Funny story: I’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road twice now (yes, it’s that good; more on that later). On my second viewing, this time with my girlfriend in tow, we had the “good fortune” to sit in front of a group of about eight 20-something guys, all of whom were unfamiliar with the concept of shutting-the-hell-up.
These were the type of gents who were either completely oblivious that they were talking almost as loud as the film, were entitled enough that they didn’t care, or genuinely thought their commentary was anything other than excruciating (the standout comment coming when a character drinks breast milk — “that’s not pasteurized”).
The reason these lovely people were there was seemingly obvious: to watch the latest R-rated action blockbuster to get their fill on car chases and carnage.
However, having seen the movie once before, I knew the joke was on them. This was not like other films of its ilk. See, while Mad Max: Fury Road is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of action cinema to be released in the modern era, it’s also one of the smartest. It not only entertains in every aspect, it also has a little something to say on social affairs, including the very machismo displayed in that theater.
The best, or maybe, worst part? Those guys probably didn’t even know they were what the film was denigrating.
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) continues to roam the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Australia with one goal: survive. After being captured by marauders known as the War Boys, Max gets caught in a struggle between Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a fearsome warlord and leader of the War Boys, and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a hard-as-nails warrior and one of Joe’s lieutenants gone rogue on a mission to smuggle his wives/breeders/slaves away from him to freedom. Now it’s up to Max and Furiosa to escape an army of madmen on hundreds of miles of wasteland road in search of respite.
Having not seen any of the previous Mad Max films, it’s important to point out that Fury Road completely stands on its own. Beyond a a few early minutes of necessary backstory from Max, the film pulls its own weight in establishing the latest iteration of the world director George Miller set up almost 40 years ago with the first film. If it was nutty then, Miller spectacularly conveys just how bananas things have gotten now. There’s a palpable frantic energy to the film that shows Miller is not afraid to go as off-kilter as the film’s title suggests.
And god is that amazing to watch.
Stripped down to its most basic element, Fury Road is a two-hour car chase that is executed with more skill and raw excitement than almost anything you can find today. Miller blows all current action fare out of the water by embracing the revolutionary concepts of “practically blowing up cars”, “composing shots/sequences so that you can follow what is going on” and “not cluttering the screen with a ton of CGI garbage”.
You know… stuff we don’t see any more.
The result is an action film with enough class and creative wit about it to keep things exciting throughout and somehow top each consecutive action set piece in madcap awesomeness.
Among other tropes Miller isn’t interested in indulging in, Fury Road does not hold the audience’s hand in almost any regard. The director/writer has confidence (rightly so) that people will be able to understand and accept the quirky intricacies of his world. We don’t need a sluggish voiceover to guide us through the War Boy’s rituals; we can find out on our own.
Everyone in the cast is great, Miller and his cinematographer John Seale capture some surprising beauty in their desert setting, and Junkie XL’s overwhelming score gets your pulse up.
These factors alone would have made Fury Road a very good movie and a standout of the summer season; it’s the film’s social consciousness that makes it something even more substantial. Miller’s hidden message of the film is that people are not things and in embracing that belief he has made one of the more female-empowering pieces of action cinema in… maybe ever.
While Hardy’s Max is great (his accent featuring echoes of the Bane voice), it’s Theron as Furiosa where the film really shows progress. With both her and the wives, Miller shows that women in action films can be developed, three-dimensional, proactive, sympathetic, and arguably more kickass than the male protagonist. Furthermore, they don’t have to do it while being objectified by the camera, like in other supposedly empowering films.
While it may, at worst, feel like Max is sidelined in his own film, the dynamic between Max and Furiosa is a completely logical one, with each character handling the responsibilities that best fit, instead of the male lead insisting on doing everything due to sheer machismo.
And that is where the knuckle-draggers I spoke of earlier come back into play. Part and parcel with Miller’s theme of “people, not things”, the coy director also takes a stab at the culture that perpetuates that belief — the culture that was sitting behind me. Immortan Joe and the War Boys represent the negatives of machismo — obsession with vehicles and violence, objectifying people, living with the Spartan belief that the ultimate goal in life is a good death — and how damaging that can be to society.
It takes balls to slyly throw shade at a significant demographic that shows up for your movie, but that’s just par for the course with Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie simply does what it wants and makes sense of it, and at the end of the day, is not only an immensely fun time, but a more wholesome experience because of it.
Just don’t tell the guys behind me.