For as long as I’ve been an individual who uses the internet for movie/television/book/comic book news, I have heard rumblings of a 4th Mad Max film. Being a (almost) life-long fan (I saw the second film around the age of 8 or 9 because my parents were cool and quasi-negligent), I’ve followed this news with a jaded cynicism given just how long I’ve been reading about George Miller (basically the mastermind behind the entire series) saying that a new film was in the works.
Their are a number of reasons this franchise holds a special place in my cold, dead heart. First and foremost, the world. The Wasteland is a completely realized play box for the bands of psychopaths that inhabit it. All of the sets and cars are constructed for real-world bits that gives the environment an authenticity. It is a very conceivable post-apocalypse that has been built from the ashes of the world that came before it.
The next is Max himself. He isn’t a terribly complicated character when you get right down to it. Sure, he has his fair share of baggage but when he get right to his core he is perhaps the simplest of all 80’s action icons. He doesn’t say a whole lot in any of the four movies the character appears in. He utters no catch-phrases or one-liners. One could even argue that beyond the first and second film, this series doesn’t even need Max as a main character. He is the perfect focal point for the sheer and utter insanity that surrounds him. Much like Cain or Samurai Jack, Max Rockatansky goes from place to place, running into trouble wherever he ventures. He isn’t a reluctant hero like Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins. He is definitely an anti-hero and would fit comfortably in a gang with Ash Williams or The Man With No Name. He carries a burden that almost seems like a lost concept in the Wasteland: a conscience. And it is his conscience that gets him into trouble more often than not as it gets in the way of his ultimately necessary self-preservation instincts. He isn’t the chosen one (although we do learn he is a universal blood donor which is very interesting to some of his enemies in this installment) or a man out to prove something to himself. He is simply a half-way decent man left in a world almost completely devoid of decency, with the corpses of those he’s failed to save perpetually at his feet.
Finally, I appreciate just how episodic each entry is. Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome (and now Furry Road) all work as their own separate and distinct film meaning they can each be enjoyed as stand-alone experiences but are nicely tied together by both Max and the Wasteland. With each film, we get to see a new section of the map.
Almost every single review I’ve read for Mad Max: Fury Road has been filled to the brim with hyperboles. Writers have said things to the effect of this not only already being the best movie of 2015, but “the best action movie ever made.” It’s as if every reviewer that’s seen this has bought a one-way ticket aboard the love train.
I’m honestly pretty quick to cool my expectations when descriptions like “game changer” are thrown around all willy-nilly. It’s a term that gets thrown quite a bit, but never actually holds any sort of weight. Boyhood was apparently a game-changer for instance. As was Avatar and Paranormal Activity. None of those are game changers. At least in opinion. In order to be a game changer, a movie has to be deliver something we’ve never seen before and in doing so be so successful at it that it inspires a series of filmmakers to follow suit. In other words, they can’t rest solely on some gimmick like 3-D or found footage that inspire a bunch of copycats to cash in. Movies like Jaws, T-2:Judgement Day, and the first Iron Man are all movies that shook the industry and brought about changes that are still felt to this day.
Is Fury Road a game-changer? It’s hard to say. I’m not a preg cog. I imagine that it would ultimately come down to both box office and given that it got beat by Pitch Perfect 2, I can only assume major studios will be hesitant to dump money on the doorstop of a project aiming for practical madness over the safety of something made on a computer for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, however, I do not know.
What I do know is that this is hands down on of the best action movies I’ve seen in a very, VERY, long time. Is it the best ever? I’d be more cautious to jump on that train given I’ve only seen it once (and that was less than a week ago) but it is certainly the best of the new decade thus far. (Both Raid films and John Wick included.) With any luck, you’ve seen this movie already but if not I will go ahead and say now you really need to as soon as possible while you have the chance to see it on the big screen where it belongs. And before you do, I highly recommend you do one thing….
Because this movie is a fucking ride and a half. Buckle your seat belts, kids. We’re about to hit hyperbole city. Population: Me.
“An apocalyptic story set in the furthest reaches of our planet, in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, and almost everyone is crazed fighting for the necessities of life. Within this world exist two rebels on the run who just might be able to restore order. There’s Max, a man of action and a man of few words, who seeks peace of mind following the loss of his wife and child in the aftermath of the chaos. And Furiosa, a woman of action and a woman who believes her path to survival may be achieved if she can make it across the desert back to her childhood homeland.” – IMDb.com
Earlier this year, I heaped a mountain of praise on Kingsmen: The Secret Service for just how unabashedly bonkers it was. While it was a quality film, what stood out was how utterly fearless it was to push boundaries. I said, “…it goes all out in way I haven’t seen a major Western movie do since the first Kick-Ass.” While I stand by the fact that it was a great, ball-busting film, a new successor to the throne has ALREADY knocked it aside.
Much like The Wolf of Wall Street, Fury Road is the work of a director in his twilight years putting the younger cats to shame with the sheer level of energy and joy almost punching its way through the screen. It’s almost implausible. A movie spearheaded by a 70-year-old, former doctor (returning to the same world he established over 30 FUCKING YEARS ago) can’t possibly be this vibrant and pulsating with endless amounts of cinematic nitroglycerin, right? This is a director that should be resting on his laurels. Not breaking new ground.
Looking at the guy’s filmography over the past two decades doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. Sure, the first two Babe movies are great (the first one came out in ’95…oh god that was 20 years ago…) but then you get to both Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2. You can’t help but feel his talents were wasted on the kiddie stuff, but at the same time you have to respect the guy for doing whatever the fuck he feels like doing. (He was once attached to a failed Justice League film that would have had Arnie Hammer as Batman, Common as Green Lantern, Adam Brody as the Flash and Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord to name just a few.) In a world where the Academy actually acknowledged science fiction and/or action movies, he’d be up for Best Director at next year’s Oscars.
As I said before (and I cannot stress this enough) the action on full display here is absolutely glorious. I don’t think I have ever scene practical action on a scale this size before. Sure, there is CGI but it is used only when necessary and in service to the actual action done on location. (Such as the sand storm sequence or when a stunt that would have required the actual death of a stunt person.) Now I’ve read more than one article that equates this movie to one, long, extended chase scene. While there are certainly rooms made for crucial breathers (for the sake of both character and plot development), these articles aren’t too far off. Not once does the film ever grow stagnant however. Each action set piece pushes the story forward and provides something new, whether it be a character beat or insane fucking visual. It’s almost a shame to have a movie this fucking good this early in the year. If J.J. Abrams can deliver with his Star Wars film, 2015 will be one for the record books.
The star of this movie (on an acting level) is Charlize Theron. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s to be had. She carries the film to such a degree that Max is much more of a supporting player. Contrary to what idiotic men’s rights groups would have you believe however this is by no means a bad thing.
She plays Furiosa, a higher up in Joe’s war party that decides to go AWOL in a last ditch effort for redemption. She has “kidnapped” the main baddie’s Five Wives in the hopes that she can give them a chance at a brighter future seeing as being what basically amounts to being a breeder cow/sex slave to a brutal warlord doesn’t afford many opportunities for a brighter tomorrow. She’s tough, determined, and unwilling to take shit. Refreshingly, she isn’t given a love interest nor does she require being rescued by Max. (He saves her as she saves him more than once so she is very much he equal. I’d go even so far as to say you could have easily called this Road Warriors.) Theron has tried her hand at similar characters in the past, but this is the first one that truly sticks and has the most likelihood to become iconic. She isn’t just a strong female character. She is a strong character. Period. In other words, she isn’t just “Max with boobs” or whatever derogatory terms applied to her would have you believe.
Speaking of Max, let’s talk about Tom Hardy, who is taking over the role that Mel Gibson made iconic. In perfect world, we’d get to see an aged Gibson in this role. Like the Wasteland however this is not a perfect world and a younger specimen was needed to fill the shoes of such a physically demanding role. (I’m sure Gibson’s antics over the last decade didn’t help matters, but I’m still a fan of the guy so here’s hoping he finds his way back in the spotlight like Robert Downey Jr. did.) Hardy, who is one of this generation’s finest actors to be blunt, does a fine job in filling Mel’s leather jacket. He plays Max much more haunted than we’ve seen him in the past. It’s not a necessarily easy part to play either given a lot of what Max has to convey, he does silently. I’d give the edge to Gibson if only because Hardy lacks the charisma that Mel brought to the role. Hardy is an “actor’s actor” and he almost brings too much angst to the role. He is by no means bad. I just prefer what Gibson did. Hardy is 100% for the role and I appreciated that quite a bit. You get what you need from him in just a look and that’s a rare quality to have for any actor. He’s got another movie coming out this year called Legend, in which he plays the notorious Kray Twins, and as is his style, I can only assume him will provide an interesting and utterly watchable performance…TIMES TWO!!!
My favorite character this time around however was a surprise (especially to me), as in lesser hands, he could have been incredibly annoying. I am of course referring to Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, one of Joe’s War Boys.
Nux is the closest thing we get to a character arc in the film, which could have been a problem if all of the characters sucked but it worked a lot better than I could have ever expected.
As a War Boy, Nux’s life span isn’t going to be very long. If they radiation poisoning doesn’t do him in first, he will die in glorious battle as he was bred to do. Not that that is a problem for him. In fact, that’s all he wants to do in life. Die in the name of his god (in this case Joe) and enter the gates of Valhalla an immortal who proved his mettle on the Fury Road. It’s pretty damn clear and powerful statement on religious fanaticism. Over the course of the film, he goes from blind and eager devotee to having his eyes open to see that there is more to life than…well…death. He becomes a disillusioned skeptic in the ideologies that have been hammered into him since birth and I found myself sympathizing with him every step of his journey.
Out of fear of making this post boring (as I LITERALLY have no bad things to say about this movie), and want to hit the remainder of the strengths really quick:
- The score. Tom Holkenborg (better known as Junkie XL) has composed the first must-own score of the year. (The only real competition left in my eyes will be John Williams’ return to a galaxy far, far away with The Force Awakens.) It’s one part grandiose and epic and other parts pulse-pounding and exciting. I foresee this album being the soundtrack to many of my expended car rides for years to come.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBU77aBJY30
- I’ve read that this film is a “feminist masterpiece.” I’m not nearly smart enough to weigh in on that subject extensively but I certainly think there is an argument to be made that this is a film that fully supports and demands a truce between the sexes in order to build a better future. The wives are introduced with the exclamation that they are “not things.” They then proceed to prove this to the audience. These characters are not simple eye candy (much like the Furious films which are comprised solely on eye candy with its buff dudes, scantily clad women and gratuitous car porn) and are instead a group of women with distinctions and quirks beyond their looks. You know…like actually people. Who would’ve thought that women can be characters, right?
- I even like the main bad guy, Immortan Joe. Played by Hugh Keays-Byrne (who played Toecutter in the first film), Joe is about as over-the-top as you can get. Hell, the guy has an entire hype truck in his war party dedicated to drummers and a guitar player with a guitar that shoots flames. (Because of-fucking-course it shoots flames.) He also has an emotional reason for going after Furiosa. Sure, he is a horrible monster but he also knows what his wives represent. They are truly the only pure stock left in terms of breeding. Without them, there is no hope for a return to normality. Without them, there will only be a future of the mutated and dying. So while you never once sympathize with him, you GET where he is coming from.
- This is a film that can completely stand alone. In other words, you don’t need to have seen the previous three films to completely enjoy and “get” this movie as much as someone who has.
At the end of the day, I may rank this film as the top dog in the series. I need to go back and rewatch them all, but this one certainly shoulder to shoulder with The Road Warrior. Thunderdome, while fun, is safely at the bottom (its admittedly catchy Tina Turner single notwithstanding).
I said this movie is the best action film of the last decade, and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve actually spent an embarrassingly long and detailed amount of time thinking about this. Gareth Evans’ Raid films are action masterworks, but I’ve come to except that those movies operate in a different studio (and legal) system than the regular Hollywood system. What they do, while amazing, probably isn’t strictly legal or safe. Fury Road is a fucking insane action classic made IN the studio system. That’s fucking incredible.
I don’t necessarily want another Mad Max movie. (If only because this is going to be one tough act to follow.) I’d certainly like there to be another one, but what I want is something larger. I want a movement. I just want more movies LIKE this, and I don’t even mean exclusively better post apocalyptic films. I want more well-made genre movies that aim to deliver things that we, as the movie-going public, have never seen before. This is the fourth Mad Max movie, but it feels like something shiny, chrome and brand spanking new. There will always be a place in my heart for the big franchise movies like The Avengers and Star Wars but this is something different and when different works and as exciting as this, there is almost nothing better. Fury Road is by no means an underdog (any movie with a budget well over $100 million is never an underdog in my book), but it is something special. Getting something like this made in this modern movie making environment is a minor miracle. (The purported lead speaks less than the supporting players for Chrissakes!) Like the Wachowski siblings did with Jupiter Ascending, George Miller was somehow able to get a major studio to back something completely bonkers but unlike Jupiter Ascending the finished product is 100% glorious and sets the bar impossibly high for all of those who attempt to follow. Only time will tell if other filmmakers will be inspired to attempt to pick up the baton just dropped by George Miller and create classics of their own.