Wow, this movie created quite a stir when it was finally released now didn’t it? I can’t quite remember there being this type of buzz for a film in recent years but Mad Max not only managed to generate huge buzz but it paid off in just about every way a movie can. It was a great ride, it exploded all over Twitter and social media and it even managed to kick off a ludicrous argument about feminism ruining action films. Well done George Miller!
The plot is familiar. Mad Max (Tom Hardy) gets drawn into a conflict between Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has chosen to forsake Joe and help his captive wives escape his tyrannical rule in a post apocalyptic wasteland that may or may not be Australia. Immortan Joe, being the power mad villain that he is, mobilizes his army of War Boys and a fleet of hot rod cars and gives chase. Gun fights, revelations, deception and death all follow and eventually Max wonders off from the survivors, as he is want to do.
Since 2008, when the first Iron Man movie came out, Hollywood has made a lot of superhero movies. Like… a lot, and they are planning on making so many more over the next decade that it’s kind of absurd to really think about. I love these movies and I could not be happier that all these stories and characters are getting shared with a larger audience who gets to discover them for the first time just like I did once upon a time but the rampant success of these films has really pushed other types of action films out of the way in Hollywood. Mad Max: Fury Road hit as hard as it did not only because it’s a great movie but because it feels so different from everything else coming out right now. Once, that would not have been so true, but the modern movie landscape, so dominated by robots, capes, and iron men, left an opening for something like this movie to come out and blow us all away. If there is one bad thing this superhero movie era we are in, it’s that these weird, harsh, adult action films simply don’t get made anymore.
The directing and look of the film is really top notch. The camera moves and weaves in a way that puts us right in the action but we never seem to lose track of what is going on, which is no small trick when you consider that the set is a moving convoy of cars, flame and guns. Scenes where people are riding motorcycles through the desert look beautiful with the camera placed at their level or below them at wheel level. There is a foot chase early in the movie between Max and some War Boys where the camera is sped up or missing frames, I’m not really sure which, and it looks so great; it captures Max’s confusion and fear in a really cool visual fashion. Later in the film Furiosa has a moment of utter despair and pain and she falls to her knees and yells her fury and anger to the world. This is a thing we have seen a thousand times in cinema, but there is something about the way it shot here that makes it feel fresh and powerful. I’m not a filmmaker, so I don’t know what trick they are pulling here, but it’s a great one. The action and the stunts are fun and crazy and outlandish to watch. Combine that with some of the best use of music in a movie in quite some time, and you get action scenes that feel much more dangerous and violent than most other movies. The movie makes the wise choice of using practical effects when it can and only relying on CGI when it has to. With very few exceptions, this is still the best way to make movies look and feel real even while outlandish and absurd things are happening on screen. The cars and stuntmen riding and crashing into each other feels so much more visceral than it otherwise would have. The scene where they drive through a massive dust storm is gorgeous and deadly by turns and is a moment of real wonder to behold.
The two main performances in the movie are by Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, and they both are excellent. Hardy’s Max is not quite as mad as Mel Gibson’s was, but that’s mainly by demeanor and the way he carries himself throughout the film. He is quietly and stoically mad, as it were. He also barely talks throughout the film, but his words are rarely needed beyond a few words, so it fits and works for the movie quite well. There is a small scene between him and one of the wives where he nods his approval to her after a fight in which he expresses far more than he could ever say with words. Charlize Theron is a thunder strike in this movie. Her character is the driving force of the movie and she pulls it off wonderfully. I don’t know how many actresses have the bearing and presence to do what she does in this film. I found it interesting that her character has a prosthetic arm and it’s never really talked about or explained. She just has it and has clearly learned to live with it. Also of note are the wives, who play a smaller role but are still interesting parts of the movie. There is a scene early on in the film where Joe is about to shoot Furiosa but the wives open a side door on their truck and defiantly stare him down; it’s a powerful and awesome scene that I loved.
Some people got mad because of how prominent Charlize Theron was in the advertising leading up to the movie and how the movie is basically her movie and it just happens to co-star Tom Hardy/Mad Max. These people clearly never watched the original ones because the driving force of these movies has never been Mad Max himself. He is always the lone wonderer who is forced into a situation not of his choosing; he is the reluctant hero at best. Other people have decried this film as not being feminist because all it does is thrust a woman into a male violence oriented film. I don’t agree with that either, primarily because I don’t think violence is all that gendered, especially in a world like this one. Yes, the wives are all super hot and look stunning, but they have agency, they have distinct characters and wants and desires that the movie very carefully shows us. And Furiosa is a person who has risen to power, made a decision and struck out on her own for her own reasons and desires. We don’t get that much of a back-story on her or the wives, but what we do get really helps explain her character and who she is.
This movie would have been great no matter when it was released, but whoever chose this summer was a genius. The unique flavor, tone and look at the film stand out all the more in the modern movie landscape. Yes, it’s not really an original movie, the franchise is quite old really, but I don’t think that really matters to modern movie audiences. When something goes away long enough, it feels fresh and new when it returns regardless of it’s originality or lack there of.