[Originally published on Reviews by Steve, June 25th, 2015]
I grew up on action films in the 1980s, and Mad Max was a big part of that (I’m talking The Road Warrior here, not the largely regrettable Beyond Thunderdome). You couldn’t get much actiony-er than Max Rockatansky. Now, some thirty or so years later, George Miller is rebooting his franchise. To get my take on the movie, read on.
Excuse me. Pardon. One sec. I’m still catching my breath. Seriously, watching Fury Road feels a lot like holding your breath for two hours, and somehow coming out alive at the other end. What a ride! I haven’t enjoyed a movie in such a visceral fashion in years, and this is only the second film in the last five years that has me wanting to head right back to the theater to watch it again (the other was Guardians of the Galaxy – read my review here).
The story has Imperator Furiosa [Charlize Theron] doing the bidding of Immortan Joe [Hugh Keays-Byrne] (yes, Miller has always had a way with names), heading off on a mission to get fuel from Gas Town. She almost immediately goes off-road – turns out she’s taken Joe’s five wives and is seeking freedom from his misogynistic ways. Recently captured Max Rockatansky [Tom Hardy] is taken by one of Joe’s foot soldiers, Nux [Nicholas Hoult], as a portable blood-bag, hooked up to the soldier via plastic tubing so that Max’s blood will give him the kick he needs.
What follows is an approximately two-hour long car chase, replete with a clear preference for real stunts over CGI that shows in the quality of the film, making every sequence that much more believable despite the improbable action. Yes, Miller uses CGI in a few key scenes (the fire tornadoes come to mind), as well as in enhancing the explosions, but the vast majority of stunts are actual actors and stunt people taking their lives in-hand, and giving us the sort of realistic action that would otherwise be impossible.
I’m a fan of what CGI can do, but there’s something that gets lost when all the stunts get replaced by computer graphics. In fact, Miller commissioned not only a series of amazing and over-the-top stunts, but the whole armada of vehicles are actual, working vehicles, prepared for the movie by FX guru Colin Gibson. He built over 70 working vehicles, which are seen throughout the film, along with about another 60 to act as substitutes and in crash sequences. His imagination only scratches the surface in the enormous battle rig that Furiosa drives across the desert. Seeing this vast array of vehicles racing across the screen is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Tom Hardy is more than serviceable as Mad Max, if not quite so charismatic (or good looking) as the young Mel Gibson was, but this is really Charlize Theron’s movie. Her Imperator Furiosa owns every scene she’s in, a feminine presence that is as strong as Max at his best. Certain MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) have been deriding the film for making such a strong female character, but to them I say, Stuff it! – Furiosa and Max working together are a great team, and trying to claim that Miller is reifying your childhood memories of Max’s indomitable masculinity is the same argument that people are making this week that Confederate flags are okay, because history. You know, HISTORY! Guess what – things change, and just because things were one way in the past doesn’t mean we should revere them in the future.
I can’t really recommend this film enough – if you’re looking for a fun, unthinking adrenaline rush this summer, go see Mad Max. It’s so much better than anything else that’s out there in the same vein right now, that you won’t regret spending your time or money.
Steve’s Rating: (9 / 10)
A visceral thrill-ride that will have you feeling like you’ve held your breath for two hours, and wondering why American action films can’t all be this good.
Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris (written by)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Release Date: May 15, 2015
Runtime: 2 hrs.
MPAA Rating: R