Every so often, and in increasingly rare numbers, a big budget Hollywood extravaganza comes along and negates the crushing conditioned cynicism built into our cinematic receptors. Walking into a franchise reboot of a series that hasn’t received fresh blood in nearly three decades, following a trilogy of films having starred an infamously fallen matinee idol, forecasts were dubious at best for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Premiering out of competition at Cannes just prior to receiving its worldwide premiere, the seventy year old originator of the iconic series defied all expectations to create a beautiful and intense action film, standing as one of the best sequels to arrive in well over a decade. Stuffed with innovative visuals, bloody violence, insanely choreographed car chases and serving a rudimentary feminist allegory coursing through the usual arid bromide of commonly testosterone laced genre, the film is unforgettable testament to the heights such cinema can still attain.
Max (Tom Hardy) becomes the unwilling prisoner of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless leader of one of mankind’s few surviving human populations following the apocalypse, hoarding water inside his mountainside kingdom. But one of Joe’s trusted leaders, the ferocious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has just stolen a war tanker, and with it, Joe’s bevy of buxom breeder women he’s kept locked in a cave for pleasure and progeny. Thrust into the band of crusaders out to capture Furiosa and return the human loot, Max understands his only chance of survival is to band with Furiosa.
Much has been made of the film’s significant presence as a ‘feminist’ action film, considering Miller reportedly consulted with Eve Ensler concerning the characterizations of women, it’s impressive editing from Miller’s wife, Margaret Sixel (who also worked on Miller’s features Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet), and, it’s showcasing of actor Charlize Theron, whose narrative dominates the film as she relegates its eponymous hero into the position usually reserved for a damsel in distress.
As Imperator Furiosa, Theron successfully launches herself in the dusty footsteps of Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton, women action stars successfully crafted without adhering to fantastical notions dictated by the male gaze. The whole narrative thrust is the aggressive action a band of women takes in reclaiming their rights over their own bodies, creating a ripple effect of metaphoric interpretations for the continuation of mankind in the film’s post-apocalyptic universe.
The cadre of sex-worker/breeders tend to be represent the film’s wobblier moments of characterization. Miller makes impressive use of pouty beauties like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Riley Keough, but Zoe Kravitz can’t quite manage to chew on her pulpy dialogue in quite the same fashion. Tom Hardy is a winning ascension to the throne of Max, here given the last name, officially, of Rockatansky, though those unfamiliar with the earlier trio of Mel Gibson films learn little of him except he’s lost his family to the cruel circumstances of a not-so-brave, dangerous new world.
In essence, Mad Max: Fury Road is a bombastic, breathless, two hour chase sequence. Miller innovatively spins a furious environment filled with disgustingly realized villains, as the memorable leader, Immorten Joe, played by Hugh Keas-Byrne, who was also a villain in Mad Max. Given the budget and creative control to fashion his craft without studio interference, this is exactly the type of grand cinematic spectacle brimming with passionate, zealous ideas that’s been sorely lacking from the mechanical operations of formulaic tent poles.
Warner Bros. presents their hot property in high definition, 2.4:1. The booming soundtrack, part of the film’s matchless experience, is in 5.1 Dolby Digital, though some of the immersive qualities are obviously not comparable to seeing the film theatrically (and as one of the more arguably appropriate releases using 3D technology). Miller coaxed DoP John Seale out of retirement (they worked together on the 1994 film Lorenzo’s Oil) to create a visually striking, continually bristling film. Thankfully, Warner Bros. also included minimal special features.
Maximum Fury – Filming Fury Road:
This half hour segment features Miller and the cast discussing the making of the film. Miller discusses collapsing action and dialogue into one sequence, while production designer Colin Gibson reveals the film to have been drawn out in storyboard (which we see several of) before it was actually written.
Mad Max – Fury on Four Wheels:
A twenty minute feature focuses specifically on the cars and engines used in the making of the film, many described as masterpieces, and all having one thing in common – they’re incredibly loud and powerful.
The Road Warriors – Max and Furiosa:
This eleven minute bit revolves around Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron speaking of their experiences, how they approached their characters, working on set and collaborating with Miller, who raves about his lead actors.
The Tools of the Wasteland:
A fourteen minute segment examines the set design and multiple items from the film’s universe are specifically discussed.
The Five Wives – So Shiny, So Chrome:
An eleven minute feature finds the actresses playing the five wives speaking of their characterizations and their relationship to the villainous Immorten Joe.
Fury Road – Crash & Smash:
Four minutes of pre-production video tests are show with significant warning that none of the raw footage has been enhanced by CGI. Needless to say, it’s quite impressive.
Three different sequences, all told about three minutes in length, are also included.
Though plenty are bound to dismiss its achievements on the heels of its critical wave of approval and overall box office success (it nearly reached four hundred million worldwide gross), George Miller has proven to be a continually exciting visionary auteur. Mad Max: Fury Road aims to overwhelm with his onslaught of beautiful images laced with treachery and brutality—and it succeeds.
Film Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆