilishly into one sickening being.  He's purely the stuff of twisted nightmares.. 

Of course, this brings us back to Max, a loner that was once a police officer back in the day that is now a lonely drifter and “road warrior” that does whatever he can to survive.  Early in the film he’s captured by some of Joe’s ultra-pale skinned goons and used as a source of blood for those in Joe’s inner circle, including Nux (an unrecognizable and gonzo insane Nicolas Hoult, deliriously good here) that needs a transfusion (Max has the terrible luck of being a universal donor).  Concurrent to this is the plight of one of Joe’s "drivers" Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who decides to go rogue and takes five of Joe’s sex-slave wives in tow in order to emancipate them.  Predictably, Joe decides to peruse with a massive war party, and Furiosa eventually forms an uneasy and shaky alliance with Max, after he managed to free himself from Joe’s clutches.  With rampaging and bloodthirsty marauders stopping at nothing to reclaim Joe’s brides (one of whom is caring his unborn child), Furiosa and Max have their work cut out for them. 

If you exclude a few minutes here and there for the characters – and perhaps audience members – to catch their breaths, relax, and ponder what’s to come next. FURY ROAD is ostensibly one grand two-hour chase sequence.  Plot is not a key feature here, nor is Miller really interested in narrative mechanics.  No, FURY ROAD is, pardon the pun, an orchestrated engine to unleash Miller’s extraordinary skills at breathtaking vehicular mayhem, and for that FURY ROAD is simply one of the most ferociously inventive and courageously choreographed action films ever made.  Using the unforgiving desert landscapes and vistas to his full advantage (which gives the film a vast expansive battlefield for its various factions), Miller crams the screen with nitro-fuelled, tricked and souped up automobiles, semi-trucks, motorcycles, and hauntingly cannibalized vehicles that look like they were manically ripped out of the worst possible fantasies involving road rage.  Part of the sinful pleasure of all of the MAD MAX films is to see its creator come up with increasingly novel ways to showcase the bizarre motorized tastes of its insane personas.  One of Joe’s vehicles in his entourage, for example, is one large transport truck replete with dozens of drummers on the back end and a psychopathic electric guitarist on the front end – playing in front of a barrage of massive loudspeakers that gives Joe’s squadron their very own war-mongering heavy metal music score.  His guitar also spews flaws.  Joe may be a sadistic madmen, but his posse drives in style.  At this stage you're either with this film and freely submitting yourself to it...or not.

It doesn’t end there.  FURY ROAD captures all of the other minute details of this diseased world in the same manner that, for example, George Lucas did with his galaxy spanning STAR WARS series.  Miller relishes is the frightening costumes, the equally intense and horrific makeup design, and an overall practical approach to scenes (CGI is used as sparingly as possible) to give the hellish Australian outback a sense of relatable unease and overt hostility.  Everything in FURY ROAD feels so remarkably tactile and lived-in.  The film’s aesthetic is also greatly helped by how Miller stages his ingenious and remarkable car chases and stunts without much computer tinkering, which makes recent films like FURIOUS 7 feel like archaic video games in retrospect.  Miller intuitively understands that the finest way to present action is through careful choreography, a vigorous sense of spatial relationships, and editorial flow and cohesion.  The early MAD MAX trilogy ushered in a new stylistic benchmark by which genre films/directors of the 1980’s borrowed heavily upon.  It’s almost as if Miller is back to joyously remind today's filmmakers “Look, this is how you’re supposed to do it” after years of witnessing them repeating the same lazy mistakes over and over again, much to our collective dismay. 

Miller doesn’t lose sight on character dynamics amidst the film’s visual chaos.  He got the right actor in Hardy, I think, to harness Max’s snarling temperament and introverted rage that gets the better of him.  Hardy is never truly allowed to stretch his thespian skills in the role, but he does manage to ground Max as a wounded and compellingly introverted character considering the sheer madness erupting around him.  In a wonderful manner of subverting genre and gender expectations, FURY ROAD is really Furiosa’s film, and much like the Ellen Ripleys and Sarah Connors before her, Furiosa is shown as an intrinsically resourceful, tough minded, and physically stern heroine that never needs a man – or any man, for that matter – to help her in a perversely violent world.  With her warrior-like buzz cut and facial paint, mechanized arm, and tenacious spirit, Theron utterly owns the indomitable spirit of Furiosa as a character that doesn’t so much require Max's assistance to win the day as much as he needs her.  If the film were to have a minor issue it would be that Max himself is sort of riding shotgun, so to speak, in his own story.  However, there are so very few action films that place prominence on the might and superiority of righteous female characters as positive catalysts of change in a derange male-dominated world.  Miller clearly has way more up his sleeve that just assaulting us with violence and bedlam. 

But what a wondrous and awe-inspiring explosion of bedlam this film is!  Beyond its surprising character depth and thematically rich plot, FURY ROAD remains a freakishly inventive and ear-splittingly exhilarating orgy of end-of-days carnage.  Here’s a film that revels in sensational weirdness from beginning to end, and Miller joyously returns as its enthusiastically unapologetic, take-no-prisoners ringmaster.  It’s sort of astounding to see that he has not missed a step in returning to his cinematic wasteland that helped define a generation of filmmakers and films, despite having not made a live action film for nearly a decade after dabbling in animated waters like the HAPPY FEET.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a resoundingly triumphant return to this scorched earth universe and a relentlessly innovative marvel of action filmmaking derring-do.  Not only has Miller completely and successfully revived his punk-western apocalyptic series, but he’s also opened it up more widely for further cinematic exploration.  The sheer gargantuan breadth of his imagination and gutsy showmanship is truly phenomenal, and because of that MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is one of the great visionary sagas of our time.  

For two hours while watching FURY ROAD I forgot I was in a movie theater.  I was transported to Miller's film world and became less conscious of my cinema's surroundings.  It's not a film not to be passively watched, but actively experienced on the biggest screen possible.  

That's the earmark of grand out-of-body escapist cinema.  

  H O M E