“Thoroughly unrestrained action cinema, occupying the upper echelon of the unique art of filming carnage and chaos.”
by Ken B.
The post-apocalypse is a miserable place to be. That’s been the message of George Miller’s Mad Max film series, and one continued in blazing style with Fury Road. There are some differences in this new volume from the get-go. Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the title character has been replaced with Tom Hardy’s, and the budget for the production has increased exponentially since the days of comparatively cheap shoots across the Australian outback. In this new installment, Miller has provided us with a 119 minute needle of pure adrenaline which also manages to complexly develop characters and foster convincingly written relationships, achieving a trifecta between the action, the characters, and the script in general, a hat trick for an action film which is a rare feat.
The criticism that Mad Max: Fury Road is a film which can be essentially be distilled down to a two-hour long car chase is not without merit, but Miller makes sure that the proceedings are not thematically inept. There is a plot – it features Max (Hardy), teaming up with the gutsy Furiosa (Charlize Theron), to topple the demagogic regime of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keans-Byrne), who has formed a militaristic cult among desperate survivors of a nuclear holocaust. After Max and Furiousa form a rogue coalition, freeing Joe’s captive wives (Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) and enlisting a soldier (or War Boy) named Nux (Nicholas Hoult), they flee in an armored truck. But Joe knows what has happened, and he’s not going down easily.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a decidedly insane movie. It’s off the walls. It’s bonkers. And the best part is that Miller and co. embrace it from frame one. The leering cinematography from John Seale moves from scene to scene with comically oversaturated colors, and Margaret Sixel’s editing constantly tinkers with an already-hazy frame rate, with some sweeping shots zipping by in fractions of a second, while pivotal sequences happen in a near-slow motion. But nothing is lost in the process, and the strength of the screenplay’s characters remains intact in the nuttiest of chases and fights, as even the most overstuffed of moments can be boiled down to the juxtaposing elements of fire and water – the former is what powers the rage-trip, and the latter is an essential need which Joe rations amongst his subjects with cruel sadism.
That’s part of what sets this film a notch or three above many of its blockbuster contemporaries. There’s an endlessly fascinating dynamic between Hardy’s Max and Theron’s Furiosa – characters who need each other’s skills to survive. Speaking of Theron, her performance is a true standout amongst an already-solid cast. She imbues Furiosa with all of the qualities of the character’s name, whilst retaining realistic human feelings. Interestingly, the fact that there is a strong female protagonist on roughly equal standing with the male protagonist has gone so far as to spark backlash from so-called “men’s rights activists” who have amusingly labeled it as “feminist propaganda”.
But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. My point is that Mad Max: Fury Road is thoroughly unrestrained action cinema, occupying the upper echelon of the unique art of filming carnage and chaos (most of the special effects were done practically, adding another layer of dedication and authenticity). A worthy experience for both long time Mad Max fans and those new to the franchise, the film is, despite the brash, unrepentant extremes that it occupies, delicately handled in the creative sense. Any project with a sufficient budget can burst at the seams with color, light, and noise, but it takes special dedication and professional intent for an accompanying narrative drive to be well-sewn and organically apparent. Miller, a veteran craftsman who drummed his production across the Namibian desert, is in total control. He is not compliant with what might be expected of a series installment three decades after its previous entry, and instead blasts all available resources into every conceivable route. This is screen mayhem at its finest – seemingly anarchic, but rooted back to one level source.