Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton
Rating: R (Intense Sequences of Violence Throughout, And For Disturbing Images)
[Some minor spoilers in the review below.]
Max Max was unleashed into the world in 1979 to unexpected, but overwhelming positive reception. The film was a huge hit with the Western audience at the time and helped pave the way for a wider recognition of Australian filmmaking. The film was also notable for launching the career of Mel Gibson who was a little known actor at the time, and even held the Guinness world record for being the most profitable film in cinematic history for many years. Three years later, George Miller and Mel Gibson returned with the 1981 sequel, The Road Warrior. The sequel was even better received and was responsible for having a huge impact on modern pop culture, paving the way for the “post-apocalyptic” genre that has seen many tiers of entertainment like films, TV shows, video games, and fiction writers embrace. It is also widely considered by many action film buffs as one of the greatest action films ever made, mainly due to the incredible cinematography and stunt work in the film’s climactic car chase. Unfortunately, the steam was lost a bit with the release of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which many fans still consider as the lowest point in the series.
When Mad Max 4 was initially announced for principal photography in 2001, tragedy struck our world in a seemingly real-life “end-of-the-world” scenario with the attacks on September 11th. The film’s production was soon cancelled after, but it would not be the last we would hear of it.
Mad Max: Fury Road‘s legendary journey through “development hell” and financial woes has hit the Hollywood headlines for years. After several delays throughout its grueling 18-year history since the very idea was conceived in director George Miller’s (possibly insane) mind, Mad Max’s long-awaited and highly-anticipated fourth installment has become a reality. The question everyone wants to know the answer to is obviously: Was it all worth it?
Yes, yes, and yes.
In fact, Mad Max: Fury Road is not only a great action film, but it goes above and beyond its expectations, even rivaling 1981’s The Road Warrior as the best Mad Max outing to date.
The film starts years after the collapse of human civilization as Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is haunted by the memory of his former family and his failure to protect them from the dangers of the post-apocalypse. Soon after, Max is caught by the War Boys, a tribal-like army of fiends that are under the control of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who rules his part of the wasteland (a city within a canyon known as “The Citadel”) as a warlord bordering between political dictator and demigod. Before long, Immortan Joe decrees a routine supply run to be lead by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), one of his most trusted soldiers in his grand army of insanity. However, Furiosa has plans of her own when the routine supply run takes a detour and it is revealed that Immortan Joe’s young and beautiful concubines have sought escape from their ruler with Furiosa as their aide. As events transpire, lines are crossed, and trusts are broken and mended, Max is suddenly caught in the middle of a rescue mission involving the young women. Without much choice, Max decides that his best option of survival is to help his newly found companions across the dangers of the wasteland and reach Furiosa’s childhood home, known simply as “the Green Place”.
Violence/Scary Images: Mad Max has always been a film series that has not shied away from embracing its dark themes. It’s not surprising here that a film that deals with the theme of survival has a few casualties along the way. Yes, Fury Road takes advantage of its R-rating without question. There are people getting shot, ran over by 18-wheelers, stabbed, being thrown out of windshields through vicious car crashes, etc. And yet, one of Fury Road‘s biggest surprises is how restrained the violence was, even for an R-rated movie. Make no mistake, Fury Road is a violent film, but it wasn’t an overtly gory one (aside from one very brief scene during the film’s climactic chase). The violence in the film was “appropriate”, meaning if a guy got shot, he would simply get shot and have small visible bullet wounds on him. Even during a sequence late in the game where a chainsaw is involved, not much is really shown in the bloody battle that ensues. But while it claims a casualty and we, as an audience feel the impact of the action, we really don’t see much of it in terms of the result. This is mainly due to the brilliant editing (which I will get to later). Also, I suspect that Miller’s somewhat toned-down approach is mainly due to his style being molded by Australia’s very strict content laws back during the days of the first Mad Max films, in which he was forced to cut out several graphic scenes in order for his films to be approved by the ratings board (Australia has since become more lenient with more modern films).
In terms of scary content, the make-up effects in this film do a great job of making the villains appear terrifying and intimidating. This is a world that has worn down on its characters, and in many cases their physical appearances reflect that with sores and tumors growing out of their bodies (possibly as a result of nuclear fallout). I would also even go as far as to say the film carries some lite-horror elements in it. The concept of living past the end of the world is a scary thought. Many of the characters in this universe have a twisted concept of morality and life comes at the cost of who fights for theirs the most.
Language/Crude Humor: Again, Fury Road surprises in this department. I don’t recall any use heavy profanity being used in the movie itself, but if there was I most likely missed it due to its briefness. That’s not to say that there wasn’t any, but I cannot recall any heavy use it as of the time of this writing.
As for the humor, the Mad Max franchise is well-known for its use of dark humor, but it only helps to showcase just how far humanity has lost touch with its morality. Something that may seem so strange and insane in our current world may be normal in George Miller’s unique universe. It’s dark, but clever at best.
Sexual Content: There is a brief shot during the beginning of the film where a line of heavy-set women are seen with apparatuses wrapped around their breasts and milk is being drained from them. It is a minor scene that helps build the intriguing universe of Mad Max, but one that may offend some sensitive viewers. There is also another scene late in the second act where a woman is shown fully naked from behind, but again, this is brief.
Lastly, I’ll have to mention the outfits that the “Wives” of Immortan Joe wear may be a bit provocative for some, but personally, I did not have a problem with it as they were covered up for the most part. After all, these are women that are trying to escape sexual subjection and their outfits communicate this in a great way without over-sexualizing their characters.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: As of the time of this writing, I do not recall any scenes or references concerning drug or alcohol (sobriety due to a lack or existence of intoxicants must be one of the very few benefits of living in the post-apocalypse).
Spiritual Content: One can argue that Fury Road is light on spiritual content. However, one of the great things about this film is how it manages to show off how humans struggle for even the most basic of human needs (government, religion/spirituality, meaning) in a world that offers none. Everyday in the world of Mad Max is a fight to find hope and redemption, and as audience members (and to the purposes of this review, Christians), we can identify with the characters on-screen with their struggle. It’s often the one thing that keeps them relatable despite the fact that each one of them is slowly losing their sanity.
Positive Content: As mentioned above, the story focuses on the character’s desire for hope and redemption, a clean and peaceful life away from the violence and destitute of the wasteland. It is a great theme that adds much depth to the characters and, as believers, we can more than identify with these traits. In addition, as a former cop, Max also struggles with his own sense of morality and upholding the law in a world where his role has become irrelevant. To no surprise, we can find some sense of purity inside Max as he battles to do some good in this world.
Negative Content: The Mad Max series is no stranger to rebellious behavior, but it works in the context of the film. “Where would humanity be without law and order?” is one of the big questions the series has always asked its audience, and it is not one to easily avoid the answer to. These are bad people, they will kill you if it meant breathing another second of life. In a sense, it shows us what a world without God or a higher power to direct us would be like, and while it can be a fun world to watch on-screen, it is certainly not a world I would like to be a part of.
With a huge budget estimating at $150 million, Mad Max: Fury Road uses it well. This is in large part due to director George Miller’s confidence in the source material along with some beautiful landscape cinematography by John Seale and fantastic editing by Margaret Sixel, who does a tremendous job balancing the high-octane action sequences and the moments of restrained character development. At times, it feels as if you are watching the original Mad Max with the awkward, unstable, but stylized edits that work very well for this type of film. This is a beautiful kind of carnage and mayhem that only Miller would be able to re-capture and it gives the film a great sense of nostalgia.
Speaking of carnage and mayhem, those actions scenes and their incredible stunt work… Just wow.
The action scenes in Fury Road don’t skimp out on practical effects and good old stunt-doubles. While there is a certain amount of CGI in the film (specifically during the epic sandstorm chase scene from the trailers), rest assured, Fury Road has real vehicles, real car crashes, and real explosions. It often feels like one was transported back to the golden era of action movies in the 80’s and 90’s where directors were forced to work for their “money shot” rather than depend on post-production stepping in and taking care of it later. The results are gratifying. Seeing the big tanker explosion from the trailer in the theater is an exhilarating experience, and reminds us once again in an age dominated by CG of the magic of practical effects and how they can often overshadow the former. Simply put, the action scenes in here make a mockery out of even the best summer blockbusters in recent memory.
Fury Road could have gotten away with decent acting, but what is portrayed here is more than this type of movie deserves. This is due in large part to Hardy’s and Theron’s performances as Max and Furiosa. The two actors are naturally great at what they do and lend the film a sense of gravitas towards the characters and their chemistry together as they both help one another survive in the film’s many desperate situations. Tom Hardy makes some great callbacks to Gibson’s iconic role as Mad Max with his heavy, but sultry Australian accent and his awkward mannerisms that hint at the character’s lack of sanity from within. Furiosa herself has a couple of great moments in the film and is poised to be immortalized as one of the baddest chicks on film, right along side Kill Bill‘s “Bride” and Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Also, a special mention to Nicholas Hoult in his role as “Nux”, a foot soldier whose life desire seems to be to gain the recognition of his war lord, Immortan Joe. Nicholas Hoult is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s best character actors and his delivery of the “What a day! What a lovely day!” line shall surely become a classic in the coming years. The rest of the cast plays well with the light material given to them, specifically the “Wives” played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton – respectively.
I need to mention the production design and make-up effects by the talented WETA Workshop, who have worked on The Lord of The Rings and more recently The Hobbit and Man of Steel. The designs of the environments and of the characters all tell a story of who they are and how they got there. Whether it’s the number of war badges strewn across Immortan Joe’s chest piece, or the small tumors on a character’s neck that hints at the sickness of radiation poisoning that phases many of the characters in the story, there’s nothing in this universe that feels out of place. In fact, it all works to immerse the viewers in the world and makes them ask questions and make up theories about it. There’s a lot of potential for more future stories in this world and if that is truly the intention here, then I am definitely excited for the potential of new Mad Max films down the pipeline.
Lastly, I have to mention the great orchestral soundtrack by world famous musician Tom Holkenborg (more famously know as Junkie XL) brings an added dimension to the already insane actions scenes. The score mixed in with light techno beats really have you pumping adrenaline through your body as the monstrous, Frankenstein-like vehicles speed through the desert with complete dominance.
The one minor flaw here is the story. Well, it’s not at all bad, but it is nothing original and I’m sure we have seen different variations of the “hero gets caught up in an unlikely adventure” scenario many times before. But the writing here by Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris add a bit of fresh air with the wit-filled dialogue and world-building mythology that make it feel more interesting than it should be.
By now you’ve already read my “Bottom Line” on Fury Road. This is a film that deserves your utmost attention, especially if you have been longing for an old-school styled action film brave enough to return to its roots and once again subvert the genre it owns on its side. This might be a bold claim provided we are still early in the 2015 summer movie season, but Mad Max: Fury Road might just be on its way to becoming the summer’s best film, and a future cult classic at that.
Welcome back, Max. It is a lovely day, indeed.
+ The universe + Small references to lore hint at possibility of future films + Incredible stunt work and action scenes + Beautiful cinematography and energetic direction + Fantastic editing balances intense chase scenes and quieter character moments very well + Hardy and Theron
– The core story is a bit unoriginal
The Bottom Line
Fury Road could have just been a normal run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster, but it is obvious that director George Miller has bigger things in mind for the future of this legendary series. With excellent production values, fantastic writing, and what will easily be the best action scenes and practical stunt work you will see anywhere this year, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those rare action movies that truly respects the genre and treats its audience with class. It's the movie 21st century action fans deserve.