Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne
George Miller’s return to the world of Mad Max is as deranged as it is awe-inspiring. For nearly two hours, Fury Road wreaks havoc on the post-apocalyptic Australian Outback and the leftover civilization that inhabits it. Metal and sand collide and erupt endlessly, though the greatest fire may be the one burning in the eyes of the movie’s hero.
I’m not talking about Max. The Australian policeman brought to gritty life by Mel Gibson in Miller’s earlier films is here played by Tom Hardy, whose preferred method of communication for much of the movie is grunting and pointing. Hardy shares the action hero spotlight with Charlize Theron, whose ferocious portrayal of the Imperator Furiosa practically ignites the screen.
Furiosa is a prized warrior in the outlaw army of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a masked, white-haired tyrant whose control over the people stems from his control of the water supply. She uses a scavenger mission in the Outback as an opportunity to smuggle out five women who Joe was using as sex slaves. They’re disrupted by dust storms and an annoying band of chainsaw, gun and exploding spear-wielding men chasing them across the desert.
At first, Max is a part of that demented, mindless horde, though not by choice. In the movie’s opening scene, they overwhelm and imprison him, and he becomes a muzzled bag of blood for one of the ailing drivers (Nicholas Hoult). He is chained on the front of a vehicle like a human figurehead, with a medical tube connecting from his vein to his captor in the driver seat. A spectacular vehicular battle with Furiosa frees him, and he emerges from the sand still chained to the unconscious driver.
He approaches Furiosa’s stalled truck with a shotgun that doesn’t work, and sees the escaped women rinsing off with a hose. The women are framed from a distance, as if Max is hallucinating, and seeing people from a cleaner, more elegantly dressed time. A close-up of one of the women removing her metal chastity belt signals that the movie is still in its own horrifying world.
The overt feminist themes of Fury Road are rare in a typical Hollywood release, let alone an epic released in the summer movie season. When Furiosa, Max and the others reached an enclave of elderly women at a small outpost in the desert who join up with them to take down Immortan Joe and his gang, my jaw dropped in awe at something other than one of the movie’s astonishing action set pieces.
I hesitate to use an often hyperbolic descriptor like “jaw-dropping” to describe Fury Road, but the creative energy on display in nearly every level of this movie is just that. The swooping aerial shots of the road-turned-battlefield are filled with maniacal creations; leather-clad barbarians attack the heroes from above with chainsaws, and there’s a gigantic enemy vehicle whose sole purpose is to carry drummers and a creature playing an electric guitar that doubles as a flamethrower. John Seale’s cinematography is overwhelming, filled with deeply saturated landscapes of sand and sky by day, and deep shades of blue at night. Theron and Hardy’s faces also engulf the screen; their eyes are both tormented and filled with rage.
With this latest Mad Max installment, Miller seems to be operating under the assumption that he may never get a chance to make a movie this insane again. With the overabundance of bland dystopian visions invading theaters on a nearly monthly basis, it can be hard to buy into yet another one, let alone one that is also somewhat of a reboot. However, the world of Fury Road is a fully realized nightmare whose only source of hope is a group of women fighting to reclaim their bodies. It’s a pure cinematic howl of rage.