Gleefully off-the-rails, this reboot is a glorious romp you won’t soon forget.
BY RYAN MILOWICKI
Have you ever gone into a theater with practically zero expectations, and left with an irrepressible feeling of joy that can only stem from the most pleasant of surprises? Last week, I was fortunate enough to experience that at an advance screening of Mad Max: Fury Road. My skepticism at the “let’s reboot franchises 20+ years later” mentality of modern blockbusters is well documented, so I understandably wasn’t sold on the concept of bringing Max Rockatansky back to the big screen after a 30-year hiatus. But let me tell you this: I’ll be hard-pressed to think of a movie in the past decade which delivered more action per minute, more breathtaking practical effects, or a more gleeful sense of self-awareness and uniqueness. How else can I say it? Mad Max: Fury Road is the best popcorn movie I’ve seen since my childhood wonder faded into the critical eye of growing up.
One reason Fury Road works so well is that the mythology of the original mythology is not a necessity to enjoy this offering. As Max (Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson) narrates in the first minute, he is a former cop in the desolate wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia who has lost his family. His only motivation left on this barren continent is the will to survive at any cost. Finding himself reduced to a prisoner in the clutches of the iron-fisted leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Mad Max‘s original villain), Max is a “blood bag,” a living, breathing IV who keeps the nearly-skeletonized army out of the clutches of death. His story intertwines with that of rogue lieutenant Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who embarks on a treacherous journey to smuggle the leader’s five wives (and apparently the only fertile women left) to safety.
What follows is a nearly two-hour chase scene as the unlikely duo fight to drive their seriously weaponized big rig across the Outback while pursued with the entire army of Immortan Joe. As the action escalates, so too does the world-building as we learn more about this ruined landscape and the motivations of those within it. Simply put, this is a bold piece of filmmaking, less interested with advancing a popular franchise than with crafting an exciting new world for a modern audience.
And boy, does it deliver. Director George Miller, who helmed the original trilogy, shows incredible confidence in turning one of the most bizarre premises ever seen in a mainstream movie into a supremely satisfying piece of entertainment. Beginning with the orange and yellow palette that frames the entire film, the feeling of fantasy takes hold almost immediately. The whole film plays out as some sort of wildly entertaining fever dream, from characters who look several degrees separated from humanity, to a military vanguard which features a musician shredding a flamethrowing guitar diegetically to Junkie XL’s frenzied score. None of these elements would work with the slightest bit of hesitation, so it’s imperative that Miller goes full bore into every single element, creating a world which more than lives up to the insanity suggested by its title.
The vehicular warfare in this movie is nothing short of breathtaking, and it easily puts Furious 7 to shame. Consisting almost entirely of practical effects, the explosions, stunt work, and cinematography of these action sequences are spectacular and never feel repetitive. As the stakes increase, Fury Road finds ways to use the landscape more, or introduce new weapons, or have another character take the lead to ramp up the action even further. Explosions abound, vehicles flip, and Miller imbues the treacherous path of the characters’ redemption with every ounce of fury the title would lead you to believe. The sheer adrenaline rushes associated with these scenes would be more than enough for me to give a glowing review.
But hidden among the constant wreckage are characters who get to grow and interact surprisingly well throughout the course of film. Stepping into Mel Gibson’s shoes, Hardy is a wonderful new inhabitant of the title role. Speaking fewer than 50 lines throughout the entirety of Fury Road, Hardy’s Max is an animalistic, almost mute warrior who lets his actions and his eyes do the talking. While Hardy does great work, the movie really belongs to Theron. Her gruff, ass-kicking and even endearing performance as Furiosa was a complete surprise to me, and learning her backstory and motivations was one of the film’s most rewarding elements. Her and Hardy make one heck of a team, seamlessly dual-occupying the roles of protagonist and leader, each stepping up when the other begins to falter. X-Men‘s Nicholas Hoult turns in an excellent performance as Nux, one of the nearly-dead infantrymen who has more character to him than meets the eye, and the five wives are each played with a unique set of skills and emotions. In fact, in Fury Road‘s post-apocalyptic worldview, the role of gender has been virtually erased. Men and women fight side by side the entire movie, as the wives (and even a tribe of aged yet merciless female warriors) have more than plenty to contribute to the proceedings. Who’d have thought that the fourth installment in a long-dormant franchise could serve as an ideal depiction of equality in the testosterone-filled world of action movies?
It will be a long time before I forget the sheer originality of Mad Max: Fury Road. Shot in reach-out-of-the-screen 3D and a frenetic visual style, this movie gleefully dares to be off-the-rails, and revels in each twist which takes it further from reality. The result is a clinically insane romp that reminds us why we see action movies in the first place. Throw in a wonderfully executed story which features multiple-dimensioned characters, and you have a unique piece of cinema which redefines the 2010s blockbuster as we know it. As Nux bellows early on, what a lovely day indeed.
RYAN’s RATING: 4 Stars out of 4