I’m late to the party, I’m aware. I’ve been in the process of a traversing a big crossroad in my personal life, and part of being an adult is having to prioritize between what must be done and what you’d rather do, which in my case is watch and write about movies. So I missed Mad Max: Fury Road this past summer. During that time, it garnered the sort of critical praise usually reserved for “award contenders”. You know, the ones that rain down on cinemas around this time of year like so many autumn leaves. Plenty goodness has already been spread about Fury Road during these last few months, so there’s nothing left to do but to make it all about me. Strap yourselves in!
Mad Max: Fury Road in a Nutshell
Before we start, let me get the whole movie plot summary bit out of the way. Every single nuclear prophecy made during the Cold War came to pass. The missiles flew, natural resources went from scarce to non-existent and the Earth, as portrayed by the driest parts of the Australian Outback, has become something out of a shared nightmare between David Lean and Terry Gilliam. The remaining survivors scrape for what’s left in communities usually ruled by power-hungry madmen such as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an nasty piece of work with a serious deity complex and the best breathing aid this side of Darth Vader. (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, only in theaters this Christmas. Not getting paid for this, just psyched!)
This backstory is summarized in the opening monologue by Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner who’s given up on humanity and has pretty much settled on surviving this daily Hell as long as possible without so much as a nanogram of hope for the future. Wandering the desert in his souped-up hot rod, ‘Mopey’ Max is captured by Immortan Joe’s inbred, suicidal War Boys and turned into an IV blood drip for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of the weaker but more loyal of the bunch.
When Joe’s trusted servant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles away his harem of young wives, Joe and his whole army, with Max in tow, race off across a sandworm-less Arrakis to capture her and retrieve the warlord’s precious breeding cargo in what becomes a non-stop two-hour action extravaganza that’s as visually striking as it is compelling.
I’m a man of the Eighties as I’ve mentioned before, but I never gave Aussie master George Miller his props. Selective cable viewing as a child exposed me mostly to the works of the people who latched on to the post-apocalyptic action setting the director pioneered, and the subpar quality of many of those copycat offerings put me off that genre almost entirely. I eventually discovered the Mad Max series after becoming a fan of He-From-Those-Buddy-Cop-Movies-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-For-Political-Correctness.* Even back then I was late in the game to the sheer kinetic energy of the original film and the fun absurdity of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I had the pleasure of watching The Road Warrior, the Empire Strikes Back of the saga, when I was already a parent.
So, with the exception of his wildly known and also admirable family entertainments like the Babe and Happy Feet series, my experience with Miller’s art has been of me getting around to discovering it long after it has planted seeds in the evolution of cinema.
Where Credit is Due
I guess it’s fitting that I’m getting around just now to enjoying the 72-year-young director’s masterful return to the universe he borne and bred. He arrived late to his own party as well and still managed to become the life of it. Plenty of directors past their golden years are still at the top of their game. Just as Ridley Scott and Clint Eastwood. The real hat trick is watching an elder statesman like Miller delivering the kind of manic pace, breakneck non-CGI stuntwork and effective narrative you’d expect and wish from some baby-faced wunderkind.
Rather than making it the main attraction, as is the norm these days, Miller uses CGI only to enhance all the visual magic he forges via practical effects. Just like Christopher Nolan, only more insane. The result is a tangible world grounded by the amount of imaginative details on display. These include the spray-paint drug and Immortan Joe’s answer to army drummers or anyone who’s ever wanted their life to have a soundtrack.
A New Feminist Icon
In addition, Miller resurrected the kick-ass female heroine in a way rarely seen since early James Cameron. By pulling a bait-and-switch, no less. This is Furiosa’s feminist story arc all the way. Macho Max stumbling through it in an expendable, almost Jack Sparrow-like manner. Kudos to Theron for her poignant, understated performance. And yes, also to Tom Hardy for making us forget he was filling Mad Riggs’ shoes in the first place.
To summarize, Mad Max: Fury Road is a hit and well deserving of its instant classic status. Furthermore, it’s a clear example that action films have something to offer women as well and that there is no retirement age when you’re a master craftsman. Here’s hoping it becomes a road map for all filmmakers as to how it should be done.
* AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yes, I meant Mel Gibson. Also, dashes are a fun way to cheat on word count for any writing assignment, but please limit their use. Don’t be a dick like me. WITNESS!
Movie title: Mad Max: Fury Road
Movie description: The hyper-kinetic surprise throwback hit of the Summer of 2015.
Date published: 2015-11-17
Director(s): George Miller
Actor(s): Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton
Genre: Action, Adventure