Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those rare movies that was actually on my radar well before release/the reviews started rolling in. I had been hearing from people (well, one person in particular) about how disgusting (used as a compliment) the trailer was. As I swore off watching trailers a couple years ago, I had to take his word for it, but his effusive praise was enough to pique my interest. As the shockingly positive reviews rolled in, my desire to see the movie was cemented. And now that I’ve seen it, I’m hard-pressed to find an adjective for the movie more fitting than “disgusting” (used as a compliment).
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is past the point of trying to do anything but survive in the post-apocalyptic world around him. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) betrays Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the War Boy’s tyrannical/cult leader, by helping his “wives” escape his grasp, Max is forced into the chase to help these women reach safety in the “Green Place”.
Fury Road was immediately something of a disorienting experience. The movie starts fast and furious, not really giving the audience a chance to (re-)acquaint themselves with the world (if they’ve seen any of the other Mad Max movies). I like a movie that doesn’t waste time diving into the story, but my biggest complaint with Fury Road is this breakneck-paced introduction. It felt strangely structured and didn’t paint as clear a picture of the main characters as felt necessary for me to completely invest in them. I also love the idea of a movie forcing its audience to pay attention and learn about the characters over time through the actions they take during the story instead of having everything dumped on us through lame exposition, but it felt like they went too far in the “withholding information” direction. None of this ruined the experience, but it did force me to fully buy in later than I wanted to.
On a related note, Immortan Joe is clearly the villain from the outset of the movie, but his relationship with the people who deified him seemed unclear to me. He was depriving them of water and other resources and hoarding those resources for himself and his crew. But there was still an impression that the miserable people that were essentially his subjects vaguely liked him. That alone isn’t troublesome but at the end…
SPOILERS AHEAD (Select the text between here and the “End of Spoilers” marker to read)
When Max and Furiosa roll in with Joe’s corpse, the people immediately rejoice in Joe’s death as if they were all aware that he was a tyrant. Based on the way they had behaved earlier, I would have expected them to at least somewhat grieve until Furiosa revealed to them how he had been mistreating and abusing them. There seemed to be a disconnect between what his “subjects” appear to feel and what they actually feel and what the audience is able to gather about either of those things. The way that was presented didn’t ring true to me.
I swear this is my last semi-complaint, but this movie seemed to be a lot more about Theron’s Furiosa than Mad Max himself, which is only a complaint because I love Tom Hardy and wish he had been given a little bit more to work with. Max wasn’t given the opportunity to make a choice or take action until about twenty minutes into the movie, which was a little disappointing. However, Max stepping somewhat to the background allowed Furiosa to step forward, which I think ultimately ended up being a solid choice.
With the amount of complaining I’ve done about the movie to date, one might be surprised that I actually really enjoyed the experience overall (you tend to be harder on/expect more from the people/movies you like, right?). The action and spectacle of the film was astonishing for pretty much the entire duration. There was a point during the screening I went to where after a particularly extended action sequence had just finished, one of the audience members rather loudly sighed. While I found the interruption annoying, I have to admit he was definitely expressing a sentiment everyone was feeling. Fury Road’s action was truly breathtaking, on-the-edge-of-your-seat madness and it was such a relief to actually be able to see the action without horrible shaky-cam junk. Miller isn’t afraid to show the incredible violence from a distance so you can actually take it in and process it. That’s a choice that I will always appreciate.
Theron does a great job as the intimidating and strong Imperator Furiosa. She looks totally at home during the movie’s numerous action sequences and it’s not hard to accept her as a survivor in this wild, dead world. She’s one of many tough, cool female characters (including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s The Splendid Angharad and Zoë Kravitz’s Toast the Knowing). Unfortunately, having these kinds of female characters in a movie is still notable (and apparently controversial [if you’re a misogynist]). Tom Hardy does well as Max in the surprisingly limited role he was given, playing the strong, silent, tortured guy about as well as you’d hope. Hopefully, we see more of him as Max in the future. Nicholas Hoult (kinda hard to believe he’s the pudgy dweeb from About a Boy) is almost unrecognizable as the War Boy Nux who undergoes an existential crisis. Hoult alternates between crazy and empathetic with ease. I wasn’t in love with some of the other supporting performances (especially towards the beginning), but none of them were so offensive as to really detract from the experience.
Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t strike me as a particularly deep film, but I never got the impression that that’s what it was trying to be. It gives you heart-stopping/pounding action through what is essentially a two-hour long chase scene. It is pretty much guaranteed to keep you entertained (and probably in awe) for those two hours and it gives you characters to cheer for and to hate. What more do you need in an early summer blockbuster?