Review: Mad Max Fury Road
By Floyd Rock
It’s been thirty years since George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series following the iconic survivalist Max Rockatansky graced theaters but Mad Max: Fury Road marks his triumphant return. After planning for over a decade the fourth film has finally hit theaters. Plans to make a fourth Mad Max film went through their own long arduous series of stalled productions and concepts from postponing and canceling shooting that was to start in 2001, 2003, and an R-rated animated feature in 2009. Often long development and complications can foretell doom for upcoming films but against the odds Fury Road, like its titular figure, has managed to overcome its obstacles with miraculous success. George Miller returns directing this newest installment of the series that jump started his career with Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson as Max. Also starring Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in prominent roles and veteran of the original Mad Max, Hugh Keays-Byrne, as the imposing Immortan Joe, a wasteland warlord and the picture’s central villain. The movie opens with Max being captured and imprisoned by marauders, followers of Immortan Joe. At Joe’s stronghold, the Citadel, Max is hung upside down and used for blood donation for one of Joe’s sick War Boys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the leader of Joe’s war rig, deviates from a gas run Joe discovers that his wives, a group of women kept for selective breeding, are missing. Infuriated, Joe leads a war party after Furiosa to reclaim his prized prisoners. Nux, in pursuit of the glory achieved from death in battle, joins Joe’s party, strapping Max to the front of his car to continue supplying him blood. Soon, the lives of these three individuals, fighting for survival, liberation, or glory, will be irreparably intertwined.
What’s apparent, first and foremost, is that Mad Max: Fury Road is a marvel of visual design. From its composition, with its sunburned landscapes filled with its broken heroes and their fanatic pursuers, to its precise editing, with rapid editing, use of accelerated frames, and montage editing, it’s a film intended to not only deliver a mouth-gaping spectacle but to tell its story visually with its rebellious yet controlled form. Like its hero Fury Road is a film of little words. With little dialogue much of the movie is told through visual storytelling, driven by its action, its production design, or with much of its mythology just inferred. Piecing parts of the picture together through contextually following slang, its art direction, and bits of sparse exposition is just part of what makes the world Max inhabits so layered and intriguing. Some aspects of these characters and their pasts, like Furiosa’s missing arm or Joe’s rise to power are kept relatively unknown. Leaving these pieces of the story up to imagination and speculation not only allows audiences to become a little more active in their investment in the picture, not entirely dissimilar to the imaginative process involved in reading a novel, but it adds to the spoken legend aspect of the Mad Max series, as if this man and his exploits are tall tales told throughout the land to inspire those living through the aftermath of civilization. It’s as if this apocalyptic tale and the life of its desolate yet rich world exist whether viewers are there to watch the movie or not.
Once viewers are immersed in Fury Road’s harsh unforgiving environments it’s the picture’s relentless impeccably designed action sequences and stunt work which will keep them there. One could lose count of the number of awe-inspiring set pieces devised and the orchestral way they’re implemented and executed in the picture. Not only is the balletic automotive carnage a wonder but even on solid ground the action is fresh and light on its feet with an inventive hand-to-hand fight scene between the two leads when Max first comes face-to-face with Furiosa while chained to an unconscious Nux and a detached car door. Just the logistics themselves of some of the biggest moments during the movie’s finale are mind-boggling and well crafted, yet never confusing. It’s as if the visual symmetry of Buster Keaton’s silent comedies were lifted and infused with George Miller’s signature rebellious rocker aesthetics to deliver something wholly unique.
The set pieces aren’t just the glossy sheen of Fury Road but also its engine, assisting in driving the narrative rather than interrupting it. Each action sequence is propelled by character motivation moving the film, not a single confrontation is a detour in Fury Road. It’s difficult to find another franchise return, gone for decades, that’s this bold and it’s particularly surprising that a movie with Fury Road’s lengthy series of stalled production attempts not only came out of the muck looking this good but is so singularly minded. The entire film functions like a well-oiled machine, like clockwork, each piece moving as one for one singular well-defined purpose. No extra parts, no fat to trim. It’s a lean vibrant action picture and one of the best in recent years.